Art’s Extension of Interface to Social Culture

Google Art Project employs “street view’ 360-degree simulation to give users the chances to wander virtually through galleries as they are installed and zoom in on selected works to an almost microscopic level and combines high-resolution reproductions. It turns Malarux’s musee imaginaire, namely museum without walls into reality and makes the image of an abstract cultural encyclopedia visible.

Tactile and optical reception

Before Malarux’s imagine, Benjamin inaugurated an idea about transmitting representations of art and culture in the context of the modern technical reproducibility of images. The technological reproducibility of the artwork changes the relation of the masses to the art(Benjamin, 1936). Compared to painting, the existence of photography is more influenced by social impact and provides an object of simultaneous collective reception. Human apparatus of perception cannot be performed solely by either optical or tactile. Optical reception is through contemplation while tactile reception is through habit, which is about casual noticing rather than attention. If the audiences can sense the art in a casual way, which requires no attention, even the audiences are distracted, they can still form the habit. Google Art Project as well as the musee imaginaire provides the platform for users to form the above habit, in a digital way. Digital-beings are not physical objects, however, with advanced technologies they can have several thing-like features that have been long regarded as unique to the nature of physical things(Agostino, 2015).

Gigapixel reproduction and high resolution

Museum has its cultural functions and it is the interface to the whole social system. The Google Art Project gives the audience the chance to go to the museums without leaving their houses. That not only brings much convenience, but also extend people’s abilities to sense the world of art. That is to say, with the use of the gigapixel reproduction, which enables arts with seven billion pixels, users can magnify parts of the paintings as much as they want to notice parts that are difficult or impossible to be seen with naked eyes. Also, new technologies allow users to see works of art differently because uses in culturally and historically distinct situations can understand the same pictures in different ways. They are influenced by their own cultural context and background.

However, not everyone thinks that Google Art Project is 100% beneficial. Some hold the view that visual texts are merely windows into content rather than significant actors in their own right, therefore reproductions of them hold less and less ontological value the more they are removed in interface and affordances from the real thing(Mitchell, 1995).

Invisible meaning embedded in arts

Google Art Project creates an encyclopedic interface to art or cultural history and provides system and encyclopedia of meanings and values. For the paintings in the Google Art Project, a painting is designed to be an interface to what is not visible in the painting but presupposed as the ground of its possibility and meaning. Like the mirror in Maids of Honor, with gigapixel reproduction and high resolution, it’s easier and clearer to sense its invisible meaning. Since artworks are as interface to social culture, the existence and development of Google  Art Project extends individuals’ sense and enhances artworks’ influence as social construction.


  1. Agostino, C. (2015). Distant presence and bodily interfaces:” digital-beings” and Google Art Project. Museological Review, (19), 63-69.
  2. Beil, K. (2013). Seeing syntax: Google art project and the twenty-first-century period eye. Afterimage40(4), 22.
  3. Benjamin, W., & Underwood, J. A. (2008). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (Vol. 10). London: Penguin.
  4. Proctor, N. (2011). The Google Art Project: A new generation of museums on the web?. Curator: The Museum Journal54(2), 215-221.