Category Archives: Week 13

The Girl With The Pearl Selfie Stick – Ojas + Alex

Google Art as Software Remediation

When art is remediated digitally in computer software, the medium opens up editing affordances, blurring the line between type and token. That is to say the painting, itself a token, is typified when it is represented digitally. The digital painting is neither the same as, nor different from the original. In the case of the Vermeer work above, though Girl with a Pearl Earring is a token, it functions as a type for the token of the second image. The second image, in addition to the humor, blends the medium of painting with photography. Though the painting becomes one of the subject taking a mirror selfie, the image, in retaining the visual qualities of a painting, draws a relationship between photography and painting. In this way, it is a token for the types of artistic representation being engaged; however, it also adds new sign processing potential to the original painting. And this is one of the key transformations of artistic representation in Google Art and Culture. The pieces in the museum, when represented digitally, in being remediated and re-represented go through a process of re-typification and potential for re-tokenization.

Parallel Architecture

The three images above represent three layers of abstraction, all of which are in a greater network of sign systems. The sign systems work concurrently in a parallel architecture in which all three layers are engaged simultaneously in the sign processes of any one of images individually. This is because the layers of abstraction and representation are in an evolutionary ecosystem of sign systems. Any changes or re-representations of previous works affect the other representations. So in the case of Venus of Urbino, it is re-instantiated as a symbol in Tribuna of the Uffizi, and again in an extra meta layer of abstraction in Google Art and Culture, engaging and transforming the original.

Meta-Information & The Dialogic Process

We were interested in exploring the notion of the museum as an inherently dialogic institution. Malraux seems to place a primacy on the intertextual and inter-cultural dialog occurring when you juxtapose works of art in the context of a museum. By housing these pieces of art in the same physical and conceptual construct, we necessarily situate them in a historical, yet living, lineage. We are asked to compare, contrast, critique and engage with this lineage as we experience the museum. But meaning doesn’t arise in a vacuum. We need access to the meta-information of each work of art to effectively dialog. This is why tagging is such a crucial component in the digital mediation of Malraux’s “museum without walls”. It provides us with access to the stylistic, temporal, historical and otherwise contextual information surrounding each work of art. The potential for dialogic exploration is thereby enhanced, allowing the viewer to engage with the artistic web of meaning and analyse the art beyond a superficial level.


Google Art in relation to Malreaux’s “museum without walls”

As an interface, the Google Art Project is not only following in Malraux’s footsteps, it is expanding the size of the imprint. The constraints of the art history textbook and its photographic representation of the artistic work are loosened by digital mediation. Malraux conceives of the museum as a conceptual information system for the classification and organization of artefacts, and through its ability to delve deeper into various classifications, the Google Art Project provides us with not only more specificity, but also a more personalized and individualized framework of curation. It is important to remember that with the Google Art Project, we are still operating within the “museum” construct that provides a framework within which we engage with the artwork. We can expand the realm of what constitutes “art”, but we are still confronted by many of the same problems Malraux encountered, such as the reconceptualization into generalized abstractions and the alteration of historical contexts. A museum without walls is still a museum.


  1. Irvine, Martin. 2016. “From Samuel Morse to the Google Art Project: Metamedia, and Art Interfaces.”
  2. Irvine, Martin. 2016. “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art.”
  3. National Gallery of Art, background on Samuel Morse’s painting, The Gallery of the Louvre.
  4. Irvine, Martin. 2016. “The Museum and Artworks as Interfaces: Metamedia Interfaces from Velázquez to the Google Art Project
  5. Proctor, Nancy. 2011. “The Google Art Project.” Curator: The Museum Journal, March 2.



Google Arts and Culture – Weaving A Fabric of Complexity and Moving Towards a Newly Curated Future – Lauren and Carson

The Meaning-making of Curation

To begin our understanding of the meaning-making process of curation we drew from Professor Irvine’s words on reproduction and creating “moments” of art. He writes, “It is the same with figures that in reproduction lose both their original significance as objects and their function (religious or other); we see them only as works of art and they bring home to us only their makers’ talent. We might almost call them not “works” but “moments” of art.” With this in mind, we found that we could illustrate a case study where individuals may study a single piece of art 200 times and compare that to those who take a collection of works of the era and study them in the cultural context of the era’s customs, politics, science and medicine. In this sense we gain an understanding of the complex cultural and artistic fabric that has been weaved over that timeline. As we view the Google Arts & Culture Project’s pieces, we see the zeitgeist of that time rather than one single piece. This is the art of curation. While we may lose some details in a single piece by focusing on these “moments” of art, we that we gain a much greater understanding of the moment by viewing its past influencers and future influences. With the creation of the Google Arts Project, however, we have the affordances of digital remediation to gain the details in individual pieces back. In a digital space, we are granted the ability to both see the larger cultural context and the individual details at the same time. Taking Pierce into consideration, we must remember that a piece of art is a sign vehicle and acts only as one part of the meaning-making process. The other components of the meaning-making process are the relationships between individuals, the vehicle, and past culture.



