Google Declares Abstract Art Similar to Tire, Housecat, Muammar Gaddafi

(ver 3)

By Terry Ward

As a visual artist, I was crestfallen to learn that according to The Ultimate Current Highest Authority --Google-- one of my completely abstract paintings looks just like: a guinea hen, somebody's cat, and a tire.

Any artist --in fact web user-- can find out what Google thinks your images resemble. You might query your latest painting or search a family reunion snapshot of Aunt Minnie.

The amusing and sometimes alarming image search results come from a rather recent feature: a sort of facial recognition process run upon any sort of image --with or without faces.

How: One browses to Google, clicks on Images, and clicks the tiny camera icon inside the search field. This launches a pop-up a box allowing one to upload an image to query --or one can simply paste-in the URL of an image already on the web.

Perhaps the technology could be a boon some day to those looking to protect intellectual property. Celebrities, graphic designers, art photographers, fashion designers and such might some day be able to see if their images appeared elsewhere without authorization. Certainly Disney's lagal team is already at work.

Maybe police or genealogists searching for certain faces of the past could find clues in the global cyberfog. Missing persons searches perhaps could be improved. Even spies could perhaps search the world for certain kinds of fortifications or antennas.

Some day. Perhaps.

As it is, the new tool has a few bugs to work out.

The whole system seems to have a bias toward representational photography. Such a bias is fine when plugging in a representational photo. A search for images similar to --say-- George W Bush's main WikiPedia photo makes the system produce many pages of "visually similar" copies (and parody images) --along with inexplicable photos further down of Kanye West, Will Ferrell, and Jay Leno.

But plug in a totally abstract image and the output will still favor realism. Tourist snapshots and nature photos are Google's favorite outputs rather than abstract images --even those made by the same artist. Instead of showing similar abstract imagery, the system defaults to realism with similar colors and contrast characteristics. A close-up of smear of artist's paint with a scribble and a few gouge marks will equal --to the Google-bot-- a peacock tail, a shopping mall in western Poland, or a sprig of poison ivy.

The basic Google Image Search page with camera icon is here:

And with the camera icon, one can see what is "visually similar" to one's self, one's art, or one's other images. Just be prepared for the image to be compared to foliage, world despots, or bowls of cat food.

Sample results from the artist's own images:

Detail of a totally non-representational abstract art image

Google says it resembles: a guinea hen, someone's cat, and a tire.

I'm no portraitist, but Google says this abstract art image

Resembles Kadhafi! Or a hedgehog.

I will never understand just how this art detail image

Equals blocking a karate kick in the face.

The artist --shown here in an actual representational photo (looking into an N. Dash text-mirror piece at a Morgan Lehman Gallery opening--

According to Google looks just like Venezuelan actress/model Gaby Espino, Italian singer/songwriter Alan Sorrenti, Dutch software innovator Ronald van Woense, and actor Joseph Vassallo.

( ver2 )