Posted on May 6, 2011


An interesting start-up caught my eye today when featured on Mashable (although it turns out the company was at Museums and the Web – so it’s a shame I didn’t see them there). Artfinder combines a website, an artwork-identifying smartphone app, and a pile of iPad apps. According to their website, the company is:

partnering with a growing number of large and small galleries, museums and picture libraries worldwide, in particular with Bridgeman Art Library and Cabinet UK. On the Artfinder website, consumers can create their own personal ‘art gallery’, collect their most-loved artworks, and share them with their friends via Facebook, Twitter and email. Additionally, Artfinder’s innovative ‘magic tour’ helps consumers discover art whilst also exploring works that are recommended by friends and passionate experts.

Options for interacting with the site include an Art Shuffle option and the aforementioned Magic Tour (although the ‘choose your favourite’ images that the tour used to decide which path to send you down seemed a bit limited in range, and I wasn’t actually very excited by the art I was recommended – but the idea was fun). Each work of art on the site links to its originating gallery, and can be shared via Twitter or email and ‘Liked’ on Facebook. On the bottom of each work of art, there is a discussion question (How does this make you feel? What do you think about this artist?) which again links to Facebook. And in the Art Guides there are short descriptions of art movements, like the Renaissance (below).

But I think the really interesting thing about the site is that the works of art have been commercialised, with visitors given the opportunity to buy a copy of the artwork. According to the stats on Mashable, the Gallery currently has over 500,000 works of art, and has partnered with about 6,000 galleries, and this gives those galleries an interesting new opportunity for gaining a bit of commercial profit for merchandising – not to mention a new way to find out which works of art in their collections are the ones that people really want to buy. Imagine if the Bridgeman Art Library discovers that hundreds of people all want to buy one work of art they’ve never even considered merchandising… it could be a pretty interesting way to get some market research on the demand for merch for the collection.

One of the co-founders of the website used to be COO at Last.Fm, and I think that there are some obvious cross ideas at play conceptually… the notion of discovering and sharing art in this context isn’t too far from the idea of musical discovery on But unlike which has a lot of great current and contemporary music on it, most of the art currently on Artfinder seems to be from a previous era (one where copyright has lapsed, I imagine)… The page on Postmodernism doesn’t seem to include any links to art – although some key artists are profiled – and there seems to be little discussion taking place about what’s happening within current art conversations. This is something I think could make the site more interesting, and is no doubt something that will come with time.

So what do I think of it as a site? Artfinder has some cool ideas, but I do think it is missing the expertise and authority that museums can and should have. I don’t necessarily trust the Artfinder brand to teach me about art in the same way I would a more established museum (rightly or wrongly).

The site still operates as a silo. It might link works of art across lots of galleries – which is cool because it brings together disparate collections into one place – but the information contained on the site seems to be entirely derived from within, rather than linking to external information sources and leading to a more interesting and serendipitous journey of discovery. There also doesn’t really seem to be much narrative accompanying the site/works, and it would be nice to have great sense of a story when looking at interesting art.

But possibly my biggest criticism of the site is that it asks nothing of me. I can flick through the pretty pictures, but there’s nothing compelling to really engage me – yet (though maybe as more people interact with the works online, that will change). As Jonathan Jones writes, in his review of the site, “Artfinder is another fine way of skimming the surface of art history. What the web needs next is a deeper exploration of great art.”

I’d be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on the site. Have you used it? Would you use it? Did anyone see their demonstration at MW2011? And if so, what impressions did you get?

Posted in: Museums, Reviews