Category Archives: Week 13

Reinvestigate Google Art Project

Personally, I’ve never heard of Google Art Project, and I prefer physically to be inside museums and see paintings physically in front of me, which always thrill me because I am able to witness the masterpiece by myself. However, after I searched and opened Google Art Project, I found it beyond my expectation since I can receive recommendations and feature stories about the type of arts I like, and I can have more informed choices of seeing arts. For example, I am a huge fan of Picasso, so when I searched his name on Google Art Project, it presented me his biography and critiques of his work, which I find very useful for amateur art viewers like me to be more educated in terms of art history.

On a semiotic level, what I can derive from the layout and contents of Google Art Project is that it is very different from the traditional art space we see. In the traditional art space, albeit the innovation made this year trying to make traditional art more relevant among young people and geeks, it is a secluded place where you walk in and feel the space and time is halted. It is designed to make you feel somewhat isolated and only talk about and think about art. Whereas Google Art Project is designed in a way consistent with almost every pop culture related, trendy website. It does not seek to exclude, rather it strives to be included.

In addition, how Google Art Project was designed and programmed reflect a new trend in arts: in the era of mass production, code and page layout can be massively replicated. Thus, it no longer establishes fine arts as some kind of luxury or rarity, on the contrary, it becomes a surplus when every piece of artwork is within touch.  When art reproduction is easily enabled by technology, the public’s meditation of art should have also changed since art is now also a mass-produced commodity and subject to people’s perception of value.

Also, the digitalization of artwork means that art can be unrestricted by social class. In the past, art can only be appreciated among well-educated and affluent people (considering museums usually are situated in the most gentrified areas). Now that artworks can be retrieved anytime and anywhere because of Google Art Project, art can now be seen and reinterpreted by more people from their distinct points of view, which offers an opportunity to revamp traditional arts and artist and appoint modern meanings to the older one.



Can a virtual tour replicate feelings, meanings, values?

The google art platform enables the users to virtually tour museums around the world, explore information about artwork, and see high quality reproductions of different famous pieces.

Initially this looks like a great project, which gives you the ability to virtually be in any museum and see the art work available.

But how does this experience actually feel? Is it enough to reproduce the real experience of visiting an actual museum?

These questions to me relate to the hot debate about books vs. ebook, and how we use technology in our advantage to replicate the feel of a book, but no matter how good we are at that, we can never replace the feel and experience holding a book in your hand and reading it, and let’s not forget about technical features like the battery and electricity. If your ipad/pc runs out of battery, then everything that was available to you is gone in seconds..  upsss…

The same argument can be made for the google art project, but in this case the issue is a little bit deeper, because now we’re talking about culture, and the museum itself as a cultural function and cultural institution.

As Dr. Irvine explains, drawing from the insights of Malraux, Bourdieu, Latour, Debray, O’Doherty, and institutional theory, as a cultural institution, the museum (like the school or library) is a social construction, a reproducible function, given visible symbolic form in physical spaces (actual architected environments) as mediums for transmitting and reproducing the function. Rather than thinking about the museum function in some kind of neutral, pre- or non-technological state, we should rethink the museum in its network of functions and mediations, which are implemented in a historical continuum of technical systems (including the text and image technologies used to represent the artefacts organized by a museum and the symbolism of architecture).

As users, when we look at one of the galleries in a museum we can experience different things.

Let’s take a look at the features that are available to us.

It gives us the ability to zoom in, have a virtual tour, 360 degrees videos, street view, simulations.

This brings us to the Malraux’s dilemma which states: “Any technology for representation, reproduction, transmission, and access will need to be recruited and authorized to mediate the cultural functions of the museum and artworld”.

Cultural functions are not determined by specific technologies of mediation;
rather, cultural functions (institutions, categories of value: “Art”) precede any specific technology of mediation the technologies require validation for cultural functions.

Any artwork that we see is an interface to the system of meaning and values that made it possible. All cognitive, representational interfaces implement semiotic principles.

It is the human interaction with an artifact that makes that experience meaningful and valuable, and there is no virtual technology that can replicate that.


Benjamin, Walter “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility” (1936; rev. 1939).

Agostino,Cristiano “Distant Presence and Bodily Interfaces: ‘Digital-Beings’ and Google Art Project.” Museological Review – University of Leicester, no. 19 (2015): 63-69.

