Google Art Project: The most beautiful step toward world domination I’ve ever seen

Google might be well on its way to world domination, but damn it if our new evil overlords aren’t making our dystopian future look awesome.

The latest Googletastic achievement: Google Art Project, which takes the already-unbelievable Google Street View and puts it in a museum. Over a dozen, actually, but who’s counting?

Like in Google Street View, you can pick a museum from the list and browse around, looking at the galleries as they appeared when Google dropped by for a visit. It’s a great way to get a glimpse of museums you can’t easily get to, like Museum Kampa in Prague or the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

But the project’s real draw is in its high-quality images of famous artworks. The first time I went on the site, I was met by the iconic image of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” I didn’t recognize it until I saw the caption — because the photo of the painting was so close you could see individual brushstrokes, six inches high.

It’s hard to describe accurately in words how beautiful and chilling this is at once. You can zoom in close enough to some paintings that strokes of red paint look like jelly on a slice of bread. The warps and whorls of “Starry Night” itself gain new twists every “step” closer you get, expanding like fractals. And the concept of being close enough to a priceless work of art that you can see the cracks in the paint — without a security guard body slamming you, that is — is breathtaking.

I don’t believe the Google Art Project can ever replace getting to see a museum in person. There’s something about standing in front of art that you just can’t replicate on a computer screen. But getting just the taste it offers is enough for now.

When Google takes control of the global economy, then I’ll start making noise about getting me in to see the real thing.