Except for bits and pieces of information in high school and one class in college, the breadth of my art history knowledge has been self-taught. I love reading about art history, and if you started reading this blog way back when, you know I love visiting museums. I’m over the moon when I find online resources that help me expand on this knowledge and think more critically about art. The Google Art Project is an example of an online resource that takes me on a virtual trip around the world, and one that I think everyone should know about.
Tons and tons and tons to explore.
Back in 2011, Google partnered with museums to host very high-resolution images of artwork, including photographs, architecture, sculptures and installations, and has worked to add even more pieces. In the same way that you can use Google Maps to see a street view of an address, you can also walk through museums and see what they look like. The main purpose of the Google Art Project is to be an educational tool, giving people more access to art than ever before. In addition to the image, each piece has metadata on the artist, when it was made and what it’s made out of. The art comes from all across the globe, so you can visit museums without leaving your house.
I have been to the Musee d’Orsay and can confirm this is what it looks like. I didn’t even have to leave my room to visit again.
You can search by collections, artists or pieces. The website also hosts a cool feature where you can save entries, which comes in handy if you’re working on a project or just want to keep an online list of all of your favorite pieces. It’s also fun to look at the featured collections the museums put together, and other users that are also playing curator.
You could totally get lost for hours looking at different artists and collections.
My favorite thing is the zoom feature. If you pick a painting like The Starry Night, you can zoom so far in you see the brushstroke details. There’s something so satisfyingly zen about being able to see this artistry at a micro-level. Plus, as a visitor you’d never get to go up that close to a piece in a museum, and you’d probably never see that kind of detail with the naked eye.
A screenshot does not do it justice. Go look.
- In a cultural moment where so much of the Internet is noise, it’s refreshing to discover or go back to these kinds of projects that have real educational value. Now that so many classrooms across the United States are outfitted with laptops and smart devices, teachers can build whole units around the access to these visuals they would once have had to pay for, either in an expensive art history textbook or students’ admission. These museum partners have been extremely generous to make their collections available without demanding extra money from the online visitors. When you can have this kind of content available to people who would maybe never see these pieces or be interested in art history otherwise — and keep it free — that’s really extraordinary. This kind of project makes me love the Internet, and think higher of companies like Google who use their wealth for all kinds of community service initiatives.
Looking at a print in a book is great for reference and initial research, but there’s really nothing quite like the emotional experience of standing in front of a piece of art that resonates with you. The Google Art Project is a good compromise — at least until teleportation becomes a real thing. For that, I give it a huge gold star.
Do you have any art resources to share, or know of other cool Internet projects? Share them in the comments.