400,000 Free, Copyright-Free High-Resolution Images Now Available From The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Quartz


A year ago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York embarked on an ambitious project to give everyone free access to the images in its collection. By using the Creative Commons Zero License (CC0)the third most visited museum in the world has basically turned a treasure trove of high resolution images to any person or company who wishes to use, copy or modify them for their projects, without any conditions.

Users don’t even need to ask for permission or have to credit the source. Any image on the museum’s website marked “Public Domain 0” is free to access. One can imagine this could be useful for remix artists, crafters, souvenir makers, graphic designers, academics, or even book publishers who often have to fight for the rights to use an image, and let alone get a high res version.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Zero condition.

The Met is so eager to push this project out into the world that it has partnered with Wikipedia to “Met-ify the Wiki,” as Loic Tallon, the museum’s digital director, puts it. “It is beyond our website that the impact of open access has been most compelling, and nowhere more than through the Met’s partnership with the Wikimedia community and on Wikipedia,” Tallon wrote in a blog post. He reports that around 10 million users now view images of the Met on Wikipedia every month, which is four times his online audience just a year ago.

Madame X or Wikipedia.

There were 375,000 high resolution images when the Open Access Initiative last February, as reported by Quartz; today that number exceeds 400,000, with more items being added to the free gallery as quickly as the Met digital department can process them (a team of photographers and media specialists converts them). To achieve the highest resolution in the public domain, the Met has upgraded its photographic equipment to high-end Hasselblad cameras and is even experimenting with producing 3D images of some artifacts using FARO laser scanners. Its goal is to release its entire collection – 1.5 million objects – into the public domain.

What does the Met stand to gain by donating its image collection? Tallon says it’s all about relevance. “If we could keep the art world in a pretty old pickle jar, but I don’t think that will happen,” he explains, noting the imperative for institutions to meet the demand for Internet for good information about a particular work. “I sincerely believe that for the museum to remain relevant, we need to be part of these conversations,” Tallon told Quartz. The Met has also published key information (aka “tombstone data”) on every artwork it has released with the title, maker, date, culture, medium and dimensions accurately codified and compiled into a CSV document on Github.

Several designers have already taken advantage of the Met’s offer.

The most publicized art series emanating from the Open Access initiative was created by a New Mexico-based software developer Simone Seagle. She started with a humorous interactive project that played with the eyes of indigent portrait painters. Seagle who creates educational software for a living, then moved on to animating entire paintings using Java Script. (In the spirit of open access, she has also published a tutorial on his blog.)

Simone Seagle / Courtesy of The Met Museum

Animation by Seagle of “Violet” by Wassily Kandinsky

Posting stunning high-resolution images online is not meant to usurp the irreplaceable experience of encountering art in person, but a way to democratize access to it, Tallon explains. The Met’s efforts to bolster its free online image bank could ease some frustration over its decision to charge non-residents of New York full admission $25 see his collection. The Met’s stance on unconditional image sharing also presents a counterpoint to Google’s new restrictive policy which prohibits users from uploading images directly to its site.


Comments are closed.