You Might Actually Learn Something From Artle, the Wordle for Works of Art

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Screenshot: Artle/National Gallery of Art

Word-based Wordle variants are incredibly fun. Each tweak of the format brings a new nuance to the game. But sometimes it’s worth expanding your horizons to guess things that aren’t the specific placement of letters on a grid. I did that today, and I fell in love with Artle.

The artwork guessing game comes from the National Gallery and features artists in their collection. Am I an art history buff? Heck no. But did I enjoy playing anyway? Very much.

In this game, you’re shown a piece of art and it’s your job to guess who made it. Start typing an artist’s name, and you’ll get suggestions so that you can select, say, “Polidoro da Caravaggio” instead of typing “carav…” and then getting stuck on how to spell the guy’s name. This feature also helps to disambiguate between, say, Rembrandt Peale and Rembrandt van Rijn. (Another tip on how to play: Load the page and, if a painting doesn’t show up, wait a few minutes. In our tests, the game was very slow to load initially, but was easily playable once that first painting shows up.)

For each of the four guesses, you’re shown a different artwork. So when I played today’s game, I first saw a pen-and-ink drawing. I hazarded a guess, which was wrong, and was then shown an engraving by the same artist. Missed again. Then there was another, more detailed engraving. I’m out of easy guesses, and now I’m trying to grasp at what century this person might be from. No idea. Miss again. For my final guess, I’m given something different: a full-color painting whose style feels vaguely familiar, but I still can’t place it.

I throw in a random guess, admitting defeat, and then the answer is revealed: it’s an artist I’ve never heard of.

In other versions of the game, this would be frustrating. A word-guessing game with an obscure word is no fun. But here, it’s win-win: if you didn’t know the artist before, now you do.

Or as one Artle player told the Washington Post, “It does give you some self-awareness when you realize that all the artists you know right away are like White 19th-century artists, that maybe it’s time to expand some of your art appreciation.”

The game’s creators say they chose a mix of well-known and lesser-known artists to keep the game interesting and educational. And while the Gallery’s collections are overwhelmingly the work of dead white men, the works that were selected for Artle are a bit more diverse: 17.8% of the artists in the game’s first 45 days were non-white, the Washington Post reports, compared to just 2.3% in the Gallery’s collections as a whole.

I won’t reveal the identity of today’s artist, but I will say that the ending of the game satisfied my curiosity. Not only was I told the person’s name, but the game linked me to a biography of the artist. (My best guess at a century was only 100 years off. Not bad?) It also had titles and links for more information on each of the four works that were featured. Now I know more about this artist, and I’m looking forward to learning about another in 11 hours and 48 minutes.

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