Google art app matches selfies with famous paintings

ST. LOUIS - We have to face facts; we live in a modern world with smartphones and tablets and technology all around us. But it's a new Google Art and Culture app and an old-world art form that's turned some heads lately.

“I have to say I'm obsessed with it and I love it,” said Melissa Wolfe, Curator of American Art St. Louis Art Museum. “On an intellectual side because I think it makes art history more accessible and fun.  And what I hope everyone does is once you tap on the painting, it gives you the whole painting and where to see the real thing.”

Chances are you might have seen social media postings about the app that uses machine learning to match selfies with portraits from 1,200 museums worldwide, matching your face with that of a famous painting from world history.

The St. Louis Art Museum has heard the buzz among attendees.

“Absolutely. I hope people come through here and they take their selfies with another painting and decide if it matches or not," Wolfe said.

Some of your friends from Fox 2 and KPLR 11 have been matched, with their famous framed work of art.

But Illinois and Texas have privacy laws blocking biometrics, so no face, retina, or finger scans are allowed. For its part, Google claims it's not keeping the digital face scans.

But whether it's a John Singer Sargent or George Caleb Bingham, everything old is new again.

“So really the selfie of today is the self-portrait," Wolfe said. "It might be more spontaneous, but we put as much thought into what we want that selfie to do and we get a kick out of them, right? But this was a hard-working selfie.”

And whether the resemblance is uncanny or nothing like you at all, at least it might get you through the doors of your favorite art museum and into the history of famous paintings.

“That is what art history and portraiture is, we always present ourselves as something,” Wolfe said. “That's a human trait.  So if this app or program makes us comfortable doing that or laughing in the galleries, oh my gosh, right? That's fabulous and I couldn't ask for anything more as a curator.”