Understanding Complexity of the Remediation of Art

“Thanks to the rather specious unity imposed by photographic reproduction on a multiplicity of objects, ranging from the statue to the bas-relief, from bas-reliefs to seal-impressions, and from these to the plaques of the nomads, a “Babylonian style” seems to emerge as a real entity, not a mere classification— as something resembling, rather, the life-story of a great creator,” continues Professor Irvine. Grusin and Bolter describe remediation as creating a mosaic of the individual parts in a new platform. We see that the remediation process of photography and then subsequent digital layout and curation very much resembles the mosaic that Grusin and Bolter were referring to. In this space, the seemingly invisible relationships become far more tangible through the Google Arts & Culture Project. Museums have historically attempted to master the art of visually rendering these connections through curation. However, digitality offers far greater affordances in the art of linking and displaying complexity through the remediation process.  As Professor Irvine notes, through photography reproduction, a theme such as the “Babylonian style” or “Cubism” seems to emerge as a real entity rather than just a classification. This emergence is created not by simply one artistic piece, but by the interaction of many unsimple working parts creating a larger system. This system then demonstrates emergent properties not seen in the individual smaller entities. This is the definition of a complex system – a system that a cultural fabric is constantly working within but one we try to pull apart into simple parts and relationships in our search for meaning-making of the entire zeitgeist.



Museums as Meta Space

Museums themselves are meta. Places like the Louvre and the British Museum are cultural symbols filled with cultural symbols. Integrating the Google Art Project and these cultural symbols creates new levels of symbolism.

Multiple levels of symbolism:


Level One: A Piece of Work

The Rosetta Stone









Level Two: The Gallery or Museum the painting is housed in

The British Museum







Level Three: Google Arts & Culture







Level Four: Exploring the Icons with 360 Video

306 view of British Museum

Google Arts & Culture Interface

As a digital interface, the Google Arts & Culture Project is changing the nature of museum environments. Herbert Simon writes, “An artifact can be thought of as a meeting point—an “interface” in today’s terms—between an “inner” environment, the substance and organization of the artifact itself, and an “outer” environment, the surroundings in which it operates. If the inner environment is appropriate to the outer environment, or vice versa, the artifact will serve its purpose.” With this in mind, we analyzed the interface of the Google Arts & Culture Project and see that the project has immense potential. The freedom for personal exploration through photographic representations allows the viewer to study their topics of interest. The site also creates unique curations through movements like Dada and Pop to other themes such as Time or even Color Pallet. The “Art Adventures” create digitally rendered curated explorations into …..


screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-1-56-05-am screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-1-56-30-am

The Interactive Interface and Agency 

Reminds me of Conery when they talk about this:

“Clearly there must be some structure to the computation, otherwise one could claim any connection of random symbols a constituted state” (p.815).

There needs to be a reason for the output, in turn making it symbolic.

Wegner says, “The radical notion that interactive systems are more powerful problem-solving engines than algorithms is the basis for a new paradigm for computing technology built around the unifying concept of interaction”

This supports the agency embedded within the interface.


Morse only wanted what he thought would be important in his painting of the gallery. Is the Google Art Project the same? What exactly decides what shows up on the main interface? Is there agency within the interface or are there predetermined patterns that could skew the meaning making process?

The Future of Google Arts Project Interface Design

“Perhaps the most important role of the Google Art Project is to be a ‘‘platform,’’ as Michael Edson puts it, giving rise to new and surprising ways of interacting with collections,” writes Nancy Porter. She notes that Google’s Create a Collection is a very popular feature and in our exploration of the Google Arts & Culture Project, we found a link to “create your own curation.” However, this link was not active and the interface for this feature has not been created. Like Nancy Porter, we envisioned the great potential this project could have if the feature existed. We believe that the full affordances of digitality are not being utilized in this project. With the digital revolution, we have seen an emergent property of “making” as a digital research tool. The Google Art project attempts to allow you to take greater agency over your museum-like exploration through finding your own way through the site, but the exploration phase fails to allow you to curate your own experience. We have imagined a Google Art Project that allowed you to have an individual account attached to the site. Here, your artistic journey would begin and you would be allowed to make your own collections similar to interfaces like Spotify, Zotero, and Tumblr. These personal collections would then be shared publicly with others and could be compared and analyzed and there would be digital art curation gate keepers who would receive massive amounts of followers.


These personal curated collections would help us better understand our cultural meaning-making processes and the complexities of how we view symbolic and artistic movements while exploring ours and others’ collections. These collections act as hyper-distributed cognition in somewhat real-time and constantly changeable digital visual renderings of the seemingly invisible relationships between artifacts, individuals, and culture. Participants can also create “Art Adventures” using the simple motion effects used in the already highlighted “Art Adventures” like Vemeer’s Little Street. Acting as the ultimate gatekeeper, Google Arts & Culture could then pick certain curators or “Art Adventures” to be featured similar to the interface of Vimeo or Instagram.


These collections would allow the agency to be given back to the user that the interface had previously disrupted. The user would be able to curate and create their own patterns using the works provided that were particular to their own liking. Creating their own virtual gallery.



