Like lots of people, I've been playing Artle, the new Wordle-esque game from the National Gallery of Art. Each day brings a new challenge, in the form of an artwork drawn from the museum's collections. The image is stripped of any identifying information, and you have four tries to guess the artist. Each wrong guess unveils another piece by the same artist, providing more grist for art historical muscle memory. Like Wordle, it's a tiny dopamine roller coaster, as one's pride dips with each failed attempt, and exalts with each correct identification.
In the above example, it took me three tries to identify the titan Titian (clearly the Italian Renaissance is not my forté), and it was only because the third image was of a work I already knew to be his, Venus and Adonis. Without such familiarity, I felt strangely adrift, and it made me reflect on the reassuring cocoon of metadata that museums typically provide: title, date, medium, country of origin, etc. Without these moorings, we are left to rely on our own memories, or something even more wispy, which I'll call "feel."
"Feel" is like the quality Malcolm Gladwell identifies in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. He describes how certain experts are able to make snap judgments that turn out to be correct, not because they did extensive research on the particular question at hand, but because they can draw upon accumulated experience that has become second nature. One recent Artle, a painting I had never seen before, just struck me as "Rembrandt-y," and low and behold, it was! (Pats self on back.) I was less sure about another, by Jean Dubuffet, but that guess also paid off. In this case, Artle actually expanded my knowledge of an artist with whom I had only a glancing acquaintance.