Martin, Irvine “The Museum and Artworks as Interfaces: Metamedia Interfaces from Velásquez to the Google Art Project”

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


Museum or shelter

Is there a right way to get along with art and history? This is the question I have after walking through the readings of the week. Or to be more specific – is museum the “right way” to approach art and history?

I love museums and I have been to some of the major museums, from the general ones – “The Met”, the Louvre, to the ones with a focus – MOMA, the WWII museum, to some of the “specialties” – the spy museum, the mob museum. Different museums have different characteristics, different curation logic and different ways to engage the audiences. As far as I enjoyed many of them, I never stop questioning: is this the right if not the best way to arrange all the artifacts and create such a space for us to access all the “points of interests”?

This is a complicated question. Museums are not for everyone in the first place. Most of the museums have geographical attributions, one would need to overcome the barrier in time and space to have access a certain museum, not to mention things inside the museum—they have another layer of barrier – the intellectual barrier. Everything has to work within a context—this is especially true to the art and historical objects. This is why many museums would invest heavily in providing the audiences with more background information. This could be achieved by guides (audio machines or human guides), a restored virtual space (a Chinese temple) and the most common practice – a brief introduction (brochure or small blocks on the wall).

There are many other ways to enhance the sense of presence in a museum – the ultimate goal is to help the audiences understand – how this self-contained artifact in front of you could be connected to a larger context and thus being transformed into something different and unique. So why do we deprive these objects of their original context and put them in a place like a museum? One would argue this is economies of scale – it would be impossible for one to access art and history in such a scale without gathering things in a museum. But this is to say the idea of the museum itself was out of a “value shelter”.

So, when I saw the Google art project, my reaction would be: this is a new layer in the entire hierarchy of accessing art and history. Everything could be a carrier of are and history. Some could be richer than others due to all kinds of reasons. We preserve them and study them so that we could gain a better understanding of the comprehensive context – the context of our world. The museum is a collective effort and representation – effort in increasing the density of the facts and representation of much specific art and history. But it’s never the best way – it’s a way and that’s it. Google art is a way. You could still argue people would stop going to the museums as they now have access to high-quality virtual experience online and this could be true. But chances are that people who are not interested in the art or history gained their first lesson online and want to explore afterward. After all, some exposure is better than zero exposure.

Virtual Tour Experience on Google Art

When exploring the British Museum in Google Art Project, to me, there are two types of different experiences.

The first is the traditional “reading” version. I can see the high-quality photographs of those exhibits on the screen just like I can see them in a printed exhibits album book. These pictures being shown on the screen is quite similar to the reproduction process of shooting a specific painting and reprint the photographic plate for numerous times, in which, to Benjamin, the original painting is art but the reproducing images are not. I’m going to talk about it later in the second type of experience.

The second style of experience is the virtual tour inside the space of the museum. Associating with the idea of Benjamin, with a DVD of The Matrix, I feel that I own this art work of Wachowski, while in the context of a virtual tour, I do not gain the sense of possessing the art works. I think this is what makes the virtual museum tour meaningful, which is that they are not aiming to offering the information of art works in the museum, but offering the experience of walking in a museum. To me, as a consumer, as a visitor, by choosing the virtual tour, I am longing for an experience of visiting a museum by personally because it is clear that if I want to know about the detailed literal and image formation of Rosetta Stone, I will just print its name in Wekipedia.

So, can the museum experience be digitalized? Can the museum function be re-mediated on digital media platform?

To think about this, what I’d like to make sure firstly is that are the things that I see art? Here, by art, I am applying the traditional definition of art that we see in a real gallery or museum from Benjamin with the character of Echtheit? The first thing to clarify is that all that has been shown to us on the screen are the images captured by the lens and are digitalized in the platform. To apply that idea, are digital images of artworks reproductions of artworks? If yes, due to Benjamin, these digital images are not art, aren’t they?

When being in the real British Museum, it is certainly that what we see are “real art” — the original exhibits. While in the virtual tour on Google, all that has been sent to us are digital pixels. To think about it further, take a specific painting as example, do the digitalized painting as an interface to meaning system, as a token of symbols still manage to convey the totally same thing as the original painting hanging on the wall of a gallery?

Besides, in virtual tour, what is controlling the movement trail is our hands. However, in real world, we walk with feet. Even the mode of human perception changes in the long history together with the mode of existence, I myself have not changed that much. Also, limited by technology, the operation in such a virtual tour is not perfectly smooth and easy to deal with.