Martin Irvine, “From Samuel Morse to the Google Art Project: Metamedia, and Art Interfaces.”

National Gallery of Art, background on Samuel Morse’s painting, The Gallery of the Louvre.

Nancy Proctor, “The Google Art Project.” Curator: The Museum Journal, March 2, 2011.

Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996. Excerpt (11 pp.).

Peter Wegner, “Why Interaction Is More Powerful Than Algorithms.” Communications of the ACM 40, no. 5 (May 1, 1997): 80–91.

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000. Excerpts in 2 files: Introduction | Chapter 1.

Google Art & Culture: a Meta-museum (Jieshu & Roxy)

This week we are going to use a Sanxingdui museum on Google Arts & Culture as an example.

Background of Sanxingdui

Sanxingdui, literally three stars mound, is the name of a Chinese archaeological site and the previously unknown Bronze Age culture for which it is the type site. It is located in Sichuan, China. It is the best place to watch and learn Sanxingdui Culture, which is the heritage of a lost civilization. Google Art Project provides people a chance to enjoy the fantastic artifacts of Sanxingdui without going there.

Home Page of Sanxingdui Museum

In the home page of Google Arts’ Sanxingdui Museum, we found that google will provide this website with the language of your account’s preferences. And this whole website doesn’t apply the choice to choose languages.


Google will present different languages according to your Google account

  • Daily selected Image with a hyperlink
  • Museum name and a brief introduction


  • Two exhibits: the faces of Sanxingdui, and the animals in Sanxingdui. These exhibits are created by expert curators of this gallery. We can totally see how digitalized design impact museums. Instead of the sole arrangements (link to the official website) in real museums, they can arrange these collections in multiple choices.
  • In this Collection. Here we can see albums whose covers are images of a token of this type. These tags are exactly the same tags at the bottom of the page of each item. But we think that this function could be improved, because existing tags are not precise.


  • 98 Items. 98 items with photos and hyperlinks, arranged with a pattern, we tried to analyze the rule of this pattern, but failed.
    • Organize by popularity
    • Organize by color
    • Organize by time


Specific Item

After you click into a specific item, you can see this item with high-resolution. You can zoom in to see the details.


  • High-resolution.Those photos are captured by Art Camera system. A gigapixel image is made of over one billion pixels, and can bring out details invisible to the naked eye. Digitalization preserves the meaning of the artifacts.
  • Private/public collections. Through the ♥️button. It is also a platform for you, after logging in, to collect your favorite collections and make your own exhibits, you can even share it with your friends and families. This practice could democratize art and culture.

Virtual Tour

Google use a system called Trolley to shot photos inside museums. A Trolley is a push-cart mounted with a camera system.


  • Collect images. Trolley equipped with several cameras and sensors.
  • Align images. After they shot the images, they use GPS, speed, and direction information to align imagery. This helps Google reconstruct Trolley’s exact route, and tilt and realign images as needed.
  • Turning photos into 360 photos. To avoid gaps in the 360 photos, adjacent cameras take slightly overlapping pictures, and then they ‘stitch’ the photos together into a single 360-degree images. They then apply special image processing algorithms to lessen ‘seams’ and create smooth transitions.
  • Showing the right images. How quickly Trolley’s lasers reflect off surfaces tells them how far a wall or object is, and enables them to construct 3D models, which determines the best panorama.

We found, however, unlike paintings, because all items in Sanxingdui are three-dimensional objects, displaying them on a two-dimensional screen is not enough to provide us with a sense of reality. Many feelings evoked by three-dimensional structures are lost. In addition, the user experience of the virtual tour is bad, without any feeling of immersion.


  • Google Art Project is a meta-museum. Digitalization of conventional media enables computing devices to become a meta-media. The items in Google Arts Project could be re-arranged in an unprecedentedly easy way. So Google Art Project became a museum of museums—a meta-museum, just as gallery paintings as meta-painting.
  • Google Art Project democratize artworks, just like Samuel Morse’s gallery painting.
  • Google Art Project by far is not competent to mediate three-dimensional objects.
  • The user experience virtual tour needs improving.
  • Deep Remix. We are also fascinated by Google Art Experiment, where items are used to create beautiful patterns like waves according to their shapes or colors, although in the timeline of Free Fall experiment, we couldn’t find items from Sanxingdui Museum. It’s a demonstration of the concept of deep remix mentioned by Lev Manovich in his Software Takes Command.

P.S. We really like to share with you this video, which is another example of meta-media.

R^2 Does Google

Google Arts & Culture Case Study

(Link to the longer version – for our reference, but we’re sure you’re all eager to read more)

The Google Art project is an extremely ambitious undertaking. Like Diderot’s vision to collect, organize and present all of the world’s knowledge in one volume or Malraux’s attempt to chronicle all of art history (Irvine Malraux, 2), Google aims to collect, organize, and present all of the world’s art in one location, externalizing cognition and storing and transmitting knowledge. Google Arts & Culture is helping to further Engelbart’s vision of collective intelligence.

