Google Arts and Culture is a curated vault of great artworks from more than 2,000 museums and archives. It has 360-degree panoramas of historic landmarks, 3D models, augmented reality tools that let you virtually try on historical headgear or walk through museums, and tools that sort art by color, theme, and any other parameter you can imagine. Users can create their own galleries and walkthroughs and take guided, zoomed-in tours of works such as Dürer’s Melancholia or Frida Kahlo’s Still Life with Parrot and Flag.
While on the surface, Google Arts and Culture seems to be a colorful, fun tool that can help teachers overcome common classroom challenges such as participation, motivation, and deeper learning connections, there are some serious problems to bear in mind when you’re deciding whether or not to use this tool. These problems include privacy, accessibility, equity, fair use, and questionable content. Because it’s a Google product, users will be giving up some privacy, especially to use some of the features, like fine art selfies. In order to use it with maximum privacy, you will have to give up both student autonomy and many of its features in favor of a curated experience on a shared account (that is, a common login from a browser in anonymous, private, or incognito mode). Also, the difference between copy-protected and copyright-free works is not always obvious, which complicates fair use. Finally, Google Arts and Culture is not always designed with an eye towards access; its visual nature means that students with visual disabilities (including colorblindness) will not get the full benefit.
There are equity issues as well: Because it relies on curatorial taste, the selections are not only undeniably Eurocentric, but tend to represent those artists that privileged curators and collectors have deemed “worthy.” Picasso yes; Henry Darger, not so much. Speaking of Darger and his sometimes-disturbing work, K–12 teachers should note that Google Arts and Culture has some explicit content. However, while there are nudes, there is nothing that most people would consider “pornographic.”
In brief, Google Arts and Culture applies Big Data to art… with all the power, and all the shortcomings, that implies.