Google Arts and Culture

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.

Image depicts a painting of various citrus fruits with a green parrot and a small Mexican flag sticking out from the fruit. Painting is shown through Google Arts and Culture

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.

Image depicts a variety of paintings with people and settings. Above paintings are a selective color spectrum ranging from white to black.
Google Arts & Culture Color Explorer

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.

Tool Snapshot

PriceFree
LearningConstructivism & Connectivism
Ease of Use★★★✩✩
Privacy★✩✩✩✩ 
Accessibility★★★✩✩
Class SizeUnlimited
LoginYes for curating; No for exploring
ISTE*SKnowledge Constructor & Creative Communicator
COPPA/ FERPA No

Ease of Use

Google Arts and Culture is very easy to use. The application is primarily point-and-click for most features, and Google’s user interface is polished. We docked a star from this category because we believed that the amount of information initially presented is a bit overwhelming, especially for a first-time user. It would take a long time to get through all of the different kinds of content on the site.      

Also, the app tends to drain your phone battery very quickly. We see this as an issue in usability because we found it difficult to use augmented reality (AR) tools to a full capacity when having to rely on a charging cable to keep a full charge on a device. In one of our tech demos, a user’s laptop began overheating, causing the fans to run so hard that the device began buzzing. Thus we removed another star from the rating. 

When using Google Arts and Culture, students have the freedom to choose which features they want to explore whether it be through augmented reality tools, 3D tours, or picture galleries. Google uses vague starting points in their “Explore” tab in order to engage the user. For example, one option for exploration is to search by “time” or by “color.” Once the user clicks on these, it will arrange artworks based on which time period they are produced or what colors are used in the artwork’s color palette. This simple and intuitive method of organizing data makes it easier for users to interact with the site without feeling too overwhelmed.

It should also be noted that the algorithms are imperfect. For instance, a search for “Grandma Moses” brings up her biography (taken from Wikipedia), but then features works by Moses Wainer Dykaar. It would be easy for students to think that the folk artist Grandma Moses was an academically-trained sculptor (she was, in fact, a self-taught painter). The lack of curation makes the site something best used by those who already know something about art, or who are guided by a teacher who knows about art. Furthermore, while some artists’ works have been carefully chosen, others have not been not, and there are no filters to avoid potentially disturbing imagery. Some artwork contains nudity, acts of violence, and other imagery that may be inappropriate for younger audiences.

While many of the works are public-domain, others are not, and may not be able to be copy-and-pasted for projects. Discovering the copyright status of the works is not always obvious due to the way they are presented. As with anything you find on an Internet search, be careful reproducing work found on Google Arts and Culture in any format that might be considered “for-profit” or non-academic.

Privacy

Google Arts and Culture is not a part of the Google Workspace Suite, so it is not protected by COPPA and FERPA. It requires you to make a Google account before you can fully utilize it (though you can browse for free), and also requires you to download the smartphone app in order to gain access to many features. The smartphone version is also much more developed and in-depth than the desktop version, which encourages users to download the app—and thus grant Google access to their smartphone data. Google is notorious for acquiring a lot of their users’ personal information, including the user’s location and search history. This information is sold to third party sites that will use data for marketing purposes, thus profiting from users’ personal information. Because of this, we give Google Arts and Culture the lowest possible privacy rating and recommend accessing Google Arts and culture through a common, teacher-owned account, and private browser.

Accessibility

Accessibility is somewhat problematic in Google Arts and Culture. While the videos and interactive games have both audio and subtitles, and features that rely on Google’s other applications, such as YouTube videos, implement those sites’ accessibility features, there are still some serious accessibility problems. Since this platform relies heavily on visuals, alternate text is a must for users who rely on screen readers and it is not always included on visuals, especially materials owned by third-party organizations. While many of the more popular and more recognized art installations and exhibits provide alternate text, a majority of the content on the platform does not. There are no filters or features that assist color-blind users, either.