Google’s current interface seems like a placeholder interface for longer-term remediation, glimpses of which can be seen in the left-hand navigation, particularly the experiments section. There is reason to believe that as interest in this project increases, Google collects a full catalog of art with which it can experiment, and the project moves out of the beta phase, the interface will improve. Google does, after all, take an iterative approach to problem solving and product development.

The project is currently billed as a space where providers can store and organize digital versions of their catalogs, and users can explore these vast archives. It’s about language advertises the space as an opportunity for the “culturally curious” user to “explore cultural treasures in extraordinary detail and easily share with your friends.” The pitch geared toward partner institutions, meanwhile, focuses on curation and cataloging: “We build free tools and technologies for the cultural sector to showcase and share their gems, making them more widely accessible to a global audience.” Google offers the platform as a collection management system and a storytelling tool.

The feat of partnering with institutions, providing the technology (such as the Google Art Camera), and taking the time needed to capture each work of art should not be underestimated (Proctor). The current state of Google’s interface should be evaluated in the context of this broader, sweeping vision.

The undertaking is unprecedented in the art world and seemingly without precedent elsewhere. The other current projects of this scale that immediately come to mind are other Google projects: the Google Book Project, Google’s Public Data Directory, Google’s Evolution of the Web, Google Moon, or Google Mars, Google Self-Driving Car Project, the whole concept of its search engine. With the exception of Google’s Evolution of the Web project, none of these interfaces are terribly innovative in terms of remediation. The Google Arts & Culture project, in that sense, is the most aesthetically refined, perhaps reflecting the gravity of its content or the desires of  the partners from various museums and cultural sites.

Currently, the primary interface is capable of mediating structural or formal levels of meaning (Irvine Week 13 Slide #76) as the “two-dimensional perceptible surfaces/substrate” that function “as symbol tokens and physical representations” (Irvine Week 13 Slide #64). Yet, how much semiotic intention went into the design process is unclear, and the interface itself is a bit of a black box. Who is choosing the slices and curating the content is not always transparent to the user, and Google provides no navigation instructions, so it is difficult for the user to quickly grasp the full functionality and extent of the platform, for instance.


What’s more, this content is presented in a design that is not innovative and does not dramatically remediate artifacts for the digital space—perhaps intentionally if this is indeed merely a stop on the way to something more. Other museum sites have a similar appearance and allow users to explore artifacts while playing up the encyclopedic affordances of the digital space, such as the MOMA and the Met. The comparison of these cases to an actual encyclopedia’s website, such as Encyclopedia Britannica, is interesting.


Some of Google’s tools are unique to the digital space and helps shift the context and take the user beyond what is possible in a physical museum, such as the zoom function.You can get up close and personal with Monet’s abstract brushstrokes that somehow come together to present a cohesive whole or Klimt’s vibrant golds selectively applied, seeing the hand of the artist at work in a way not possible in person.

monetfull monetzoom

Meanwhile, the 360 degree camera is an attempt to mediate dynamic levels of meaning present in the physical space as well; you can browse and “walk-through” museum spaces at your own pace, with the freedom to zoom at will and avoid social distractions and norms.

Yet, these efforts essentially just use new technological developments to play around the edges of existing standards (Murray, Manovich, Proctor).

Despite the current limitations of the primary interface, Google may be on a more innovative long-term remediation track. Specifically, in the left-hand navigation of the site, there are a number of interesting experiments that can free up more human brain space for meaning-making by offloading significant parts of a cognitive burden onto computing technology:

Still, these experiments seem quite technology- rather than user-centric at the moment. User agency is limited in the sense that Murray describes, potentially because this is just a beta version. Users can explore features, but they are exploring what partner institutions and invisible Google forces have organized and curated. They rely on modern-day versions of Malraux’s “great creator” as guides through the artwork and are not able to easily make their own connections (Irvine Malraux).

If the Google Art Project truly intends to flatten the hierarchy of art and provide unprecedented access to all users, users should have more control over the interface organization and what is done with the art. Of course, technological capabilities play a role as well—what users can do with the platform in part depends on their internet connection and computer hardware. But providing an interface that allows users to manipulate the platform more, and more easily, would also bring it more in line with Alan Kay’s and Douglas Engelbart’s visions of computing systems that can augment human intellect and aid in the learning process while pushing remediation further.

Perhaps this is ultimately what Google has in mind. We’ll have to wait and see.

Works Cited

Irvine, Martin. 2016. “From Samuel Morse to the Google Art Project: Metamedia, and Art Interfaces.”

Irvine, Martin. 2016. “The Museum and Artworks as Interfaces: Metamedia Interfaces from Velázquez to the Google Art Project.” PowerPoint Presentation.

Irvine, Martin. 2016. “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art.”

Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.

Murray, Janet H. 2011. Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

National Gallery of Art. 2011. “A New Look at Samuel F. B. Morse’s Gallery of the Louvre.” Pamphlet from the National Gallery of Art.

Proctor, Nancy. 2011. “The Google Art Project.” Curator: The Museum Journal, March 2.

