Art, Genomes, and the Internet: at the Advocate

by Jihyun Ro

Harvard Art Museums Undergraduate Connection at the Harvard Advocate offered a talk on Nov. 30 about and the Art Genome Project, the latest internet sensation that has taken the idea of the art database to a whole new level. Matthew Israel, director of the Art Genome Project, focused on the conception of and its function. He also gave a run-through of the website and ended with a question-and-answer session. Israel said the mission of the website was to make art accessible to anyone with Internet and explained that the website, with its organization of art by specific "genes," or characteristics (such as artist, medium and time period), could provide the curious art lover with hundreds of continuous images of artworks that would, in turn, generate hundreds more of relevant images.

This kind of organization of visual art is a completely novel concept. Israel, in discussing the reason behind his initial interest in, spoke about the rare opportunity to provide access to art and information that would not be found through other sources. Both seasoned veterans of art history and an average web surfer can learn about art and view images of paintings, installations, drawings, and more on the interactive page and can create a personal experience specific to interests by filtering art types. This, explained Israel, is done through the creation of tags through the Art Genome Project, which organizes those tags in a database that draws from galleries, museums and private collections. The "genes" within the Art Genome Project have an important artistic value that can be used to educate and inspire a familiarity with the art world.

Throughout the talk, I was particularly inspired by the theory behind the technical results of the Art Genome Project. Thinking of the characteristics of a piece of art as "genes" or chromosomes, which contribute to a cohesive body of artistic history, is a fresh and unique perspective on visual art as a whole. and the Art Genome Project also make the creativity inherent in the art world parallel to the science and biology behind the Human Genome Project. This to me makes the assertion that art and human bodies and minds are intrinsically connected, so that one cannot survive without the other, and combined create products (such as that are culturally significant and downright cool.

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[Caption: A Jackson Pollock Painting featured on my account]