Class Size & Collaboration

Google Arts and Culture is developed for individual use on a single platform, but has the potential for an unlimited classroom size. There are only limited collaboration tools or multiplayer options available (for instance, the jigsaw puzzle game). However, students can be assigned to work in groups or collaboratively within the classroom setting. For instance, one student can navigate while the group discusses where to go collectively.

ISTE Standards

Knowledge Constructor: Students can curate their own galleries, connect works of art over time or from disparate artists, and write information on artworks. In short, Google Arts and Culture empowers learners to act as art historians.

Creative Communicator: Students can use art to communicate ideas, as well as communicate ideas through art. Google Arts and Culture offers numerous tools for doing so, such as creating galleries and walkthroughs, as well as tools and apps.  

Google Arts and Culture video 

Google and the SAMR Model

The SAMR model, developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, offers a lens for examining how technology is adopted in a classroom. We recommend using this model as an analytical tool to encourage educational innovation and transformation. 

Here’s how Google Arts and Culture fits into the SAMR model: 

  • Substitution: Students can use Google Arts and Culture instead of going on a trip to a museum or looking at books about art.
  • Augmentation: Students can use Google Arts and Culture tools to enhance their learning. For instance, students can explore the importation of dyestuffs into Europe in the Age of Exploration by examining the increased use of certain colors during the time period.
  • Modification: With Google Arts and Culture’s database-like functions, students can use key search terms to explore historical movements, easily compile portfolios of art from a specific time period, and observe what it says about the culture and change, and especially change through time. Students can similarly compile portfolios about social class, race, and gender roles.
  • Redefinition: Students can use Google Arts and Culture’s digital features to explore art and history in ways that were not possible before digital technology, like gallery walkthroughs in different countries or using art filters in pictures and videos. Students can also do a meta-project critiquing Google Arts and Culture’s representation of social class, race, disability, and gender roles.

Technology is often used as a substitute for traditional education (like a field trip to a museum). While substitution has some benefits, such as allowing students to become more comfortable with working with technology, Google Arts and Culture and other advanced tech tools has the ability to redefine how students perform educational tasks and interact with their world.

Learning Activities

Math

It is possible to compile statistics and analyze Google Arts and Culture in a data-driven way. How many works depict people of color? How many are by people of color? Does this change by time period or historical era? What do these statistics imply?

Science

Art and the history of science are closely related. Students can study ideas such as optics, perspective, anatomy, the electromagnetic spectrum, the science of color, and the development of the scientific method through artworks.

English/Language Arts

Art and writing are a natural fit. Besides having students write about art, many artworks are inspired by literature; literary movements also participate in the same zeitgeist as art movements. Students can link Delacroix to Victor Hugo, for instance, while Picasso, Miró, and Man Ray can inform a reading of Hemingway or John Dos Passos.

Other

Google Arts and Culture is, of course, a natural match for history and art classes. Everything from artifacts from the ancient world to nineteenth-century ideas of race are represented and can be used to enhance lessons.

Resources

How to Use Google Arts and Culture

Imagery depicts typing the url for Google Arts and Culture.

  • From the launch page, you have numerous navigation choices — but if you want access to specific features that involve personalization like curating art galleries, you will need to create/sign in to a Google
  • To Sign or Log In, click the blue button in the top right corner.
Imagery depicts the homepage for Google Arts and Culture. The Blue Sign-In Button in the top right corner  is highlighted in red.
  • From there, you can choose to login with your Google credentials or on the bottom-left of the field, click on the create an account link — this will redirect you to a form to make a new Google account. 
Imagery depicts the sign in page for Google.
  • Fill out the fields indicated, read up on Google’s privacy policy, accept their terms and conditions, and you are ready to go!
Imagery depicts scrolling through Google’s Privacy Policy.

Research

This page was created by Hunter Proulx, Ken Mondschein, and Earnest Thomas.