Collectors choose to buy art based on their interest in the work itself, not whether it matches the color of their living room drapes, right? Not always, as Alexandra Chemla, the founder of ArtBinder — a digital platform for showing showing and selling art — knows well. The idea that art collectors, interior designers, and consultants would use a tool that lets them flip through thousands of artworks sorted by dominant color schemes inspired the newest tool added to ArtBinder, ColorSearch.
Launched this week, ColorSearch is only the latest in a slew of new technologies that are changing the way we find, view, buy, and sell works of art — and, by extension, changing the way we understand the purpose, meaning, and value of art in the digital age. Instead of filtering works by artist, period, movement, style, or any of the other usual categories, ColorSearch uses a color-detecting algorithm to let users sort gallery databases by palettes. Select one or a combination of 200 hues from a grid, and ColorSearch combs through the database from hundreds of galleries affiliated with ArtBinder to present those that match the chosen hue. Users can then request information from galleries about specific works.
This particular app seems to reduce art to decoration, enabling people go about choosing artworks in much the same way they might picking wallpaper or a new sofa. But it also seems like an inevitable development in a highly commercialized and increasingly digitized art industry, in which thumbnails of paintings are often crammed together on a small screen, making it harder to pay attention to the meaning and context surrounding each one. Presented in an online format, artworks often seem diluted to a checkerboard of Pantone chips, so that a work’s color is likely one of the first things that catches an online art browser’s eye. ArtBinder’s founder argues that they developed the tool in response to approaches to buying art that are already widespread, thereby filling a need in the industry.
Art-as-decor implications aside, ColorSearch has some unintended cool aspects. It lets you easily compare the different ways various artists use and combine the same colors in their work, and lets you explore what a shared color scheme might mean about the similarities in various artworks’ moods, subject matters, and styles. After a while, the tool starts to feel like an online game for color theory nerds.