Going Down the Rabbit Hole of Google Arts & Culture – Katie & Amanda

Museums are a traditionally physical structure that foster the education and examination of art history. They function as cultural institutions and “an organizing system for a society’s (usually nationalistic) ‘cultural encyclopedia’ of prototype works” (Irvine, 4).

For this week’s post, we decided to focus on the virtual tour feature of the Google Art Project. This feature involves exploring and interpreting a museum, as well as the cultural artifacts inside it, in different ways than you normally would in a physical museum. The technology allows users to use a 360-degree video experience to choose from what perspective you view a museum and its contents.


The ability to fluidly move between rooms, focus on a particular piece of art and choose from what angle and to what extent you examine this art, effectively shifts how we organize shared knowledge and how we archive memory, specifically online. In this way, the Google Arts and Culture Project is an interface to not only art history, but to the virtual museum experience in which we examine that history.

Museums are mediated by the virtual tour function of Google Arts and Culture Project. In addition, the Google Arts and Culture Project has done its best to replicate what it means to “tour” a museum. By this we mean that the simulated museum experience does resemble the actual physical tour experience in some ways (although there are important differences). Similarities include a 360-degree view of each rooms. Viewers aren’t limited to a 2D static image. They can move (by way of a mouse) to look in each room from different perspectives.

From here, we’ll unpack the different conceptual layers of the virtual museum experience. The first is choosing a museum.

  1. Choose a Museum: We chose the J. Paul Getty Museum, located in Los Angeles, CA. As students in Washington, DC, our ability to tour this west coast based museum took a matter of seconds, which indicates how time becomes less of a constraint when virtually touring a space.

Below is an aerial image of the Getty museum. Not only can users choose which museum to tour, but they can begin that tour in any part of the museum. This choice allows them to self-navigate, creating tours that other museum goers might never have experienced before, which highlights the simultaneously individual yet collective experience of a virtual tour.


This view refocuses viewers back to the importance of the physical museum. Proctor notes,  “… both the gigapixel image and the Street View underscore and enhance the importance and centrality of the original object and its context in the museum” (Proctor, 221). Google does not let viewers forget the context in which they are viewing a piece of art. And yet, “Curators make deliberate and educated choices about the placement of art in the museum. The stories and relationships revealed by the way objects are hung in the galleries offer as much insight into the works as any catalogue or other document authored by an expert” (Proctor, 219). Is it significant that museum goers can connect stories and relationships not necessarily intended by the curators?  

What are the implications of encoding meaning and transmitting representations of artifacts in this virtual museum through time and space? As Dr. Irvine explains, “… the museum functions by also transmitting the museum idea, an image of an abstract ‘cultural encyclopedia’ made visible” (Irvine, 4). The way that the replicated images are organized on the Google Arts and Culture platform impacts how we encode the images as “an idealized, interpretive narrative sequence assumed to exemplify a common musée imaginaire…” (Irvine, 5).

  1. Exploring the Getty Museum. The museum is represented in static images, which are a construction of pixels mapped onto our screen. We create movement among these images by navigating with our mouse. Through the extension of human cognition via a computer system, we can move through the museum, recognizing patterns among exhibits, as well as within individual pieces of art.  We use media, signal and symbol representations to identify the significance of these patterns. In the context of a computer system, we act through an interface, which has specific design features and software layers that map pixels onto our screen in a particular way.

In other words, the virtual museum itself is a representation, or replication, of the actual, physical Getty Museum. So, the online representation of the Getty Museum is an instance, or token, which contains cultural artifacts (other tokens). Through the computer screen interface, we explore the Getty Museum in the context of the Google Arts and Culture web project. Nancy Proctor in “The Google Art Project” cites Eric Johnson, webmaster at  Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, who describes this viewing experience as “a shift from ‘‘content’’ to ‘‘context”” (Proctor, 215).

As Dr. Irvine explains, “a contemporary computational system (large or small) is a design for implementing pre-existing human symbolic-cognitive processes to enable ongoing interpretations through the interactive metamedia design for all our digital encodable symbolic artefacts” (Irvine, 3). In the context of the Google Arts and Culture platform, this means that when museums (previously established sites that “convert the material and social history of cultural objects into a generalized “art history”” (Irvine, 4)) are remediated online, they allow users to interact with “an evolving collection of symbol structures” as they move through time by way of simulation and 360-degree technology (Simon, 22). These interpretations are situated in time and the represent our current environment. They are moving pictures of meaning making.

  1. Looking at a specific artefact. Once you are inside the museum, you have the ability to place yourself in a variety of rooms that actually exist within the physical museum. Because the process of digitizing the various pieces of art can be both time-consuming and highly expensive (Proctor, 216), each virtual tour option differs depending on the amount of art that it is able to provide online. In our example, the Getty museum has a variety of rooms available to browse on both the first and second floors, however, not every room is accessible. Upon “entering” a room, the user has the option to take a closer look at the different pieces of art by clicking one of the images at the bottom.


We chose to take a closer look at a painting titled, “A Hare in the Forest.” Upon clicking on the image, the camera directs users to the place where the artefact is located. This gives someone the ability to see what other artefacts are located nearby while giving them a sense of place and space – even without being there physically, users can get a sense of their surroundings. While users can zoom in and see the art from the room perspective, they can also gain more information on the piece of art by clicking on the box with the artwork’s name on it.


