This article, by Drue Kataoka, originally appeared on Wired on 12/30/13. Those who do book cover design or who want photos or illustrations for books or marketing purposes will want to pay particular attention: you now have 5,400 more pieces of free, unrestricted artwork and photos to use.
Open sharing has been around forever, accelerating progress in diverse fields. Computing (e.g., Homebrew Computer Club), code (open source), and even academic publishing (“open access,” which goes beyond peer review) are just a few that have multiplied their social impact thanks to this openness. Art may be next, and here, too, technology will play a central role.
Just a couple months ago, The Getty quietly released 5,400 new, high-resolution (800dpi) images from its Getty Research Institute for public use. But here’s the revolutionary part: They did it without fees or restriction. To put this in perspective: Not one of New York’s largest museums — the MoMA, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan, or the Frick have done that yet.
The big deal here isn’t just that a premiere cultural institution is making so many images available to all, but that it signals a broader, emerging “open content” art movement.
Besides the Getty, the other art institutions leading this open content movement include Los Angeles’ LACMA (which made 20,000 images available for free, albeit in a smaller file size than Getty did), as well as D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery. And Google. Yes, Google: its Google Art Project (now called the Google Cultural Institute) has been working since 2010 on changing attitudes towards digitization among cultural institutions. The resulting meta-museum now includes high-resolution images of artworks from over 300 institutions available online. Google’s collection is the largest and, not surprisingly, has the most sophisticated and user-friendly UI. However, unlike the Getty, LACMA, or the National Gallery, Google restricts image downloading and sharing.
Open content in art is a huge shift in attitude compared to fairly recently, when art museums viewed the web cautiously, at best.