Timeline Art Museum is a 2012 App that provides a visual chronology of a comprehensive history of Western European art that meets the 21st century's infographic demands. Ultimately, Timeline hopes to use multi-touch technology to bring classic works of art to life through its accessible digital format.
With an intuitive swipe feature, Timeline allows users to explore highlights of Western art through brief artist biographies and examples of their work. The digital museum currently features 80 artists from the early Renaissance to the contemporary era. Users can quickly access details about art work ranging from artist, title, dates, actual dimensions, and current location—all for free.
The app’s best feature is its easy to use timeline. Users control a slider at the bottom of the screen, which allows them to swipe past artist’s biographies in chronological order at their own pace. In this way, users are in control of their learning experience. Additionally, users can read biographies in well-designed, opaque shadow boxes layered over the examples of the artists’ work.
While the app functions as a well-designed timeline, its other features lack the same ease and intuitive use. In order to actually see examples of a particular artist’s work, the user must click on the artist’s biography box. With no tutorial, a user could potentially read about an artist but never see their work.
Furthermore, it is difficult to find information related to each piece. It took this reviewer a full twenty minutes to discover how to access details about specific works. Users must press a tiny information button in the corner if they want information about style, genre, date, material, dimensions, genre, technique and current location. So while this app makes summaries of art history accessible, information about the artwork itself is difficult to find.
This lack of intuitive design extends to its paid in-app products. There are roughly five examples of work for each artist. To download a comprehensive collection of a single artist the user must pay $.99. That means a full collection of each artist will cost you roughly $80. This seems like a pretty hefty sum considering you may be able to find similar (if not better) images online.
Currently the app is only available to users in Australia, limiting its audience. It's also important to note that the app’s already large size imposes certain limits. For instance, the app is only downloadable via Wi-Fi as it is 214 MB. Additionally, the timeline’s narrow scope, which focuses on Western European artists and does not include ancient civilizations, may be an unfortunate consequence of this size restriction.
Is this app ultimately a well-conceived timeline or an interactive museum? Perhaps it’s somewhere in between. The app is an exciting way for people to conceptualize art history from the comfort of their own homes; however, it seems Timeline is the beginning of something new, rather than the full execution of an interactive educational tool or museum.
Either way, new tools such as Timeline Art Museum are redefining how to catalogue change over time. Intuitive touch features allow users to better visualize historical change as an evolutionary process. Digital museums that harness this interactive technology have the potential to place this visualization directly in the hands of users. Additionally, digital museums are unconstrained by the physical world, collecting art pieces from the Internet. This broader reach allows them to make connections between pieces around the world, in ways that may not be physically possible. Artwork from the National Gallery in London to the Louvre in Paris can all be placed in one digital exhibit. Although Timeline Art Museum is not a fully developed digital museum, it sparks the imagination about what a digital museum could be.