Van Gogh x 7 Billion

Christine Haroutounian


Gone are the days of treading through a storm of books with pictures that are not clear nor large enough while writing an art history paper. Scholars and art lovers can now rejoice in the halcyon days of Google culture – well, even more. The tech-friendly company has made life infinitely easier and organized through an array of tools ranging from Google Docs to Google Books, but their latest creation has brought the wonder of Rembrandt’s Night Watch to my very own computer screen, at an astonishing 7 billion pixels – a technological Renaissance in its own right. With 17 top cultural institutions chosen for the project as of now, curious searchers can view 1,000 works of art by more than 400 artists. You can also virtually walk through empty gallery halls, a rarity that is almost hard to conceive of in the real world. If you’re tired of the Hermitage, you can jump to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence or the Museo del Prado in Madrid through its easy to use interface, styled as a drop-down menu. Two of the world’s most well-respected and visited museums, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, are absent from the list of participants, a problem that the project developers see as only a matter of time. Want to boast your taste? Impress a fellow Baroque enthusiast? You can also choose whatever pieces that strike you and share your virtual collection with other users.

While this is an exciting venture into the online world, that’s where it remains- online. The interface can be slow at times, the colors a bit drowned out. I don’t mind hustling through crowds of eager tourists, the hurried bustle of an exhibition is more memorable than coldly browsing through several interfaces in my quiet living room. Confronting the divide between physically being in the museum and the vast, warped online world, I can’t help but not fully trust what I’m viewing as I look at Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, even if its digitized better than my imperfect vision can process. Maybe it’s because I had the opportunity of staring at this piece in person, but I cannot compare the sheer, warm excitement I felt as I approached the room it was displayed in, to me scanning it inadequately while I heated my dinner last night. Or maybe I’m old-fashioned. While the Google Art Project is a wonder itself, nothing can beat the real experience.