Art History in the Age of the Internet - A Discussion

October 26, 2013

A Florentine Madonna and Child offset by a 3D printed #arthistory hashtag, a contribution to Dr. Charlotte Frost's hasharthistory project by Dr. Alexandra Korey

Dr. Charlotte Frost has recently arrived in Hong Kong where she is serving as a visiting assistant professor at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong. Over the past few years she has been working on a number of over-lapping projects that explore the histories of digital and new media arts and the materiality of art historical scholarship – not to mention what happens to art history as discipline after the arrival of digital and internet-based communication technologies. As part of this work, she has been hosting a distributed online discussion all October on the history of online art discussion communities and the future of art history/criticism.

The discussion has mostly unfolded on the New Media Curating discussion listserve (link) but she has also been inviting people to respond on their own blogs, through Twitter and on their Facebook pages. For example a really useful thread on the internet personas Luther Blissett and NN occurred on her own Facebook page (link)

Having talked about her work at the CAA conference in February of this year (link),  she invited me to talk about my own use of blogging and social media in art history as an independent scholar. The prompts in bold below have been provided by Charlotte to guide this discussion.

Spanning the entirety of October 2013, Dr. Charlotte Frost has been curating a discussion on the impact of the web on art creation, and art criticism. Much of this discussion has taken part in a format known as a listserve - which is essentially a large email based group discussion.  Although this format does have certain advantages, its closed nature makes it viewable by what is essentially a captive audience, and participants and viewers are limited only to those willing to brave a registration process. In contrast, the discussion which transpires in a blog such as 3PP is viewable to anyone on the web. There are some hurdles involved with using the commenting system (disqus at 3PP), although this uses a more generic set of ID/logins to enable broader participation.

It can be argued that a blog based discussion is instantly more accessible to a wider variety of viewers and potential participants. Hence, when it was requested that 3PP participate in this discussion, I was delighted that Charlotte accepted my proposal of hosting my contribution here at 3PP and inviting any and all interested to both track and participate.

I would like to encourage other bloggers who post or discuss images in an art historical context to contribute to this discussion or provide their own impressions on the following questions - either in the comments section below, or on their own blogs or social media spaces.

Why did you start blogging about art history – did you see it as extension of your existing work or something new?

3PP was created in November 2009. Prior to this, I had spent a decade online writing about technology and contributing to web forums dedicated to technology and pop culture. This gave me a basic proficiency with web based tools, as well as a host of other skills related to digital imaging and online content production. These skills have served me well as I transitioned from writing about tech to art history, and in the design of web projects dedicated to art historical content.

My initial impetus to start "blogging" about art history was due to a long-standing passion for the subject, which I had been deeply fascinated with since the age of 9, when I found a copy of Panofsky's Meaning in the Visual Arts on the ground near my home. It was only after some months that my posts at 3PP began to attract interest from art historians online, and it was after this point that I began to approach "art history blogging" with a degree of seriousness - posting regularly, and always striving to improve the quality of the content produced.

Did you have any experience of mailing list culture before starting to blog? Or indeed of any other forms of online art discussion? If so, which ones?

I was familiar with listserves (mailing lists) in a work context and had been a moderator and participant in several message boards or "forums" related to technology and popular culture between 1999-2009. Towards the end of my time on these forums, I found myself increasingly becoming distracted and talking less about tech and more about art history. At the end of 2009,  the owners of one of the forums I heavily contributed to suggested I was bored and turn my attention to another topic. 3PP was created shortly after this.

A forum post I describe as "the birth of 3PP" - with my discussion of some paintings I was contemplating for a home redecoration project in February 2008 (link) Researching and writing about these paintings in greater detail proved to be enjoyable and interesting.

Do you see your blogging as legitimate scholarship or as something that supports the more important work you do in the classroom/in journals?

As I do not teach in an institution, I can not say that my content is an adjunct to my own teaching, but I am regularly informed by art historians that particular posts have been cited as resources in their own coursework. Perhaps the most utilised post in this respect is Donatello's David - Banishing the Middle Ages with a Skinny Bronze. (link)

Another of my posts, examining the attribution of an alleged Leonardo da Vinci drawing - La Bella Principessa - has made the rare transition from blog post to journal article, with the piece Enhancing the Art Of Seeing - A Leonardo Case Study being published in the Fall 2011 edition of the ARCA Journal of Art Crime

In May 2013, I was invited by Dr. Felicity Harley McGowan to speak at an art history seminar at the University of Melbourne, where I described blogging as a new form of art historical discourse. It is heartening to see an increasing number of art historians and cultural institutions online. This will only increase with time. The web is an ideal means of conveying text, images and video, to a large audience simultaneously, and as such - is ideally suited to host art historical content.

Blogging is a contentious topic among some academics, as explored in this post at PhD2Published.  In art history specifically, the attitude towards blogging is changing, although there is still a heavy emphasis on traditional modes of publication as the primary "legitimate" activity for creating and distributing content.

