Technology and ‘the death of Art History’
Art Information versus Art Research: Database as Nemesis
Is the rise of collections management databases a technological development that is leaving art historians behind? From the perspective of an art information technologist and with supporting evidence from a range of scholar-users, I will examine the personally perceived disconnect between art historians and information systems. While the collections database in the museum context (perhaps most especially in America) might become the exclusive domain of the registration department, in the research setting it is necessarily shared by both technician and thinker. How do needs-based variations in collections management database use reflect the contrasting importance of data (an object itself or the collection as reality) versus metadata (the database as a layer of abstraction)? Given the ever-increasing pervasiveness of multimedia capture and electronic access, what kind of middle ground is needed for effective shared resource pooling between IT and Ph.D.? Does the break run deeper than the interface layer? Is it a matter of technophobia or generational culture?
Along with philosophical questions that may remain open-ended, I will examine a set of suggested possibilities to help balance the signal to noise ratio from survey interviews of art historians and museum curators with established and mid-career backgrounds. The discussion will also include specific cases from my own work that further demonstrate the gap between actuality and representation such as scientific color-controlled photography techniques and the need to correct for perception, and an examination of copycat bibliographic cataloguing as a strain of viral information.
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