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Free internet pictures of art, now on your television (image by the author, original via

Technology: it is revolutionizing the world around us. Today, self-motoring motorcars. Tomorrow, self-dirigible dirigibles. The telephone in your pocket and television in your home are at once jukebox, photo-booth, astrolabe, cinema, and library. But what about museum or gallery? Sure! Why not! Earlier this afternoon, the New York Times‘ Bits technology blog dedicated 775 words to an obscure app called Artkick, which it unironically indicated was aspiring to become the “Spotify of art.” Like any great piece of startup-disruption journalism, the article has Artkick CEO Sheldon Laube laying out his grandiose vision:

“Why not stream images? … Clothes, music, foods – we change around all sorts of things that give us pleasure. Art has been constrained by being physical.”

Screenshot of Artkick (by the author for Hyperallergic)

Let’s consider what the app, which I downloaded and attempted to use, claims to do: it allows you to “use your smartphone or tablet as a remote to explore tens of thousands of images.” These images (almost all not high resolution, some definitely not art, as one skeptical App Store denizen has noted) are in the public domain, made available by museums to anyone with an internet connection. Instead of letting people browse these images and set them as TV screensavers on their own, the app insinuates itself into the experience with a terrible blue interface replete with shaded buttons that can charitably be described as “Windows 98.” It crashed almost immediately after I started using it. The whole thing felt targeted toward a tragically misinformed demographic, like WebTV of yesteryear — a defunct service that allowed the elderly to surf the internet on their television sets.

Fast Company asks, in one of two pieces of press the company had gotten before the story in the Times: “Is television delivery key to democratizing art or an eyesore?” I don’t know, that’s a great question. What if the app itself is an eyesore and a pointless complication? Also, how is this a commercially viable project, in light of maybe-successful companies like s[edition] that offer original art “for your screen”? Artkick has run the number(s):

“It costs about $35 to keep a TV on for a year,” said Mr. Laube, flipping his iPad from Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” to Audobon’s [sic] “Birds of America.” A decade ago, he says, “it used to be 10 times that much.”

Yes, this is democracy — and it is a lonely republic. Although only a month old, the app is so unpopular that it barely registers in the lowest echelons of App Store rankings:

(via AppAnnie)

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Mostafa Heddaya

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.