"From where I sit Google's Art Project looks like a bandwagon everyone should jump on," states art critic Roberta Smith in her New York Times article, "The Work of Art in the Age of Google."
Is Google's latest info-venture a good thing? Smith believes so because it makes visual knowledge more accessible. She admits that cruising through one of the 17 participating museums' online offerings can't compare to experiencing the real, "breathing" things, but says that the next best thing to works of art--the simulation of them--has become better.
|van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam courtesy Google Art Project|
Maybe virtual visual encounters are not really about being better or worse than real, live ones. Instead, it seems to me to have more to do with the two experiences being inherently different. A work of art is usually a physical thing, seen or experienced in a physical space, where senses beyond sight mitigated by a screen (and touch by a mouse/pad) are employed. A reproduction of an artwork, such as a photograph, might also be a physical thing, but once digitized and viewed through a computer interface, it becomes a cyber-thing, which is not the same as being part of the physical, or "real" world.
Apparently, Google's project offers super-high, mega-pixel resolution of certain "star" works as well as provides an adaptation of its Street View program, which Google uses for the museums' interiors. It's definitely worth checking out; as Smith points out, Art Project offers "time, quiet and stasis" because one can look at her leisure when and wherever she wants. Yet, this quiet encounter remains a LONELY one. Sure, one could then blog about it, or create and share one's own collection of masterpieces as the site invites, but where's the real, human interaction that is part and parcel to the experience of a great work of human creativity? Where are the fellow art lovers from other cultures, all jostling and positioning to get a closer look; where is the opportunity to engage with museum staff or to gauge the reaction of a small child to van Gogh's Starry Night? What concerns me about Art Project is the creeping disintegration of our shared connection to the humanities with this type of "connectedness."