The Google Art Project is awesome, but won't be in Denver any time soon

Categories: The Internetz

starry night close.jpg
Van Gogh's "Starry Night" in extreme close-up.
Say what you will about Google's increasingly alarming ability to document everything with its all-seeing eye, but there's no denying that the corporation is doing some wicked cool stuff with its Big Brother-ish technology. It's latest, which it revealed this week: Art Project, an offshoot devoted to cataloging the world's great art for the masses to take in from the comfort of the masses' homes, just as if they were standing right there.

The site works by using the same technology as Google's Street View -- which, we're just saying, became our favorite thing to do at work for about three months when it debuted -- except instead of documenting the highways and byways and occasional naked guy in a trunk of the world, this time, Google is turning its cameras on art museums. Also, the technology sports a bit of a twist: Not only can you virtually stroll around the museums themselves, if you find a work of art you want to examine closer, you can click on it and blow it up -- in many cases, way up. Like, looking at individual brush strokes way up. Ah, if only we could have done that with the naked guy.

Here's a little video narrated by a guy with a very credible-sounding British accent that explains how it works:

Evidently, though, Google's definition of "the world's most acclaimed and respected art museums" does not include anything west of the Eastern Seaboard; the majority of the museums represented are in Europe, with a few in New York and one in Washington, D.C., thrown in for good measure. On the other hand, the project is obviously far from complete -- like Street View, the museum tours are a continual work in progress, and in many cases, the extent of what you can virtually wander around in is just one room of the museum in question -- the best represented so far seems to be the National Gallery in London, where several rooms are available.

So it'll be nice when there's a little bit more to look at in some of the museums already on the list, but it'll be even nicer when and if Google branches out from the stuffy old world establishment -- not that it seems to have immediate plans to do so. In answer to the the question "How can I get my museum added to the project" in the projects FAQ, Google replies with a rather unhelpful "Please check back here for more news soon on new museums being added to the project," somehow managing to both pose a question and avoid answering it at the same time.

According to Ashley Pritchard, a DAM spokeswoman, Google has not reached out to the DAM, either. "We think it's awesome," she says, "but we haven't had that discussion yet." Although there are, she notes, various issues involved with copyright and licensing (artists often own the image rights to works museums display), she also cites a recent National Endowment for the Arts study that showed that allowing people to interact with museum media via the Internet makes them more -- not less, as previously feared -- likely to make a personal appearance. Which is a pretty compelling reason to get interactive.

To that end, she says, the DAM does have an interactive website called The Collective. And as far as the Art Project goes, she says, "I definitely think it's something we would take into consideration."

They should -- it doesn't get much more interactive than this.

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