I am not a “high art” person and the only art knowledge that I have was gained from accompanying many friends of mine to various museums, a place nowadays more acknowledged as “tourist resorts”.
Both Benjamin and Malraux care about the high art and the public. In other words, they asked the question: what will happen if “new” technologies facilitates high arts to reach to ordinary people? Benjamin uses the word “exhibition value”, “with the emancipation of specific artistic practices from the service of ritual, the opportunities for exhibiting their products increase.” Benjamin’s intention was not to excluding films and photography from the category of arts but by recognizing the possibility of new technologies brought to paintings, he raises question on the relation of the mass to the art, “while efforts have been made to present paintings to the masses in galleries and salons, this mode of reception gives the masses no means of organizing and regulating their response.”
Now the question is rather “Are museums mediations of paintings (arts)?” than “can paintings be appreciated in crowded museum/galleries?” So when we talk about digital museums, we were actually talk about mediation (digital museums) of mediations (museums). The configurations of museums are set up to serve certain purposes. When you stand in front of a painting in a museum, there are people around you and there are other paintings around you. The environment of the museum (sound, temperature, light, etc.) is something that Benjamin might call “aura”. The painting you see might be moved from other museums or other places, but the real time experience you gain when starring at it is unique. Now the question is: for ordinary people, do they really care about such uniqueness? Famous museums are crowded with people from all over the world. Museums are in the traveling books, depicted as somewhere you can get to know the local culture and to see masterpieces. Everybody who visit The Louvre take pictures of Mona Lisa. People feel excited and mark their museum experience as meaningful.
Google Art Project tries to mediate the “offline” museum experience online. It has 360 degree presentation, HD photos of each arts from hundreds of museums, functions that enables people to present artworks collectively, and many other functions. I think it is a great learning tool, especially for laymen who have no formal education on arts or without any knowledge of artworks. The discussion of realness of artworks in Google Art is useful but the ultimate intention of this project is not to restore the realness (aura) but to provide it as resources to the public. I understand the concern that whether Google Art Project will distort or devalue artworks. For purpose of democratization of art education, the “fictional exhibition function” of Google Art Project outweighs its potential distortion or devaluation artworks, just like how real museums give access to the general public.
It’s a joint effort for both online and offline museums to democratize “high arts”. “High arts” doesn’t have to be mysterious and “hard to reach”. What Google Art does starts a new way of learning. It’s fun to have the Pinterest interface and it’s fun to use 360 degree view to see the real museum online. More importantly, “being fun” is ultimately important to the public.