Tuesday, February 15, 2011

next best thing now better?

"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." 


Prof. Darrell Kincer said...

It seems strange that in this age of "connectedness," I'm feeling more and more disconnected from real live human beings, not the mention the world around me. And I'm not sure, but it seems to be perfectly acceptable to many.

As I see it, there's a trade off between quantity and quality, between information and "truth." We may have the perception of knowledge without the experience of the heart.

Earl Grey said...

Personally, I prefer the flaw of the human eye to digital enhancement and perfection. How many times do we look at a work and not see something? With Google's new project, we can zoom in and see so much detail that the facsimile/digital reproduction is better than what I, personally, can see with my own eyes. (those of you with 20/20 vision, ignore the remainder of this post!)

I like the distance that I have to take when seeing a work of art. The distance reminds me that I shouldn't get too close to the framed work or sculpture or installation.

How many times had I looked at the frieze of dances in Cleveland before seeing Degas' fingerprints right there in front of me -- gestures by the artist that became shapes of their own? Many, many times. But discovering these prints in the galleries on my own gave greater satisfaction than using a mouse or trackpad to zoom in and find them. I enjoyed experienced it first-hand, after repeated encounter with this pastel and oil wonder.