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Tech, GP

March 12, 2011

Google Art Project offers a look at art from around the world

Every once in a while I happen to stumble onto a surprising, and pleasant, discovery. I wouldn't be claiming any credit for uncovering whatever it happens to be, as I really just ran across it by dumb luck.

That occurred a month or so ago, and I want to share my good fortune.

Before I get under way, this is not really going to be much of a technical article.

To the people I meet who comment to me "I read your column all the time, and enjoy it, although I don't really understand much of it", well this one's for you.

Here we go. You've heard of Google, right? Sure you have. It's the biggest thing on the Internet. Google's claim to fame is, of course, being the world's search engine. Google knows just about everything.

What you may not realize is that Google does a lot of other things besides giving you a link to the shoes you want to buy.

It fosters many ideas having to do with Internet technology, and develops some of them into projects the way only a profitable giant of a company has the luxury of doing.

It's one of these ideas I want to tell you about. Point your Web browser to www.googleartproject.com.

Google Art Project is an online collection of highly detailed paintings and other works of art by major artists. It went online the first of February, and now features works from 17 museums and galleries around the world. Pick a place and you can look at a sampling of its collection.

Some of the places you can "visit" include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick Collection, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian, the Palace of Versailles, Tate Britain and the National Gallery in London, Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum, and the State Hermitage Museum in Russia. I'm not going to list all the places, visit the site for yourself and see the complete list.

The plan, according to Google, is to keep expanding the project, adding more museums and paintings as time goes on.

Most all the famous artists you would expect are represented. Just to drop a few names, how about Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Whistler and Gainsborough?

There are more than a thousand images, and some are super-detailed, created using special digitizing. I'm talking really, really fine resolution, in the gigapixel range. That's about a thousand times more detailed than a regular digital camera.

If you want, you can zoom in on the images, and see the texture of the brush strokes and canvas. Do it on Van Gogh's "Starry Night," and you can make yourself dizzy.

In addition to the actual images, you can kind of "walk around" the inside of the museums using Google's "Street View" technology, and get some of the flavor of the museum itself. This feature lets you take a virtual 360-degree tour of the inside of the facilities.

You may be familiar with this idea if you've used Google Maps before.

You can even create your own "collection" of art from the museums, and share it with others.

For someone who has any interest at all in visual art (I was a photographer in a prior life) this site will knock your proverbial socks off.

You can visit places you'd never be able to afford to take a trip to, and although isn't really the same as being there, it would be safe to say you can see the art in closer detail than you would even if you actually did make a visit.

And, it's all free, courtesy of Google. Take a look.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at techgp@dailystarmail.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/techgp.

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