Upon clicking on the named box, users are taken out of the room and into a space that introduces them to the piece of art. In our example, we are looking at a painting that was created in the 1500s.

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-6-31-58-pm screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-6-32-13-pm

It is at this point that users are able to experience more online than they would be able to experience in the museum; if someone clicks on the magnifying glass, they then have access to the painting from a much closer perspective – a proximity that would never be achieved if viewed in the actual museum. This feature backs up the statement that was made in “The Google Art Project” reading – this high-resolution image exemplifies how the Web can be used to complement an encounter with gallery artwork, instead of attempt to imitate the artwork (Proctor, 215).


The ability to zoom into the picture gives the user an experience that he or she would not have in a museum. Zooming out, the user also has the ability to read more about the painting’s history and context.

  1. Scrolling down the rabbit hole. Moving farther down the page, the user is confronted with the option to “discover more.” This feature is based on what the user is currently looking at; Google sees that they’re looking at a painting located in the Getty Museum, with the main subject being a rabbit, and the artist being Hans Hoffmann. Thus, the recommended content relates to what the user is currently looking at – the Getty Museum, Hans Hoffmann, and mammals. And if they were to click on either of the three options, they would then be directed toward more options that would allow them to discover more about the particular subject. For example, if we were to click on “mammals…”


… we would be taken to a page that introduces us to what a mammal is….


… and if we scrolled farther down this page, we would find a directory of paintings and artwork that contain depictions of mammals.


If you click on one of the images, it will then direct you to the page that allows you to zoom in on the image, while also giving you information about its history and at which museum it’s currently housed at. Echoing the title of this blog, the virtual tour feature of Google Arts & Culture can be related to the metaphor of going down a rabbit’s hole – just when you think you’ve found something interesting, you are encouraged to click on yet another new link with new opportunities for adventure. Just by clicking on the recommended “mammals” page, we went from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles to a painting with horses at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. From there, we clicked on a chandelier image which recommended we take a look at glass artefacts, and from there we chose a recommended vase that is currently housed at the Museum of Arts and Crafts in Zagreb, Croatia. Google Arts & Culture allows users to learn and travel thousands of miles, visiting some of the world’s most treasured cultural centers, in the span of just a few minutes.

  1. A virtual experience that differs from the physical experience. The Google Arts Project allows users to navigate around a museum from the comfort and ease of their computer. Because of the virtual tours, not only can users see an image of an iconic piece of art, but they can see the room that the piece of art is housed in – the wall that it sits on or near, the pieces of art that compliment it nearby, and even the floor and ceiling of the room surrounding it. While all of these features enhance the experience, there are also elements that are lost in the process. For example, what does the room sound like? What does it smell like? Is the room hot or cold? How does lighting affect the painting at different hours of the day? While none of these elements enhance the art per se, they do make an impact on the user experience.

Another downfall of Google Arts & Culture is the fact that, as we mentioned above, not all rooms, or pieces of art, in any given museum or establishment, can be transferred as images online. As Proctor writes, “Beyond the costs of the gigapixel capture process, negotiating the rights to represent art online can be exceptionally difficult and costly” (216). It is noted in this reading that Jane Burton, the creative director of Tate Media, believes that Google Art risks “giving a very skewed image of creative output through time and around the world” (Proctor, 216). She gives the example that 20th century modernism could be absent because of high reproduction fees. This obviously serves as an obstacle for Google Arts & Culture, but it also proves the point that while this virtual tour option enhances society and its understanding of arts and culture, it will most likely not obsolesce the museum. Nancy Proctor reiterates this statement by writing, “I would argue that both the gigapixel image and the Street View underscore and enhance the importance and centrality of the original object and its context in the museum” (Proctor, 221).

6. Closing thoughts. Google Art & Culture has the potential to enhance the viewer’s interest in a particular piece of art or gallery, and this interest could lead to a future, in-person visit to the gallery. This could benefit the individual museum as well as the overall economy. However, we found that just because a user can take a virtual tour of these cultural meccas, it does not mean that this virtual experience replaces the act of physically visiting a museum; there are many elements of the user experience that are still missing. The fact that Google Arts & Culture is free to use serves as an enhancement to society; it is a free teaching tool for users of any age, and it has the potential to promote a culture of users who will become more educated on the topics of art and culture.


Martin Irvine, “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art“.

Martin Irvine, “From Samuel Morse to the Google Art Project: Metamedia, and Art Interfaces.”

National Gallery of Art, background on Samuel Morse’s painting, The Gallery of the Louvre.

Nancy Proctor, “The Google Art Project.” Curator: The Museum Journal, March 2, 2011.

Presentation (Irvine): “The Museum and Artworks as Interfaces: Metamedia Interfaces from Velázquez to the Google Art Project.”

Martin Irvine, “Introduction: Toward a Synthesis of Our Studies on Semiotics, Artefacts, and Computing.

Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996. Excerpt (11 pp.).

