The past few years have seen the rise and subsequent fall of many popular apps. Flappy Bird, Vine, and Pokemon Go all soared to the top of the charts when they first came out, only to meet their eventual downfall a short while after. We live in a society in which popular culture changes more often than the weather, with the latest trends becoming worn out fads in the blink of an eye. One craze that does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, however, is the Google Arts and Culture app.
Google Arts and Culture is a platform that allows people to explore countless artifacts and pieces of artwork from around the world, all while remaining in the comfort of their own home. With the app users have thousands of exhibitions from over 1,000 museums spanning across 70 countries directly at their fingertips. Although the platform has been available since 2016, the app did not garner such a widespread audience until recently. You may be wondering why the app seemingly blew up over night and the answer is very simple: selfies.
The ‘selfie’, which became included in the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary in November of 2013, is one of the few popular culture trends that has stood the test of time. In January of 2018, the Google Arts and Culture app added a feature in which users can take a selfie that is then matched with several portraits from one of the platform’s many collections. These works of art are also accompanied by an introduction to the history of the painting as well as the artist who created it.
Ever since the introduction of the selfie feature, millions of people have been joining in on the fun. Even celebrities such as Pete Wentz and Kristen Bell have taken to social media to share their portrait matches and rave about the platform in general. At LHS, art teacher Mrs. Binder has also taken an interest in this entertaining new feature: “I think it is fun to play with and show portraits that are not normally a focus of attention and brings awareness to a wide variety of portrait artists and the museums in which their work can be found. I am planning to visit one of my matches in Amsterdam in April!”
Now, why has this selfie feature captivated so much of our attention? One explanation may be the inborn narcissism of humans. Studies have shown that people often take a greater interest in subjects that involve themselves, which would explain why selfies in general are so popular. Similarly, the self reference effect in psychology states that people are more likely to remember items that they can make a personal connection with. The selfie feature on the Google Arts and Culture App allows users to satisfy their own narcissistic tendencies in a way that is unique and memorable.
Although our own vanity may be partly to blame, there is much more going on behind the scenes that has lead to this social phenomenon. According to an article from the Washington Post, the selfie match feature of the Google Arts and Culture App essentially hits multiple cultural sweet spots that, even without our conscious awareness of them, compel us to keep using it. Art critic Sebastian Smee cites some of these sweet spots as an obsession with statistics, digital excavation, and the rush of dopamine associated with instant gratification. The seemingly instantaneous rush of information the app provides as well as the feelings of belonging that jumping on the cultural bandwagon generates makes people feel good and therefore encourages them to keep using the app. It also does not hurt that many of the “matches” that the app makes are downright absurd and incredibly comical.
The best aspect of this new craze is not its humor or widespread popularity, however. Rather, the aspect that makes this app so exceptional is its ability to expose people to a side of culture that they otherwise would probably have never encountered. The majority of people do not have the time, funds, or motivation to go out to a museum and explore the artwork there.
The Google Arts and Culture App eliminates these hurdles by providing users with the capability of delving into obscure artists and their work from all over the world without the need for money, time, and transportation. A person only needs an electronic device to have a world of creativity right at the tips of their fingers. The simplicity of the app presents users with a remarkable opportunity to broaden their cultural horizons, an opportunity that many have already begun to take.
In reaction to the app, LHS art teacher Mrs. Kolenda comments, “I definitely believe it will have a positive impact on knowledge/awareness of Arts & Culture with students. I’ve already integrated it into a few of my lessons. I especially like the Museum Explorer function as I can include virtual museum tours into lessons as a way to connect what they are learning in class while broadening their views of the world.”
The selfie feature of the Google Arts and Culture app is a fantastic way to begin developing a greater knowledge of culture and the world around you. Expanding your artistic awareness has never been easier and wasting such an incredible opportunity would be practically criminal. So, the next time you have a few minutes before class, don’t waste your time mind numbingly scrolling through your instagram feed for what is probably the third time in the last hour. Instead, indulge your curious side and take a scroll through the digital wonderland that is the Google Arts and Culture app.