Google’s New Art and Culture App
Google’s new Art and Culture app takes us a step closer to virtual and augmented reality experiences with art and cultural institutions. Those of us who live in major cities in the United States or elsewhere are usually close to some – or many – museums. But few of us can travel around the world just to visit art and historical sites. With over 1,100 museums participating, the app opens up a whole new realm of cultural exploration.
Google’s app has been around for the past year but Wired notes the new version is a significant upgrade:
The app (for Android and iOS) officially launched last year, but the newest iteration comes with two key additions: Google Cardboard tours for 2o locations (including the Valley of the Temples), and a new tool called Art Recognizer that turns your museum visit into a multimedia experience. The VR tours let you explore locations by clicking forward and backwards along a predetermined route, while an audio track narrates what you’re looking at.
You’re still going to want more than a Cardboard based experience of art, but it’s a step in moving art off the printed page or screen and putting it in our environment.
Of course, there are other ways to use virtual reality in our experience of art, including the incredible exhibit at the Dali Museum where you step inside a work of the Surrealist painter. A museum in 360 degrees is not nearly as engaging as stepping into a painting, to see a landscape as perhaps only the artist might have imagined it to be.
Experiencing Art with AR
But what really intrigues me is the Art Recognizer feature in Google’s app. It takes an initial step toward augmented reality by recognizing works of art through your phone. You can use it to discover more about what you’re staring at, putting it into its social and historical context. Instead of listening to an authoritative voice in your ear, you might pull up a letter written by Van Gogh relating to the famous painting of his bedroom. Currently, you do not have a choice of resources to access, but you undoubtedly will in the future.
Will this eventually disrupt the role of art historians? Modern Art would tell you we’ve been working on that project for a long time. A more advanced version of Art Recognizer may actually make it happen.
The app also frees you from the linear format of the traditional museum audio tour. Go through the museum in the order you wish. It becomes your own personal journey of discovery.
Glued to our Smartphones
Of course, some will counter that Google’s Art and Culture app is just another way of keeping us glued to our Smartphones. New question as I stroll the galleries: is everyone looking for Pokemon monsters or trying to understand the Renaissance?
Trust me, this is a temporary phenomenon. These kinds of experiences will eventually be in our head-worn devices. Of course, so will the successor to Pokemon. That’s down the road, but perhaps not as far as we think.
For now, Google’s app is an initial but significant step. Watch the video below, not for where we are, but where we are headed:
Emory Craig is a writer, speaker, and VR consultant with extensive experience in art, new media, and higher education. He speaks at global conferences on innovation, education, and ethical technology in the future. He has published widely and worked with the US Agency for International Development, the United Nations, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Living at the intersection of learning, games, and immersive storytelling, he is fascinated by AI-based avatars, digital twins, and the ethical implications of blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual.