Academy of Art University Newspaper

Jenna Gyimesi | Oberlin College

The Google Arts and Culture App is bringing art closer and closer to the consumer. The app developed a revolutionary “Search with your selfie” feature this December and has since entered the famed halls of cultural virality. The feature harnesses people's love for selfies and matches the selfie with a portrait that resembles the user's features. As a result, social media has become flooded with not only selfies but influential pieces of art. As of now, the app is linked with 1,500 museums in over 70 countries.

The Google art project was founded in 2011 but the app only gained mainstream appeal when it introduced the selfie finder. The project was led by developer Amit Sood. He stated, “You need to find simple ways to get people interested in art. The people who are already committed to learning about art are going to take the time to come to your museum; to peruse the academic articles.  But those folks - unfortunately - represent a small and shrinking portion of America's increasingly technology-oriented populace. Reaching college students like me requires this sort of imaginative thinking to produce features that manage to encourage a fleeing demographic to engage with the art. 

The rapid success of the ‘find your face’ feature increased the accessibility of art and detracted from the stigma of inaccessibility oftentimes associated with fine art. The App has reached number 1 in both the Android and iOS stores and more than 40 million selfies have been captured with the app.

Granting immediate access to art to all app users makes art less exclusive. The app allows art to be enjoyed by everyone and not be a pleasure reserved for those who have the opportunity to study art for an extended period - whether formally or informally. 

The app demonstrates a way that technology can make are more engaging for the public. Art and technology do not have to be enemies. “Old” and “new” can unite and create something that is both viral and beautiful. More impressive, however, is the app's success does not corrupt the art itself. Most would imagine that the marriage of iPhone Apps and art would involve crude photoshop edits, or merging one's face with one in a painting - features which would sully the essence of the work.

Although I am extremely impressed with the App's success thus far, it still has work to do. The app does not have a large enough database to accommodate the diverse group of people using the app. Although the app encompasses 70 countries, the countries are unequally represented. The app catalogs more than 700,000 pieces from the United States, more than 75,000 from the UK and about 60,000 pieces from Germany. Thus, most of the portraits in the database depict traditional European features.

Only 16,000 portraits originate from Mexico and a slim 3,500 are cataloged from Peru. Of course, Europe has produced more art work than some of those countries, but the disparity is disproportionately represented on the app. The app is helping people realize art is important. However, the app may not be helping people realize that all art is important. While the shortcoming is likely unintentional, it will be fascinating and important to follow the Google Art Project to see if it will step up to make a great app, greater. 

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