The Canon According to Google: A Critical Examination of the Arts & Culture Platform

Savannah Fetterolf

Major Professor: Alison Landsberg, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: Michele Greet, Alexander Monea

Enterprise Hall, #318
March 03, 2020, 02:00 PM to 04:00 PM


Tracing the development of Google’s Arts & Culture platform from its 2011 inception as the Art Project to its 2017 form, this project addresses Google’s evolving endeavor to archive culture online at a moment when the institution of the museum is in crisis. Arts & Culture is an online platform established by the Google Cultural Institute that serves as an archive hosting digitized images of 6 million objects housed by over 1,200 institution and museum partners that are distributed across more than 70 countries. In its description of the platform, Google presents itself as benevolent producer of a redemptive technology that offers unprecedented access to works of art and cultural objects around the globe. Yet despite the potential for reimagining and democratizing the museum, Arts & Culture ultimately reproduces and reinforces many problematic aspects of the museum, including Western-centrism, a lack of representation, and elitism. Further, with Google’s near hegemonic control over the Internet search engine market, this platform serves as a prime forum for the extension of their brand. Case studies detailing the Arts & Culture app’s selfie match feature and the development of the themed initiative We Wear Culture further elaborate why Arts & Culture must also be understood as a mechanism for the dissemination of capitalist ideology and the collection of  user data, and as an extension of surveillance capitalism.