Writing Historical Fiction: Internet Research

currently playing on my iPod: One by U2

Google released Google Art Project this week. A few words to describe it may be convenient, awesome, and frustrating.

Convenient: The interactive site uses that street view deal that Google Earth has to allow you to cyber wander through museums throughout the world. Wow.

Let’s just say you want to see some art by Van Gogh. Well, instead of searching for which museum houses which paintings and then visiting each museum’s separate site to see if they have a good way to view the art and any accompanying information, you can simply use Google Art Project. 

If you know that The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) holds some Van Gogh, you simply select that museum from the drop down list and POOF you are there. To the right there is an “i” icon that enables you to visit more of Van Gogh’s work.

On many pieces, you can actually zoom in to such a close level, it is as if you have your nose right up Starry Night’s…well… anyway, you get my point.

For my own writing research, I wanted to cyber visit the Cloisters Museum–an offshoot from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I clicked on the Met, clicked on the “i” icon at the top right corner, chose the Cloisters, and “walked” through the museum. It was all there. So convenient. I could go back and forth between works at the Met, the Cloisters, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence–you get the picture. (I know, poor pun.)

Awesome: On my Cloisters cyber visit, I could see the full layout of the museum. This is truly valuable because though this museum holds fantastic artwork it is also a study in medieval architechture as it is made up of walls, columns, altars, and windows from medieval Europe. The layout is key to the experience. Because of Google Art Project, I saw how the light came in through the stained glass windows and bounced off the tile floors. I saw how thick the walls were as I “walked” from room to room. As I said, awesome.

Frustrating: Take time to work your way through the visitor’s guide for Google A.P. There is so much at hand–floor plans, video, movement, maps, zoom, information, links–that it is not simple to navigate. I am still learning my way around.

All in all, Google Art Project gets my vote. It brings art and architecture to anyone with Internet access. Classrooms, home schoolers, the elderly, the less financially able. This morning my children and I took a close look at the Unicorn in Captivity tapestry. I taught my five year old about the mille fleur technique. I told them about the history of the tapestry and where it lived today. They were entranced with tales of knights and art and old stuff. It was one of my favorite mornings ever.

Visit Google Art Project when you have a lazy afternoon. Turn off the TV. Get off the social network. Grab the people around you, and go to the museum.

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