Google Art Project vs. visiting actual museums

Tired of buying tickets and battling crowds to look at paintings? You're in luck. Google is letting users "visit" the world's greatest art museums without leaving home

Google's "Art Project" lets users examine masterpieces in world-renowned museums — like Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum (pictured) — more intimately than real life allows.
(Image credit: Google)

Yesterday, Google unveiled "Art Project," an expansive new website that takes users inside 17 of the world's most renowned museums, from London's National Gallery to Florence's Uffizi, using the same "Street View" technology that Google Maps uses to show city blocks. Art Project presents over 1,000 works of art, and will give one key piece from each museum special treatment, showcasing it in ultra-high, 7,000,000,000-pixel resolution. (Watch an "Art Project" introduction.) Is visiting Google's online museums better than trekking to the hallowed brick-and-mortar locations?

Yes, especially if you really want to scrutinize art: In some ways, says Brian Barrett at Gizmodo, this is better than seeing the art in person. Each museum's "showcase" piece is shown in 7-billion-pixel resolution, which means "you can see the brushwork better than you ever could leaning behind the red velvet rope." And you can save and share your favorites images. Plus, it's all free, which "certainly beats a $20 suggested donation any day of the week."

"Google's Art Project: Tour the world's finest paintings in eye-blasting resolution"

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

No, it's no substitute: Some of the choices are "problematic," says Alastair Sooke in The Telegraph. For instance, Madrid's Museo Reina Sofia highlights a Cubist work by Juan Gris in high-resolution rather than Picasso's Guernica, the museum's true star. Assuming that Google's site will one day show nearly everything in "super high resolution," it's worrying to think "that in the future there will no longer be any need to visit a museum." While Art Project is a "wonderful resource," it is "no substitute" for the experience of "looking at art for real."

"The problem with Google's Art Project"

And it has other shortcomings: The navigation tools are "less-than-sleek," says Bianca Bosker in The Huffington Post. Plus: Basic descriptions (medium, artist, date, title) aren't available for many of the works, only select pieces can be viewed in high-resolution, and users can easily run into virtual dead ends. Worse still, the selective nature of the project means that viewers miss out on "the chance encounters and serendipity" of a stroll through museum galleries.

"Google Art Project aims to redefine museum experience — but has some rough edges "

Moreover, there are apps that do the same thing but better: Google's Art Project does a good job placing the works in the context of their museum settings, but it can't "rival" Art Authority, the "gold standard for art history apps," says Curt Hopkins at ReadWriteWeb. Art Authority has more than 40,000 works available for viewing on an iPad, compared to the 1,000-plus that Google Art Project offers.

"Google Art Project takes visitors inside museums using street view"

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.