Do you think working online is different to working in more traditional modes and if so, how? For example, are there skills you're developing that apply much more to working online? 
Writing online requires an awareness of the diversity of the potential audience the content will be exposed to, with language and style of presentation used adapted to maximise this. Utilising dense academic language, or having presentations that are excessively long are not conducive to engaging a maximal online audience. 

Finding the right mix of language and detail is a very specific skill, which at present there is no manual for. Currently,  the most gifted communicators of art historical content online share the talent of creating work that is detailed, interesting and engagingly written. Special mention must be made here of art historian Dr. Alexandra Korey, who began writing about her art historical experiences when travelling in Rome in 2004. This resulted in the creation of her site - which in many respects makes Alexandra one of the web's pioneering bloggers writing about art history (among other topics). 

Then and now - Alexandra's arttrav as it looked in 2004 versus its modern appearance. Inset: Alexandra leading TeamFlorens bloggers in the Palazzo Vecchio during the Florens2012 cultural heritage conference

The future of art history and the internet is a very exciting prospect. This goes beyond the fact that more art historians and institutions are engaging online, but also expands to include an increased public participation and interest in learning about art and history outside of an institutional and pedagogical content. The web allows quality knowledge, and fascinating images and video to be accessible everywhere, and by everyone - hence the potential for art history online is essentially limitless. 

Thank you to Dr. Charlotte Frost for her assistance with this post and inspiration in leading the discussion on art history and the web.

Related links
Charlotte Frost's blog digitalcritic link
Charlotte Frost's hasharthistory tumblr link
Storify Tweet Summary of Charlotte's talk at CAA - Doing Digital Art Criticism link
Alexandra Korey's blog arttrav link
Dr. Inger Mewburn's "Why do some academics hate blogging" - posted on PhD2Published link
3PP - The Moment of Digital Art History - a summary of digital art history initiatives link
On Independent Arts Scholarship - by Hasan Niyazi - posted at Phd2Published link


Javine said...

very good

hels said...

Particular posts are indeed often cited in lectures and notes. Your discussion mentioned two of the main reasons that most appeal to me - to avoid dense academic language and to reduce the endless reading requirements placed on students.

If the topic is specific enough, a blog post can say in 1,000 carefully chosen words what a journal article can say in 10,000 words.

Edward Goldberg said...

The real challenge, it seems to me, is defining the "art and art historical public". How many kinds of people are out there who want access to how many kinds of information in how many ways, for how many different uses? We don't have the answer yet and it is not going to be simple. Academic art historians can be weirdly troglodytic--but even the most backward-looking spend far more time running through Google Images and Wikipedia than they like to admit (especially to themselves). And then there is the 800 pound gorilla in the room: how does one pay for art historical scholarship and publication (and other kinds of publication, right through daily newspapers). There is no viable business model as yet for scholarly publication and it is far too simple to blame pay-walls and other limitations on access to "elitism"--everyone's favorite boogeyman. Ed G.

David said...

Rest in peace my friend! God be with you!

Anonymous said...

On behalf of Hasan's family, we would like to thank you all for being a part of his life. We will always love him, and he will be in our hearts, and at the front of minds, forever. Unutulma digini da asla unutma kardesim, Elveda... Hatice (mum), Hasret (sister), Metin (brother in law), Taylan (nephew)

Mary said...

I will miss hearing about your amazing achievements. Rest in peace Hasan.

Zsuzsi Szőllősi said...

I am shocked. You have given me so much, I learnt so much from your posts and your blog was the reason why I became interested in art history and decided to pursue it in my academic career. I owe you so much from discovering some movies that I would have missed otherwise to seeing paintings in a different light.

I am so sad we never met. You will be greatly missed. Rest in peace.

bensweeney said...

Rest in Peace...God Blessed us having you in this world

Brigido Anaya said...

We are in mourning about your passing Hasan

Anonymous said...

To our dear friend Hasan, we grew up as neighbours many years ago. We miss looking over the fence calling out your name so the three of us can play together. As years went on and we had to go our seperate ways, we always remembered those growing years. It took many years for us to find you again and was only this year we finally found you. It is a shame we didnt get to see each other again at the end of the year. It breaks our hearts to see you go so early. We will always miss you my friend, you were another brother in our family. God bless you and rest in peace. From hoang and huy phan and family

David & Zalak said...

You have been in our lives for last 15 years(mine) and over 20 years(David's). Its been absolute pleasure to have known you. We will miss you at every dinner times and definitely miss seeing you every 2nd night. I will miss your long boring emails at work. You are and will remain big part of our lives. You were surely gifted with your computer skills, physio skills and excellent art historian. RIP my beautiful friend, Hasan.

Karen said...

Hasan, we worked side by side for nearly ten years. Although the world of art is not a passion I shared with you (running was more 'our' thing), the beauty of your work here, the depths of your friendships, the enormous respect across the globe - these are all a tribute to you and I am grateful to be able to share in them now. Today you were laid to rest; your legacy lives on. xx

Anonymous said...

Vision of a Knight Hasan kardesim... anadim...

A&P said...

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...