Google Art: Reality and Reproduction

If you can replicate all properties of a drop of tear, including its chemical components, temperature, shape, and so on, can this drop of water be named after “tear?” After read through this week’s articles, this question jumped into my mind and intrigued me to think about the relationship between reality and simulation.

What impressed me most about Google Art & Museum is that it is not only a meta-media that represents other media, but also simulation and reproduction of artworks and their surrounding milieu.

Users can find a lot of well-known and valuable paintings, sculptures, or other artworks from various museums on the Google Art & Museum. Basically, it is a collection or a platform of artifacts, but it is beyond that as well. By transcends the boundaries of the limitations of space and time, it enables audiences to appreciate artworks at any museums at any time. That’s what it is called “the museum without walls”, which is beneficial to art education to a larger audience. With high resolution, users can zoom in photographs of artifacts showed in Google Art & Museum and even can clearly observe details on a real painting, such as stokes and pixels. On the contrary, sometimes when visitors appreciate a painting in a gallery, they are required to stand behind it to prevent potential damages.

Moreover, Google Art & Museum does not merely take a photograph to demonstrate images but create its scenarios as well. According to Nancy Proctor, “the stories and relationships revealed by the way objects are hung in the galleries offer as much insight into the works as any catalog or other document authored by an expert.” For instance, its “street view” 360-degree mimics the experience that visitors pay a visit to museums by revealing surrounding images with 360-degree.

Nevertheless, some controversies remain considering the simulation for “the real”artifacts. Even with Google’s 360-degree. Based on my user experience, whereas, it is not very smooth to manipulate yet and fails to reconstruct real feelings when visiting museums. As Smee stated, “you may see more, but most agree that you feel less in front of these virtual paintings.” Even when people wear the whole set of virtual reality instruments that technology could reach out nowadays, there still remains distances between reality and stimulation, let alone 360-degree “street view”. In a museum, all sensing organs are activated to immerse the owner into the atmosphere, involving eyes, nose, ears, and even touch, which is a unique experience that people cannot have with simply viewing a painting in front of a cold machine.

I do think that in the case of Google Art, museums play the role of source materials of images for Pinterest-style selection and arrangement. It is due to a sea of valuable objects in these museums that make online demonstration possible. Based on these source materials, Google Art categorizes them into several sub-sets, such as feature-theme, feature stories, artists, and collections. Likewise, Pinterest utilizes classification to arrange its materials.


  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.
  5. Irvine, M. (2018). Malraux and the Musee Imaginaire: (Meta)Mediation, Representation, and Mediating Institutions.

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.


Inside and outside the digitalized museum: Thoughts on the Google Art Project- Wency

Inside and outside the digitalized museum: Thoughts on the Google Art Project

The history of the reproduction of the work of art can be traced back to thousand years ago. But it was not until the age of technological reproducibility when mechanical equipment, or better, apparatus that higher quantity of the reproduction was enabled and critiques and debates around reproduction was started. However, people at that age might have never imagined that almost 100 years after the beginning of the era of mechanical reproduction, a new invisible apparatus is bringing a new revolution where the work of art, together with the interface of the work of art, are both being remediated by digitalization (luckily, Benjamin’s idea in the age of mechanical reproduction seems to be still useful under the digital reproduction era). One of the best examples in this case might be the Google Art project.

  1. Inside the museum: from informational to emotional

A common problem with digital reproduction of art works is that people often consider these reproductions as mere reference to the real thing (Proctor, 2011, p.219). The first generation of museums on the web, according to Serota, was concerned of quantity of information and getting as many objects on line as possible (Proctor, 2011, p.215). The purpose of digital reproduction, in the first generation, is to instantiate as much token as possible in terms of the original work, or better, the prototype.

The google art project, to some extent, brings the digital reproduction era onto the second stage where the gigapixel scans by which artworks are rendered into digital data streams are enabling intimate encounters with images at visual depth not possible even in galleries (Proctor, 2011, p.215). The high-resolution images and high-definition video are therefore, guarantees the quality of the art work which is even better than the real thing, in other words, the online interface, under the second generation of museums on the web, serves as a supporter instead of distractor for the artwork (Proctor, 2011, p.219). The director, under this circumstance, is thus ambitious about transform the pure informational digital token into an emotional one (Proctor, 2011, p. 215).

