From Our Guest Bloggers art history, globalism, open access
I’ve spent my time here talking about how times are a changin’ and we better roll with the punches, but that we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, if you’ll pardon my cliches. But the gist of what I’m saying is that I love books and physical places and don’t think they’re going anywhere. But new technology is providing opportunities we can’t afford to pass up. In this last post, I want to talk about open access and why artists, art historians, and art librarians should care about it. I won’t spend very much time talking about what open access is, but only in talking about how it would have positive effects on scholarship and not just the library’s bottom-line.
Art history has been trying to address its biggest weakness that is its substantial western bias. Many academic disciplines emerged from the 19th century with a racist history of scholarship. Art History is no different. The canon that had been set went from Greece to the Roman Empire to the Cathedrals of Europe to the Frescoes of Italy to the Courts of French Kings to the Parisian rebels. All the art that developed everywhere else? Not so much.
Only recently has global art been given much attention. At first only in the ways it influenced and was appropriated by Western Art, from the Japonisme of the Impressionists to the African masks of the Abstract artists. Then it was discovering cultural connections. The legacy of Colonialism, the Silk road, or the Crusades are all prominent examples. These are all good and important, but there was still only one meta-narrative, and that was the evolution of western art (and by this I mean Europe and only more recently the US).
Hiroshige's Suruga Street. The Prussian Blue and use of perspective are examples of western influence
There is still a real need for alternative narratives, for local histories of art, for indigenous perspectives. As recent battles of cultural patrimony have shown, many parts of the world have grown wise to the West’s dominance in the study of art, and their imposition of scholarship onto other cultures. Part of the problem is that the availability of scholarship is vastly uneven, becoming a successful art historian, understanding how the disciple functions, isn’t an easy task.
This ceiling at the Met is Spanish, though its style was shaped by the Islamic influence in Iberia
It is hard/impossible to break into a field when you can’t read the literature, you can’t be up to date without access. You also lose out on publishing opportunities. A whole conversation is being shut down, simply because scholarly articles (the whole goal of which is to disseminate information & ideas) are not freely available. Art History is just one of many disciplines that could benefit from a truly global conversation. And yet we keep publishing in insular journals, and to make matters worse we only read from these same journals. Western art historians are talking to themselves.
This Aztec basin was once a place to put the hearts of sacrifice victims, it was appropriately turned into a baptismal font by Spanish missionaries
But there is a real desire to include more voices, to shake up the canon, to forge an international art history. It just hasn’t happened yet. The question is why not? Most certainly one barrier to this bright new future is the current publishing regime.
As a supporter of open access who has seen the reluctance to adopt new publishing models in Art History, it is important to expand the argument, not just about how it can improve the library’s budget but how it can enrich the field. This means librarians helping people find material published world-wide. Librarians can be a key kickstarter of a global interchange of ideas simply by pointing people in the right direction. Time to get started.
From Our Guest Bloggers art history, art librarianship, digital libraries, visual literacy
What is the relationship between Art & Technology, specifically what does art and art history offer technology? I was recently posed this question and asked to present on my answer. At first I was a bit stumped… what do they even mean!? When I started working, I was mostly talking about all the things that technology was offering to Art History: digital libraries, digital humanities, digital other things! When I realized this, I knew I had to retrench. It was then that I hit on a skill that art history teaches and is absolutely vital to technology, visual literacy.
At this point you are probably saying either “yeah duh” or “visual what now?” For those in the latter category, do not worry, you’re certainly not alone. Go to ACRL’s visual literacy standards to get up to speed. It is essentially the ability to find, understand, and use images. Which is harder than it sounds.
First is the finding, or more often than not, the not finding, and worst of all, the not even attempting to find. We’ve all sat through power-points that were unending bullets of unreadable words, our eyes glazing over as we slump deeper into a stupor. Or we tried to read blogs that were essentially walls of text smashing into our faces, sapping us of our will to go on. The hard truth of the matter is that the web and most forms of digital communication are visual media. If you aren’t using images, you’re doing it wrong.
So you know you need an image, but that lolcat you found with google images isn’t cutting it? We all know someone who thinks it’s acceptable to use clip-art (“only sometimes!”, they might say), when it is 100% fact that it should never be used for anything, ever. Ever. Friends don’t let friends use stock photos. Libraries spend a good deal of time and money building better resources for people, we even call them digital libraries. But libraries cannot take a Field of Dreams approach to our image resources, because build it, and they very well might not come. We have to promote, persuade, educate, cajole, mock, and otherwise convince people to use these resources.
Don't use this!
But of course even when we get people to select a great looking image there are still challenges. A stellar image when paired with the content, might makes everyone go, “and that’s relevant how?” Which is generally to be avoided. With the preponderance of great images available out there, as well as the ever increasing number of tools for information visualization this problem can be prevented, but like forest fires, only you can do it.
This is very relevant to my post
Quite a bit more problematic is understanding the images one uses. This is where being an art historian comes in handy, or at least having an undergraduate minor. Evaluating images’ style, content, composition, meaning, and historical context is like second nature to us. When pretty much every website, Powerpoint, blog, digital humanities project requires us to use images, this is a danged useful skill. You don’t want to use an image that turns out to have some nasty connections, or that you simply don’t understand. But you studied something practical in college you say? Well too bad, you have to give us humanities people something. All that stuff about learning to think critically and analyze the represented world, well wasn’t all bullshit. But we’re more than happy to share our skills.
Time is money, which is why you don't waste people's time with images like this one
So you’ve successfully navigated these hurdles and produced a beautiful piece of well illustrated work. Too bad you may have broke the law, right? If you’re still using Google images, then probably yes. Hopefully you know where your image came from, you know if it’s in the public domain, or you found something licensed under creative commons and you’ve given attribution. Or if not, you understand your rights under fair use and have created a transformative work. Perhaps you’re pushing the boundaries of fair use, you brave and noble creature, and have set an example for us all.
Presto! You've created a work of art
That’s visual literacy! Simple right? But oh so lacking, and oh so vital for libraries’ digital projects. While this article may make light of the current situation (oh, it’s far worse than I’ve made out), it is a serious challenge for librarians of all stripes, one that will only get more vital as the internet increasingly takes over our lives.