Dressing Valentino

On the history of decorative art, design, and film. Doing Digital Art History

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Digital Assignment 4: 3D Models

So… I was having a little too much fun making 3D models, to the point where I told myself I had to stop. However, I noticed that with each object I photographed my models go increasingly better. So I will now walk you all through my 3D modeling journey. Because...

3-D Modeling with Agisoft

I wanted to present Agisoft with a challenge for our 3-D modeling project, so I selected a sculpture of Holly Fischer’s, who is an artist and faculty member at my undergraduate school, Meredith College. Holly is an amazing artist, and was kind enough to let me photograph one of her sculptures in the 3-D studio at Meredith. Here is a photo of the sculpture.

Holly Fischer, 2019

I wanted to find out how Agisoft would handle such a shape. I took 30 pictures, from all sides, about 2 ft. away, as I had the sculpture on a turntable. I also photographed the top and bottom of the sculpture. Here is the result:

Studio-1

What you should be seeing is a fairly accurate rendering of the background of the studio, not the actual sculpture itself. I should have placed something plain behind the sculpture so the software couldn’t see the colorful background. That was my first attempt.

For my second attempt, I removed the background completely before I began the rendering process. However, my laptop is still rendering, and I left it running overnight. I am not filled with optimism at this point. If I had to guess what is wrong with this attempt, it is that perhaps I took too many pictures. I will let it run a bit longer and see what happens.

It just finished rendering, and the second attempt came out worse than the first. I am not sure where I went wrong, but clearly I haven’t done all the steps correctly. Over the weekend, I will take new photos of something else and try again.

I am also having difficulty embedding the pdf file. I added a pdf embedder plug-in, which is working, but I am not seeing anything when I preview the post. I don’t know if this is something that will only work when it is published, or not.

Even though I am having difficulty with Agisoft, I think this technology is amazing, and has many applications for art historians. Being able to view an object from anywhere in the world, from multiple perspectives, without damaging the object is an amazing opportunity for scholars.

The articles we read for class discussion this week relate to digital humanities as applied to the field of art history. Sydni Dunn’s article discusses the difficulties facing digital humanists in using a digital portfolio, or project in place of a traditional paper for their scholarship. So many of them fear being denied tenure with digital-only projects that they wind up doing twice the amount of work as those choosing more traditional modes of scholarship. While universities are being more open to digital projects, they are not completely embraced in the same manner as traditional scholarship. This creates a lot of uncertainty for academics in the digital humanities. This will continue to be a problem, because as we know from our readings and discussions this semester, art historians in general are rather wary of digital projects, and publishing still remains the gold standard of scholarship. Many art historians don’t see the need for digital art history, and unfortunately many examples we are shown are not entirely convincing. It seems that many of these projects fall into the interesting, but not necessarily revelatory, category. Until there is a digital project that could not be done on paper, and provokes some new understanding about the material it examines, art historians will remain exactly where they are now, using PowerPoint.

Dunn advises that when assessing someone’s digital project, evaluators should be told to examine the work in its digital form, not screenshots, thumbnails, or a printout. This shows very clearly the level of familiarity that most have with digital projects. If you have to tell them to look at it in its native state, you’re already in trouble. It seems pointless to be evaluated on a digital project by those who don’t understand what went into its creation. Dunn does say that it is advisable for the digital project to be evaluated by those in the digital humanities, but this may not be possible in all departments. This poses a real problem for those working in the digital humanities, and it is not easily overcome. This explains why these scholars find themselves doing double the work, by providing their tenure committee with not only their digital project, but a traditional paper as well. Those working in alternate academic careers may be able to provide solely a digital project as proof of scholarship, but many of these positions are not tenure-track positions. There remains a skepticism towards the scholarship of a digital-only project, which keeps many art historians from embracing digital art history.

References:

Sydni Dunn, “Digital Humanists: If You Want Tenure, Do Double the Work,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 5 January 2014, https://chroniclevitae.com/news/249-digital-humanists-if-you-want-tenure-do-double-the-work

Digital Pedagogy

Digital Pedagogy has always been an interest of mine, even when I was teaching middle school with Art and Life through UNC Campus Y I had an interest in creating digital assignments for my students. It was slightly difficult to do because I was only with them once a week,...

