Find your doppleganger with the Google Arts & Culture app
The Google Arts and Culture app has recently come out with a new feature that compares your face to works of art. It uses an algorithm to compare your facial features to the artwork in its database, ultimately reporting which works you look similar to within a matter of seconds. Different selfies report different results. On a good day, I was told I look 72 percent like “Thelma Cardarelli’s wedding portrait” by Gilberto de Biase. Yet, when I rolled out of bed and snapped a quick selfie with the feature, I apparently looked 69 percent like the young man from Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s “Young Man with Bow and large Quiver and his Companion with a Shield.” Thanks Google.
On the surface, the self-matching feature seems like a positive thing. If you click on your artwork result, it gives you more information on the artist, time period and work. It brings art outside of art museums and into the world of technology. In this way, it promotes art and art history in a time where appreciation for the arts is slowly dying (R.I.P. Assumption College Art Department). The selfie-matching feature on the app has gone viral, getting more people than just art-lovers interested and involved.
The feature has its positives, but the lack of diversity in its collections map has caused a lot of noise. If you’ve taken any art history course, you might have noticed the lack of diversity in most works of Western art. Early Western art primarily featured portraits of wealthy white people high up on the social ladder and depicted scenes of historical or religious importance, among other things.
It wasn’t really until around the 18th or 19th century when some sense of diversity was seen in works of art. But, even when minorities were represented, they were often shown in ways that reinforce racial stereotypes and prejudice. People of color were depicted as servants, slaves, and sex symbols. Some examples include Eyre Crowe’s “Slaves Waiting for Sale” and Paul Gauguin’s “Spirit of the Dead Watching.”
The selfie feature is another reminder of the biases of the past leading to the biases of the present. It causes diverse individuals to feel discounted for and put in a box in yet another way, reinforcing racial discrimination. Yet, despite all of that, it also initiates an important conversation. The lack of inclusion was noticed and brought to the surface, prompting some sort of change. The buzz about the feature’s race issues has opened another door for individuals to talk openly about the problems of history’s past.
The point is, inclusion matters. Artwork depicting diversity in a positive light matters. Art is a crucial part of our history and determines how future generations will interpret the world. If we learn about the mistakes of the past, we will be able to take measures to ensure history does not repeat itself. Artists of today should focus on rendering art that celebrates diversity and our culture, allowing for an all-encompassing database of artwork for whatever high-tech selfie feature that might emerge 100 years from now.
Celia Smith, a junior, studies English, psychology and studio art. She is a staff writer for Le Provocateur.