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Transform Your Selfies, Pet Portraits Into Famous Artworks

A new tool from Google Arts & Culture allows users to apply artists’ signature styles to their own photographs

The author's cat, Theodosia, envisioned in the style of Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night (left) and Jacob van Hulsdonck's Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Pomegranate (right) (Theresa Machemer via Google Arts & Culture)
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A new offering from Google Arts & Culture is here to help users see their surroundings in a more artistic light. Created in collaboration with the Getty Center, Japan’s MOA Museum of Art, the London National Gallery and other museums around the world, Art Transfer enables users to apply artists’ signature styles to their own photographs.

“From the bold, swirling movement in Vincent van Gogh’s paintings, to the surreal, confident brushstrokes of Frida Kahlo, many famous artists have instantly recognizable styles,” writes Google Arts & Culture Product Manager Michelle Luo in a blog post.

To use the tool, simply download the Google Arts & Culture smartphone app, click the camera icon at the bottom of the screen and select “Art Transfer.” From there, you can snap new photographs or search through existing albums to find the perfect image. Finally, choose one of 37 artworks—from modern masterpieces like van Gogh’s Irises and The Starry Night to such classics as Peter Paul Ruben’s Anatomical Studies and Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Fall of the Rebel Angels—and watch as the app transforms your snapshot accordingly.

Art Transfer doesn’t simply apply filters to uploaded images.

Powered by a machine learning algorithm built by Google’s artificial intelligence team, the tool “considers both your photo and the artwork that you choose,” Luo tells the Hindu newspaper’s Sangeetha Devi Dundoo. “The process is not [just] blending two things together or overlaying two images. It is a unique recreation of your selfie/photo influenced by the specific art style you have chosen.”

Mia in four styles
The editor's dog, Mia, as seen in the style of (clockwise from top left) Amrita Sher-Gil's Self-Portrait (5), Remed and Okuda London 2014, Wassily Kandisky's Improvisation 26 (Rowing) and Edvard Munch's The Scream(Meilan Solly via Google Arts & Culture)

Some of the app’s paintings transfer onto a photograph more effectively than others. The hues and texture of The Starry Night, for instance, are almost always recognizable, but Kahlo’s Surrealist Self-Portrait With Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird doesn’t always shine through. Claude Monet’s Ninfee Rosa, meanwhile, lends images a soft, cool-hued palette; Rubens’ Anatomical Studies produces a sketched, sepia appearance.

“[W]e loved the idea of leveraging Google’s artificial intelligence technology to give people even more tools to play with,” says Lisa Lapin, vice president of communications at the Getty, to Hyperallergic’s Valentina Di Liscia. “They can have fun exploring works from Getty collections, learning the different approaches and styles of major artists, and then get hands-on in applying those approaches to their own personal creations.”

In the few seconds it takes for the app to process an image, users can learn more about their chosen artwork by reading the brief explanatory caption that pops up. Once the image finishes loading, a banner stating the original painting’s title appears. Click it, and the app will take you to an informational page featuring an array of additional insights.

It may take time to find the perfect photo and artistic style combination. Ideal images focus on a single figure in the middle of the shot and have a background that’s neither too busy nor completely blank. (A busy background can generate a muddled result, while a plain background leads the algorithm to fill in the blank with whatever it can fit—an occasionally unsettling effect.)

Art Transfer also gives users the option to select a specific portion of the image to modify. This cut-out tool, represented by a pair of scissors, lets you highlight a specific person, pet or object ready to undergo transformation.

In March, the Getty Museum Challenge took the internet by storm, encouraging quarantined individuals to recreate their favorite artworks using household items. Now, Art Transfer offers another fun way to engage with art from home.

“Art is a great unifier,” Lapin tells Hyperallergic, “a reminder [that] we are all in this together. ”

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