The intersection of arts and technology is one of the understated victories of the technology-as-saviour narrative. While technology’s use to solve complex problems and advance science is widely reported, its massive strides in making art from around the world accessible to anyone in possession of a smartphone have been often overlooked. This promising tale has been seen in initiatives like Google’s Art Project and 3D virtual tours on many museums’ websites. A new app for smartphones has now joined the ranks.

Smartify, a free app, uses image-recognition technology to identify artworks. Point your phone at a work and the app will scan it. If the work is part of its growing database, currently comprising the collections of 30 museums, it will instantly give on-screen information about the work and its artist—medium, size, date and historical context.

Its database, growing by the day, currently has roughly 50,000 works from the collections of institutions like The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and National Gallery, London. For now, the majority of the museums are in the US and Europe. While users in India wouldn’t have much opportunity to use the app in a museum, it is a handy guide to the finest art collections of museums around the world.

Responding to an email enquiry on whether the app plans to expand beyond the West, Anna Lowe, co-founder and head of partnerships at Smartify, replied, “We are hoping to begin expanding in 2018 and hope some arts organizations in India and beyond take this as an open invite to get in touch and join the platform."

Available on iOS and Android, the app’s simple interface does away with the need to press buttons, so one can just point at a work to learn more about it. Although made to complement a museum visit, the app doesn’t actually require a visit in person. Tested on a Vincent van Gogh postcard, it produced the desired result.

The advance of technology into museums, though, could have unintended consequences. Museums are places people visit to unplug from the daily grind of email, phone and work. Whether one should be using a smartphone in a museum—whose excess use might have necessitated the visit in the first place—is another matter entirely. But the app’s mission statement addresses this conundrum. While aiming to allow people to make more meaningful connections with art, it mentions that “we believe nothing beats the physical experience of visiting a museum".

If global art tourism is a stretch for people, Smartify can do the second best thing: bring the world museums to them. So the next time you feel disenchanted with daily life and work, explore the app’s remarkable repository and take heart from the calm and serenity of Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid or facts like Van Gogh produced his radiant and life-affirming Wheat Field With Cypresses in a mental asylum. The app, with some of the most famous artworks known to humans, wields the power to educate, satisfy curiosity, offer solace, inspiration and much more—all with the swipe of a finger.

Free and available on iOS and Android.

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