From the NY Times:
Enter Art.sy, a start-up whose public version went live on Monday. An extensive free repository of fine-art images and an online art appreciation guide, it is predicated on the idea that audiences comfortable with image-driven Web sites like Tumblr and Pinterest are now primed to spend hours browsing through canvases and sculpture on their monitors and tablets, especially with one-click help.
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?
Robert Storr, dean of the Yale University School of Art, has his doubts. “It depends so much on the information, who’s doing the selection, what the criteria are, and what the cultural assumptions behind those criteria are,” Mr. Storr, a former curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, said. In terms of art comprehension, he added, “I’m sure it will be reductive.”
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.
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