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Arthur Bowen Davie Horse of Attica
THE ART GENOME PROJECT
The Art Genome Project is an ongoing study developed by the fine art website, artsy,.net to map the characteristics (known as ‘genes’) that connect the world’s artists and artworks. There are over 500 genes including art-historical movements, subject matter, and formal qualities. Discover works through art-historical movements, subject matter, formal qualities and more.
According to its website,
Artsy’s mission is to make all the world’s art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. We are an online platform for discovering, discussing, and collecting art. Our growing collection comprises 50,000+ artworks by 11,000+ artists from leading galleries, museums, private collections, foundations, and artists’ estates spanning diverse cultures and time periods. Artsy provides one of the largest collections of contemporary art available online.
As described by Melina Ryizk for The New York Times,
Any music fan knows that there are myriad ways to find new songs online: a scroll through digital playlists and streaming radio services like Pandora, which serve as musical recommendation engines. Likewise, Netflix subscribers are regularly showered with suggestions for, say, romantic comedies and horror films, based on previously viewed movies. But until [artsy], there was no automated guidance for art lovers seeking discoveries online — no “If you like Jackson Pollock’s ‘No. 1,’ you may also enjoy Mark Rothko’s ‘No. 18.’
With 275 galleries and 50 museums and institutions as partners, Art.sy has already digitized 20,000 images into its reference system, which it calls the Art Genome Project. But as it extends the platform’s reach, Art.sy also raises questions about how (or if) digital analytics should be applied to visual art. Can algorithms help explain art?
For the Art Genome Project, Matthew Israel, 34, who holds a Ph.D. in art and archaeology from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, leads a team of a dozen art historians who decide what those codes are and how they should be applied. Some labels (Art.sy calls them “genes” and recognizes about 800 of them, with more added daily) denote fairly objective qualities, like the historical period and region the work comes from and whether it is figurative or abstract, or belongs in an established category like Cubism, Flemish portraiture or photography.
Other labels are highly subjective, even quirky; for contemporary art, for example, Art.sy’s curators might attach terms like “globalization” and “culture critique” to give ideological context. “Contemporary traces of memory” is an elastic theme assigned to pieces by the Chinese Conceptual artist Cai Guo-Qiang and the photographer and filmmaker Matt Saunders.
A Picasso might be tagged with “Cubism,” “abstract painting,” “Spain,” “France” and “love,” all terms that are visible and searchable on the site. Jackson Pollock’s works typically get “abstract art,” “New York School,” “splattered/dripped,” “repetition” and “process-oriented.” Predictably, some of those criteria show up on paintings by Pollock’s contemporaries Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning, but also on artists from different eras and styles, like Tara Donovan, whose contemporary abstract sculptures using stacked and layered plastic foam and paper plates have also been marked with “repetition.
CAN THIS WORK?
Again Ms. Ryzik,
Pandora has a roomful of musicologists deconstructing each tune; their analysis is then fed into an algorithm, called the Music Genome Project, that recommends songs in its player based on users’ taste and the ratings they give each track. (Joe Kennedy, the chief executive of Pandora, served as a consultant to artsy.
Art.sy aims to make connections among artworks that are seemingly from different worlds, with a catalog that encompasses pieces from the British Museum, the National Gallery in Washington, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and others. A recent partner, the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in Manhattan, a branch of the Smithsonian, has added objects to the mix, which will be a test of the site’s technology and the parallels it draws, said Seb Chan, the Cooper-Hewitt’s director of digital and emerging media.
Here is another quote from Ms. Ryzik,
Mr. Chan of the Cooper-Hewitt said sites like Art.sy were not meant to replace museums, galleries or books, but rather to help the public, especially art neophytes, stretch the boundaries of their taste. “You shouldn’t need to be a scholar to discover works of art that you might be fascinated by,” he said. “You go to museums and you browse — chancing upon things is what it’s all about. The Art Genome is another way of creating serendipitous connections.”
“For our culture,” he added, “particularly people who live with the Web as part of their natural lives — anyone under 25 — this is a natural way of browsing.”