The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is the largest art museum in the nation, and one of the largest in the world. It is expansive not only in terms of physical space, but also in the size of its permanent collection, which contains over 2 million works, separated into seven sections.
People from all over the world travel to New York to wander through history in the museum’s countless rooms and halls—but as of Feb. 7, patrons won’t have to travel so far. The Met has made all images of public domain works available online under Creative Commons Zero. That’s over 375,000 images from over 5,000 years of global culture at your fingertips.
All of the images—many of which have achieved worldwide fame—can be used, altered and shared by anyone with no costs. Students, educators, artists and art enthusiasts alike now have easy access to this vast encyclopedia of artwork, thus opening an array of new artistic possibilities.
The works are part of a digital catalogue that has been constantly growing over the years as the museum expands its collection. Making the catalogue publicly available on the Internet is part of The Met’s Open Access policy change in an effort to adapt to the new digital age.
Some may view this change as damaging to the art’s integrity instead of as a cultural advantage; while posting the works publicly will surely reach more people, it could also be argued that viewing art online detracts from the visual and conceptual value of a piece.
Key aesthetic aspects of a work—such as texture, size or physical dimensions—are minimized or lost when hidden behind a two dimensional screen just a few inches wide. Sometimes viewing art is meant to be visceral. Is it worth having thousands of works readily available through this mass digital medium when the impact and meaning of those works may be diminished by it?
On their official website, the Met explained that the transition to Open Action is an important step in fulfilling their mission statement in a new era of technology. The Met crafted their mission statement over 140 years ago, pledging to be a “museum and library of art, of encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts, and the application of arts to manufacture and practical life.”
When this statement was created, the museum’s prime focus was the wellbeing of the people of New York City, but now technology has provided us with the tools to share information on a much larger scale. Ignoring this opportunity to reach more people would be failing to live by that mission.
“Since our audience is really the 3 billion Internet-connected individuals around the world,” Chief Digital Officer at the Met Loic Tallon said, “we need to think big about how to reach these viewers, and increase our focus on those digital tactics that have the greatest impact.”
All of the public domain artwork can be found at creativecommons.org, along with key information about each piece, which includes title, artist, medium and date of creation. It’s possible that The Met’s transition to Open Access will pave the way for other museums to follow suit.
Regardless, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has now opened its doors not just to New York City, but to the entire digital world as well.