Google Arts & Culture finds your masterpiece face

by María Magdalena Ziegler


The allure of taking a selfie has gone to a new level in recent days. Google Arts & Culture has added a new feature to its well-known app: have your face matched with a masterpiece face.

It is available only in the app (not its web site) and it makes a lot of sense since our phones are the artistic tool of the 21st Century selfies. And the best part is Google’s algorithm do a few seconds the job that could have taken years of browsing art images to find your doppelganger.


Controversy around it

As it would be expected, there is already a controversy around Google Arts & Culture (GAC) app, because it is “racist”. Again, for some people it is hard to distinguish gymnasium from magnesium.

Western art history is full of  portraits of wealthy powerful people. It is natural. Those were the ones who could pay for a portrait in times when the art of making images was not cheap nor easy. To expect that GAC shows a different historical reality is delusional.

If you are a ginger-bearded man, most probably, the algorithm would match you with Vincent van Gogh. If you are a thin woman with black hair and blue eyes you could not expect to be matched with a Dante Gabriel Rossetti masterpiece girl.

I always thought I was Botticelli’s Venus lost twin sister, but GAC app does not. Oh, well… My desires are not as good as GAC’s algorithm, I guess. Wealthy powerful white people get the vast majority of faces in GAC data base. That is Western art history.


Biases in an app

The 20th Century changed that and the data base of images it gives us is much more diverse, not to mention what the 21st Century has already given us. This is great, but that is not the whole of art history.

Some have even talked about art’s historic biases shown in GAC app. We must remember that art has no biases, we do! Thus, certain historical periods will display more or less biases according to the cultural context of those times.

It is true that an algorithm is not alien to biases. Algorithms can amplify the impact of a prejudice, but that is something the tech world should address properly, perfecting technology constantly to avoid any sign of discrimination or segregation.

The world isn’t a fair place yet, but to blame GAC app for it is non sense. Tech industry is even more ethnic diverse than we think, but that is another issue. The fact is that GAC app works on the basis of a constantly growing data base of art works from all regions and time.


Enjoy art!

Despite all odds, GAC app selfie feature have been a great success. It is not available in Europe due o face recognition legal limitations, but if it’s available in your region, then enjoy it.

I haven’t found my doppelganger yet. I have tried different lighting, different hair does and wardrobes, but nothing that pleases pop up. Does it matter? No, I am just having fun! After all, your life does not depend on what you get as your masterpiece face. It is just a fun feature and we are supposed to enjoy it.

If you have a smartphone (Android or iOS), please download the app and take a selfie, because even if you’re not so much into art, it makes art engaging and you will smile at the results or just say you are way much cooler (which is always most probably).

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3 thoughts on “Google Arts & Culture finds your masterpiece face

  1. Pingback: Censored Art in times of #MeToo | ars.vox

  2. Pingback: Ariana López: “I see metaphors anywhere” | ars.vox

  3. Pingback: Mary Martínez: “Aprender a ver es una necesidad vital.” | ars.vox

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