The Diner and The Donut Shop (Joe and Jameson)

In Anthropology, the concepts of the sacred and profane are used to show how cultures would take specific aspects of life which they deemed more meaningful and separate them from the mundane tasks of everyday life. Sacred rituals and artifacts were ascribed a symbolic level not attributable to profane tasks and artifacts. In the physical world, museums have functioned as a sacred space for culture, presenting a curated set of artifacts which constitute a version of cultural memory, apart from the outside. The Google Cultural Institute is a new meta-interface providing a digital version of the sacred space for culture, delineated from Google’s profane web search.  

When we talk about “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper, what are we actually referring to? On the most basic level, it refers to the original, physical painting itself. Moving up a level, it can also refer to the original painting and all the physical copies, or replications, made of the original. Moving up yet another level, it can refer to photographic representations of the painting–since the painting is so distinct, and we can, upon seeing it, recognize it as “Nighthawks.” Moving up even further, photographic representations of the painting (or, most likely, of copies of the painting) uploaded into the digital space constitute yet another interface for the original painting. When you search for “Nighthawks” on Google Images, you get thousands of results, including a wide selection of photographic representations of the painting, as well as iterations that range from re-interpretation to parody.

The former has similar “likeness” to the original and can be immediately recognized as “Nighthawks.” We tend to think of this as merely being the thing that it is representing–if you come across it on Google Images, you will probably refer to it merely as “Nighthawks” (not “a digital representation of a photograph of a copy of…” etc). The latter, on the other hand, may have some similar elements to the original painting, but also alters other elements. Even though it is not an exact replica or representation of the original painting, we still understand it as related, in some way, to “Nighthawks.” This is because it belongs to the cultural category of “Nighthawks,” in that it references and assumes an understanding of the artifact in question. The artistic, recognizable attributes are the same as the original Hopper painting (and its many representations), even though other key elements are changed. These similar attributes are what allow us to understand it as being an iteration belonging to this particular cultural category.


The order in which we look at these representations is important as well in determining their meaning. In this way, how paintings are organized on a wall in a museum becomes another process of recursive modification. As you your eyes pan from one painting to the next, the meanings of each painting changes by each preceding image. This same process is observable in Google’s search interface, when you search for a painting you get all the images that have resulted to similar searches through Google’s PageRank. When you search for “Nighthawks” you get a replica of Edward Hopper’s painting, but you also get parodies of it. These parodies change the meaning of the painting because they denote “Nighthawks”’ cultural significance, without context as to what made it significant, nor where it stands in the artist’s canon. Other Edward Hopper works exist in the same cultural category as paintings related to “Nighthawks”, but they change the meaning of “Nighthawks” by expanding on the themes that the artist was exploring, rather than marking “Nighthawks” as important in and of itself.

Parodies of Nighthawks:



Themes of Nighthawks:


Think of the different ways in which you would conceptualize “Nighthawks” after viewing each block of images. The meta-interface in which you view them will be the same, Google’s search engine, but the meanings elicited by each viewing will be very different. Seeing both give a more elaborate view of artistic output, and the many realms it can penetrate in our cultural consciousness. Google Cultural Institute cannot replace Museums as a way to experience art, but it can offer a substantially different context for looking at art. One that fulfills the more research oriented aspects of what the computer system can do, from it’s early conception as the “Difference Engine” to Vannevar Bush and Alan Kay’s work to where we are now in the mediated present.  


Durkheim, Emile. 1915. “Elementary Forms of the Religious Life.”

Irvine, Martin. 2016. “From Samuel Morse to the Google Art Project: Metamedia, and Art Interfaces.”

Irvine, Martin. 2016. “André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Museum Idea) and Interfaces to Art.”

Irvine, Martin. 2016. “The Museum and Artworks as Interfaces: Metamedia Interfaces from Velázquez to the Google Art Project“

National Gallery of Art, Background on Samuel Morse’s painting, The Gallery of the Louvre.

Proctor, Nancy. 2011. “The Google Art Project.” Curator: The Museum Journal, March 2.

A Case Study on Google Arts & Culture (Ruizhong & Yasheng)

A visual illustration of different layers of Interface

TEAM: BEAUTY♡ PRETTY☆ SOCIETY♀ (Ruizhong & Yasheng)

The Princess from the Land of Porcelain (La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine)
James McNeill Whistler
FS-7754_01-651x1024 copy

We decided to use this painting in the famous Peacock Room as an example to demonstrate different layers of interface involved in Google’s Arts & Culture project. We will illustrate different steps of representation in the process of digitalizing the experience of viewing this painting.

Layer 1: The painting itself

The description of the painting can be found on Freer Museum’s website as well as on the Google Arts & Culture site;

This painting, popularly know as “The Princess from the Land of Porcelain”, which hangs over the mantel in the Peacock Room, was part of a series of costume pictures undertaken by Whistler in mid-1860s in which western models appear in Asian dress, surrounded by Chinese and Japanese objects from Whistler’s own collections. Whistler never visited Asia, and his creative borrowing of eastern objects and influences was motivated by a desire to suggest the temporal and spatial distance of a foreign, and therefore imaginary realm, rather than by an interest in Asian cultures per se.

