Google’s Cultural Institute: digitizing art and history

Google Cultural InstituteThe idea that the world’s most important artworks should be made available online isn’t new. Also, the idea that we’re spending more and more time in an online environment can’t be denied anymore. We’ll let someone else ponder whether this is good or bad.

The idea behind Google’s Cultural Institute is pretty simple: they have partnered with museums and other cultural institutions in an attempt to provide people digital copies of important artwork or cultural landmarks. That way, they’re made available to anyone anywhere.

Some would say that the online viewing of art diminishes part of the experience, mostly because the size of a painting is part of an artist’s statement, and that is something that can’t be “felt” on a screen.

But does it really matter?

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When you take into consideration the alternative, which is never having the chance to view those particular works of art and history, I’d say not.

An online database of the world’s most important paintings, sculptures, historical photographs, and so on shares a goal with many of the world’s artists, which is to reach as many people as possible. This is what art is supposed to do. And in a world of billions of devices connected to the Internet this can only be achieved by storing those works of art on the Internet and making them available for free.

Google Cultural Institute has a number of projects, among which:

1. Art Project, where museums from over 40 countries have contributed some 40,000 high-resolution images of all kinds of artwork. Also, there’s a neat feature called Museum View, where you can virtually walk around certain buildings such as the Palace of Versailles or The White House.

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2. World Wonders Project, where you get something like a Google Street View for ancient or modern World Heritage sites, such as Stonehenge or Pompeii. You also get some background info on those certain buildings, videos, and photos. All the sites are categorized quite nicely, by location and type.

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3. Archives exhibitions, which basically gives you access to content that isn’t usually on public display.

Overall, Google Cultural Institute proves to be a nice addition to the plethora of sites determined to transfer thousands of years of human history to this new online environment. It’s not only a database of works of art, it’s also determined to be interactive, allowing users to create their own custom galleries of artwork, and, of course, to share everything they find on social networks.

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18 thoughts on “Google’s Cultural Institute: digitizing art and history

  1. I know it shouldnt, but I’m still amazed each time by the extravagance of the French. Silly, but just to have those people be so real and alive.. creating more fanciful structures than we do today with less than half of what we do..

  2. RE: Palace of Versailles – I want to go to there. 🙂 Seriously, that is beautiful. I think this is a very cool idea. A few year’s ago I played a Tomb Raider game with my son and was so excited because part of the game took place in The Louvre. I doubt I will ever be able to go there in person and it was really fun to be able to virtually explore the museum.

  3. When I was a student I could access JSTOR and ARTSTOR online. Essentially artstor is the same as this google project, and jstor is artstor for academic articles spanning a wide variety of fields of study. I’ve always wished these things would be made available to the public for free, and it’s awesome that google is doing just that. If you haven’t already, check out project gutenberg ( http://www.gutenberg.org/ ), it’s a fantastic compendium of free knowledge!

    You might also like Google Sky Map ( http://www.google.com/sky/ ).

  4. Wow,thanks Google! I think that such an experience provided by this site arouses much curiousity on our part and how the knowledge of all these beautiful pieces of art in various forms and sizes being accessible with just a click of a button would be very helpful especially to those who do not have the means to do so. I’ll be checking this site soon!

  5. An online CAD viewer would not be a bad idea for such an endeavor. High-resolution photographs wrapped around 3D objects, letting you virtually pan around and get a full view of sculptures, locations, and the like.

  6. Cristian – Thanks for posting this. As a blogger who comments on art history from time to time, I will look forward to using this resource. Of course online viewing of most art isn’t as rich as viewing art in person, but it’s still a great idea, especially for educational purposes. How convenient to have hi-res images with no concerns about copyright infringement.

  7. I think this is a great idea, but Google is doing nothing new. The Library of Congress already has a Flickr stream and numerous online exhibits, as do many other museums and institutions. Digital Humanities is a burgeoning field. I am all for public access to exhibits and artifacts if there is difficulty getting to a particular Hallowed Institution housing those culural artifacts. It’s great for people with disabilities, students, and researchers with little funding.
    I am uncomfortable with Google having the “keys to the castle”, so to speak, because it means that there are (1) further concerns about privacy; (2) further concerns about whether they bubble what you search; (3) concerns that users may simply be given cultural artifacts out of context, when it may be more valuable when provided with more background; (4) concerns that there may be /even fewer/ jobs for professional Historians, Anthropologists, Sociologists, etc. if Google takes over control of the Digital Humanities field.
    Just my 50 cents. 😉

  8. As an art historian, I can say that this is absolutely awesome. There are a lot of great archives that have digitized artworks, however, these are mostly found in journals are not free to use. So this is a great way to cultivate those that can’t afford paying for a monthly subscription to these journals.

  9. Thanks for posting this! As a dad of 3 boys who are going to be home schooled we don’t have a lot of money so travelling to see these things is pretty much out of the question, but this is great!

  10. Clearly this not only allows people to see things they’d never see in real life (someone in Indonesia or Peru might well never have an opportunity to visit Versailles or see what’s in the Louvre), but also to experiment and broaden their horizons. I discovered an enthusiasm for Kandinsky through an exercise in a work training event and then looking him up on the net.

  11. But of course the experience of a virtual visit to Versailles or the Grand Canyon, or a viewing of a Turner painting on-line, is second best and shouldn’t replace seeking out the actual experience if that’s possible.

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