No art was harmed in the making of Google’s newly released Google Art Project, only maybe the desire to visit the greatest artworks in the world. “With this unique project, anyone anywhere in the world will be able to learn about the history and artists behind a huge number of works, at the click of a mouse,” Google stated in their Feb. 1 press release.
Google is even boasting 17 “gigapixel” images of some of the world’s most recognizable and famous pieces of artwork. With roughly 7 billion megapixels per image these “gigapixel” images allow the viewer to zoom in and view details such as brushwork, only previously seen in person (and even then, since some museum won’t let people get that close). There are a total of 1061 “super high resolution” artwork images in 17 museums.
People can use Google Art Project to collect images of their favorite pieces of artwork merely by signing into their Google account. These collections can be shared with others. This is not necessarily something new. It’s a wonder technology hasn’t completely made physical experiences void, but there is still time.
Enough about the facts behind this new technology, I don’t have a split decision on the technology. I think the fact that Google has the technology to create a virtual museum world is amazing. I am truly undecided about the implications of this new project. On one side I worry about museums. I worry if revenue, patrons and visitors of museums will decline. On the other side I am excited for people to see artwork they would otherwise never be able to see. For me it allows me to relive my trip to Florence when I saw my favorite piece of artwork, Botticelli’s La Primavera.
In a discussion of the site on Facebook Zack Morrison stated, “I think this will be for art what downloading is for music, I think this will give a wider audience a risk free way to familiarize themselves with artwork and places they would otherwise never see…there is no substitute for seeing it in person be it a concert or Versailles.” I think this could be a very telling analogy. Downloading music has completely wrecked the economy of the music industry. According to the Institute for Policy Innovation believes the cost to be about $12.5 billion dollars in losses to the U.S. Economy and tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of lost wages. That being said, the sharing of music at a lower (non-existent) price does allow for a greater sharing.
In response J.B. Henry said, “I’m just afraid of the bombardment of information and pixel-visuals/digital sounds may become as good as the real experience for some.” To many seeing artwork on a computer screen might be enough. Why would they bother seeing a work they saw in super high resolution?
I am truly excited for the possibilities that this presents for education. In art history classes a professor can show better images of iconic artwork. Instead of slides that have suffered water and color damage students can view images that are true to the artwork. They can get a sense of the size of an artwork by seeing the piece in its space.
Technology is doing new, wonderful and possibly dangerous things to the world of art. Time will only tell about the longevity of Google Art Project. In a few months this new art technology discussion might not even be relevant. Once the newness of the site has warn off it might go the way of Myspace and be forgotten in a few years. Or it might be completely revolutionary to the world of art.