The Daily


Books from the Met, Unsorted

May 21, 2014 | by

Yesterday, the Met released nearly four-hundred thousand images—394,253, if you’re counting—into the public domain. Verily this is a horn of digital plenty, and the museum has made it easy, even fun, to peruse: users can sort the images by artist, maker, culture, method, material, geographical location, date, era, or department. To give you a sense of the collection’s scope, I sorted it, not especially imaginatively, to show only books, which left me with an unwieldy 2,701 results—and then I dove in. Above are a few of the more striking images I found, all of them deeply miscellaneous.

There’s something enjoyable in a stochastic approach to browsing, though you’d be right to call it dilettantish. The pieces I found have nothing in common—no cultural background, no thematic unity, no philosophy or aesthetic, no chronology, not even a shared mode of production—except that they all come from books, and they were all created by, you know, the people of Earth. Imagine wandering a library in complete disarray, with no organizing principle and no particular ambition: all the context disappears, along with most notions of the cumulative, but it’s hard not to come away feeling humbled by the vastness of artistic accomplishment. If this is a cheap kind of awe, it doesn’t feel that way; a few minutes of randomized images did wonders for my sense of humanism, and I saw only an infinitesimal fraction of the collection.

You can peruse the Met’s online collection here, as purposely or as arbitrarily as you’d like. Bookmark it and return whenever you’re feeling misanthropic.



  1. Kulk | May 21, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    I’d like to see you browse for 24 hours and come up with your top 25 images.

  2. Dan Piepenbring | May 21, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    I’m game, as long as the twenty-four hours aren’t consecutive…

  3. John Michael | May 21, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Was afraid this post was on its way to being ironically dilettante until, bam, this sentence: “If this is a cheap kind of awe, it doesn’t feel that way; a few minutes of randomized images did wonders for my sense of humanism”. Yes. Totally agree.

    Reminds me of browsing old, used postcards (’20s-’40s) in a flea market in Paris. There was limited organization to the thousands of items in the selection, and each new drawing yielded a new totally-out-of-context glimpse into some traveler’s hand-written message home. I bought 10 without looking.

  4. Drew Byrne | May 23, 2014 at 6:24 am

    Ah, all this “arty-farty stuff”! You know, one day it’s all going to go “poof!”

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