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“Smartify” App Identifies Famous Art, But Not Much

This bright idea has a long way to go.

(Source: 9to5Mac)

How often has this happened to you: you see a painting and want to know its name. Unfortunately, no one around you knows it because this painting’s not the Mona Lisa. Googling “old painting with flowers on river” doesn’t give you what you want, either. This is the idea behind a new app called Smartify, which identifies art with just a smartphone camera.

The app does much more than provide a name and artist. It also gives the year of the artwork’s creation, the materials used, and even its length-by-width measurements. Each scan even comes with a brief history and analysis, providing a deeper insight than a few points of data can give. Museum curators provide this information in collaboration with Smartify C.I.C to create a more interactive experience for visitors.

This has been the goal of Thanos Kokkiniotis, Anna Lowe, Nick Mueller, and Ron Vrijmoet since the beginning. They founded Smartify C.I.C. in December 2015 in hopes of using smartphone technology “to help people make meaningful connections with art.” By the following May, they already showed off the app in a collaborative project with The Cartoon Museum in London. Their website now lists 24 galleries and museums worldwide as contributors. Another page on the site invites other art venues to join, so that number will only grow.

Analysis: Smartify’s Glaring Problem

However, this limited number of partners means Smartify can only identify a tiny fraction of the world’s art. For example, it worked easily when this reporter scanned Google Images results of Mona Lisa and The Starry Night. Then I tried to scan the paintings in my parents’ living room, whose identities have long puzzled me. Nothing came up. They remain a mystery. Meanwhile, music identification app Shazam – to which people frequently compare Smartify – boasts a “database of millions of tracks.”

This means the app, despite all the recent buzz, is currently rated 2.8 stars in the Google Play Store. At the moment, 112 out of 265 reviews give Smartify a one-star rating. An additional 27 rate it a slightly less meager two stars. Combined, that’s about 52% of Android user reviews. Complaints generally focus on its extremely limited scope.

In its defence, Smartify isn’t inherently flawed. It’s a bright idea that just needs more time to build up its own database of art. Museums don’t need to ban smartphone usage altogether – this technology actually gives them the opportunity to further educate art-lovers. The app will only work better as more venues align with the programmers and give more material. After all, Shazam also needed time and extensive partnerships before becoming a hit.

That means if Smartify doesn’t do it for you just yet, give it time. Maybe one day, I’ll learn the names of those paintings in my parents’ living room.

Some artists just can’t be mistaken for anyone else. Here’s an article about an exhibition of paintings by Kurt Cobain.

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