As described in the description, this painting is not intended to showcase affinity towards Asian culture per se, rather a display of the imaginary. Orientalism aside, the painting is quite interesting as its dialectic between the West and the East is represented through both its inside and outside architecture. The inside architecture – the painting as a whole and symbolic element in the composition, generating multiple interpretants to feature the clash between the Eastern and the Western cultures. The image of a white woman in vaguely Eastern outfit standing among Eastern items comprises a number of tokens together function as icons (e.g. images of the Chinese vase), Indices (e.g. the posture of the lady pays homage to the Japanese style – Ukiyo-e), and Symbols (e.g. the mixture of different cultural elements indicate the painter’s desire to showcase his love for arts in all forms).

Now the immediate outside architecture – the golden frame of the painting. The frame of the painting is a solid golden frame with detailed decorations and this frame adds a new layer of interface by enhancing the luxurious quality of the painting.

Screen Shot 2016-11-22 at 9.00.03 PM

So the painting itself is an interface between the author and his audience, through which they can form a mutual understanding of what the painting signifies.

Layer 2: The painting in the Peacock Room and the Freer Museum

A further outside architecture of this painting is also a codependent element – the Peacock Room. Codependent in the sense that they compensate each other to signifier the underlying meaning of this room. From this image we can see that all these objects work together to add a new layer of interface for people to have an immersive understanding of the Peacock Room. Of course, one can make the argument that the room and the painting together is an interface as a part of the Freer installation, but we decided to separate them because we are emphasizing on the painting. From this image, we can see a clear four-step meta happening, we are looking at an interface (the painting) within an interface (the room) that resides in another interface (the museum) through a digital interface (the computer screen).

And this brings us to the next layer of interface – digital representation.

Layer 3: Digital computer interface of painting

We go meta again when we watch the painting on the computer screen in the context of Google Arts & Culture website.

The material screen is a pixel-mapped substrate. The painting itself in fact is represented by a set of pixels. These pixels are organized in a specific way to resemble the original painting. In the computer screen mediated painting, the palette of the original, as well as the figures and objects depicted in the original are highly resembled. Apart from the painting, the explanatory texts and audios beside the digital mediated painting also an example of imitating the description in paper and the curator’s voice in the physical museum. Therefore, the digital representations are taking advantage of preexisting interfaces.


But it also has something new, which an actual museum cannot do. In Alan Kay’s vision, this is a win for the virtual museum.Picture2

However, what we see from the screen are a series of semi-static “screenshots” of the painting as well as the surroundings, the settings in the Peacock Room. The 3-dimensional virtual tour of the room imitates the experience of on-site visiting. Watching the painting on screen is definitely different from watching the painting in the Peacock Room. Something might be missing during the remediation, such as the texture of the layered brushstrokes of the oil painting, the smell of the ancient wooden shelves and furniture, the ambient light in the room, etc.

Layer 4: Digital computer interface of Google Arts & Culture

By mapping around the webpage of Google Arts & Culture, the construction of the website serves to guide us around the website by the side bar and the scrolling content.



Scrolling Content

Scrolling Content

First, all these texts and images are buttons that link to another page. This function is realized by the hyperlink. Hyperlink as a meta language has no physical quality, rather an indice that directs you to somewhere else.

Second, the digital representations like icons, indices, and symbols are everywhere on the website. By looking at the side bar, all the icons are taking advantage of the cognitive affordance of other icons on other websites, they are not by any means new.

Take a closer look, the Google Arts & Culture website is a digital representation of a collection of museums in terms of multiple ways of categorizing and sequencing. First, the side bar tries to “guess” what’s in your mind and what might interest you. Second, they try to help you map out how to organize different exhibits. These icons are designed to aid this cognitive process without any physical constraints.

The scrolling content are image driven and divided into different sections so that you can always see more. The design of such website is to let the icons do the work so that the symbol don’t act as a form of “distraction” (Alan Kay).


The Google Arts & Culture project is great in terms of extending and enhancing the influence of museum, but we think it cannot not fully re-mediate or replace museum as the mediate of arts. As we stated earlier, virtual museum, through digital representation, can achieve a lot and even beyond “a lot.” Yet it lacks certain authentic quality – you cannot smell the wooden structure in the room, feel the room with your own body, and see the light bounce off the object. Google Books is a more possible project in the way that most people read book in analog now and maybe it will be the future (though the two of us prefer the tree-killing texture of a physical book) .


Martin Irvine, " André Malraux, La Musée Imaginaire (The Imagined Museum) and Interfaces to Art". Overview and Excerpts from Malraux's text.

Presentation (Irvine): "Semiotic Foundations (2): The Museum and Artworks as Interfaces: Metamedia Interfaces from Velázquez to the Google Art Project"

Nancy Proctor, "The Google Art Project." Curator: The Museum Journal, March 2, 2011.

Martin Irvine, "Working with Semiotic Concepts and Methods: Momentary Concluding Exercises for CCTP-711."