Could a “Shazam for art” be culture’s next big thing?

The Spark

8th June 2017

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The great American art critic James Huneker once wrote: ‘Great art is an instant arrested in eternity’. We can only speculate what Huneker would have made of art in the internet age; the ‘memeification’ of classic works by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art might have prompted a derisory sneer. And yet had he lived to critique the 21st century he would have seen that, practically speaking, his quote has become true.

Great art is indeed now arrested in digital eternity, instantly accessible anytime and, in many cases, completely cost-free. People now choose digital avenues as the first point of access to the art, music or film they love. This has long been the case in the world of music, where an ever-increasing rate of streaming has reaped financial rewards for the wider industry as a whole. With access to music a mere button push on your phone – Spotify alone hosts well over 30 million songs – digital leaders are looking for the next artistic innovation to get the tap of approval.

Not content to let connoisseurs of fine art view the masterworks through its image search alone, Google has announced a raft of new features designed to enhance the digital viewing experience. Tools developed by Google’s Arts and Culture team are being integrated into search and Maps functions, allowing users to explore virtual galleries filled with high resolution imagery using the familiar Street View interface.

For those who’d rather view art amongst hushed halls and muffled footsteps, and for those who need help bluffing their way through brushstrokes, Google has launched Art Recognizer. Billed as a “Shazam for Art”, the feature brings up detailed information on a work when a user simply points their phone at it and is currently available to use at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London.

Yet Google’s foray into digital curation is not merely an exercise in aesthetics. In her blog post announcing the new features, product manager Marzia Niccolai explained that there are 500 million art-related searches made on Google every month. Meeting demand in creative ways has by now become expected of Google, and with the launch of features like these, it continues to prove innovation can be an artform.


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