However, while the exhibition itself is a mutual experience where standing at the perspective of audience, their perceptions are not merely determined by the quality of artwork. In terms of the concept of intertextuality and dialogic principle, audiences’ interpretations of the artwork are contextually situated and tied to their own experience visual culture (Irvine, 2018, p.5; Beil, 2013, p.23). Therefore, the Google art project, on the other hand, is benefit from the understanding audience’s own knowledge of the conventions of artwork reproduction which enables them to select the features of an image during the representation and interpretation (Beil, 2013, p.23).

  1. the digitalized museum

The experience of visiting a museum involves more than looking at a painting. For most audiences, wandering in a museum without knowing what kind of artwork they are looking at might not be a good user experience. Therefore, for instance, if I want to see some great work from ancient Africa, the first thing I would do is heading to the African art area and start the whole adventure. But there might also be a problem, for a real museum, for example, if Europe art and postmodernism are two categories in two different areas, what would the director place an art work that belongs to both categories? But in a digitalized museum it seems to be not a problem. While the backstage software allows you to generate infinite tokens with the same degree of quality, such problem is therefore easily manipulatable.

As is seen in the picture, the artwork can be ascribed into multiple categories. It’s also a great example of how the director is organizing the museum using the idea of abstraction, type and token.

Besides, users’ exhibition experience, or the function of museum is also reproduced. The 360-degree Street-view style tour, by simulating the first-person point of view, is therefore actually simulating the whole exhibiting experience (looking at the artwork and also wandering around the museum).

What’s more, from what we learnt last week about digital devices, applications as metamedium, the Google Art project is also a great example of being a metamedium by manipulating, organizing and digitalizing museums as interfaces between audiences and artworks. The meta-painting example shows how a painting can be a painting about paintings and inspires the digitalization to be a more precise way of representing such meta-painting (Irvine, 2018, p.7), and what’s more, by using close-up, user can see every detail of the painting clearly which is unimaginable in a “thingly” real situation.

  1. the socialized & politicalized interface

– cult value to exhibition value: the socio-political factor behind the design of technology for production

According to Benjamin, in the age of mechanical reproduction, more and more audiences are able to be involved into the perception of art. On the one hand, people are arguing that the aura of art is dispelled because of the uniqueness and permanent of the work are destroyed during the endless generation of same tokens (Benjamin, 2013, p.254). On the other hand, within the improvement of the technology of reproduction, the appreciation of work of art thus becomes a mass project where the difference between social class in terms of art perception is at least decreased. While in the earlier age, the value of art is evaluated in terms of cult value where people are told to watch in distance as if they are in a ritual, now the value of work of art itself is being under a transformation where the cult value is turning into the exhibition value (Benjamin, 2013, p.256). Therefore, when we are talking about how technology is defined by reproducibility or even the work of art is designed for reproducibility, there is also socio-political factors lying behind.

Nevertheless, Benjamin also points out how work of art (e.g. paintings, photographs) and film actors are subjected to the technical apparatus, many critiques at that time were also pointed to the performance of the actor where people are doubtful that the actors, instead of live performances, are relying on the editing techniques, besides, while trying to build a fake personality outside of the studio, the actors themselves, are alienated (Benjamin, 2013, p.261). At the present, it seems that the Google art project has not encounter such problem yet, but the software application makes the digital manipulation much faster and easier, one can expect as many post-editions as possible in the future. What, then, would be the future of the art works and artists involved in the museum? What would be the future of the museum as a meta-interface of those art work? That might be some new questions.



  1. Agostino, C. (2015). Distant Presence and Bodily Interfaces: Digital-Beings and Google Art Project. Museological Review – University of Leicester.
  2. Beil, K. (2013). Seeing Syntax: Google Art Project and the Twenty-First-Century Period Eye. 40 (4). Afterimage.
  3. Benjamin, W. (2003). The Work of Art in The Age of Its Technological Reproducibility. Cambridge, Massachusetts: the Belknap press of Harvard university press.
  4. Explore – Google Arts & Culture. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2018, from
  5. Irvine, M. (2018). Malraux and the Musee Imaginaire: (Meta)Mediation, Representation, and Mediating Institutions.
  6. Meta-Painting. (2013, January 05). Retrieved April 13, 2018, from
  7. Proctor, N. (2011). The Google Art Project. Curator: The Museum Journal.