Unpaid Labor or Untapped Resources?

Fun Fact! You know when you’re about to buy concert tickets online and then you have to do the annoying prove you’re not a robot thing? Wellllllll… the reCAPTCHA is essentially a crowd sourcing tool. While yes, it can help determine that you’re not a robot, it also we developed...

Not your Grandma’s Art History course

Over the past few months, I have explored how many different digital tools could work towards art historical research, education, and communication. I’ve tried to dive into the methodology of digital humanities and hope that, moving forward, I can apply some of these skills and tools to my own research.

But if I’m honest, I think what I am more excited about with digital humanities is the capability to integrate it into teaching practices. In a class on DAH, we recently read the article by Caroline Bruzelius and Hannah Jacobs– two art historians at Duke University– about an introductory course they taught that utilized digital software to reinvent the ‘traditional’ survey course. For this class, the professors created a ‘living’ syllabus– a narrative that “linked the syllabus’ practical information with spatial and temporal visualizations, embedded media and links to supplementary content.” (Bruzelius and Jacobs) This syllabus also compressed historical time with living/contemporary time as current events were interwoven into the course structure, linked to relevant topics or works of art within the survey. For those interested, you can access the syllabus here.

This reinvention of the ‘traditional’ syllabus is honestly super cool. Sure, the design a little cumbersome, but I think Bruzelius and Jacobs did a great job at executing their original goals. I also think that a digital syllabus like this really sets the tone for the overall class– introducing to the students that this isn’t your grandma’s art history course. So where can you go from here?

In her Twentieth Century Art at Dixie State University, Professor Nancy Ross with collaboration from her class, organized a data visualization project to map the relationships and interrelationships between famous women artists. This project grew out of students’ interest in expounding on the common narrative of Twentieth Century Art– a field dominated by men– and resulted into a new way of conceptualizing interrelationships among artists. Ross identifies the inconsistencies and shortcomings of this project, but concludes that overall it was a successful attempt to intervene on the traditional art historical course using digital methods.

Gretchen McKay created and implemented a game for her art history class. Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-89 was a semester-long, fully immersive role-playing game in which students took on key figures on the Paris art scene of the late 19th century. The game centered around the debates around the changing style, function, and appreciation of art at the time as students controlled discussions as their respected characters. The game cumulated in an art sale with one secret buyer. The students were challenged to successfully advocate for the art associated with their character to persuade the secret buyer’s choice. Though McKay’s game doesn’t employ technology directly, the idea of immersion into an alternate reality (virtual reality) is akin to some DH initiatives.

There are many more examples that I could list on Digital Art History in the classroom, suggesting that many scholars and educators are seriously thinking about how methodology can significantly change pedagogy. These projects are extremely useful as I begin to think about how to construct a course in African Art. In my first blog post, I mention that both DAH (as a method) and African Art (as a concentration) are located on the periphery of Art History. The ways in which both are being integrated into the field are still being negotiated. While this is frustrating, I find that there is an opportunity to marry the two into something very significantly new.

There is a debate among scholars and educators about the most effective format for an introductory course on African Art. This is to be expected of course, trying to teach the history of art from an entire continent (with 54 countries and even more ethnic groups) is a challenge. Should it be structured chronologically? Geographically? By theme? A mixture of all three? How might digital tools and methods help address this debate?

I don’t know, but I think its worth pursuing. There is a lot left to improve with African Art History pedagogy (and arguably, the discipline at large) and it seems foolish to not consider digital art history as a way to redefine the field.

Digital v. Digitized in the Classroom

Throughout the semester, we (and by we, I mean me constantly bringing it up in class) have spent a significant portion of time discussing the differences between digital and digitized (hello, Johanna Drucker!). This important distinction from our very first week of class is something that has stuck with me throughout the semester (hello, my many blog posts referencing Drucker’s article) not just because I think it is a foundational article in the field of Digital Art History, but also because I truly believe that it reveals a great deal about our own conception of what the “digital” is. By using the distinguishing question of is it truly digital or is it simply digitized, we are able to meditate on whether we are using the technology as a new mode of scholarship, or if we are simply using this new technology because it is available to us and it makes our lives easier. Just as using a database or publishing an article on a digital format doesn’t necessarily make the research a digital project, just like utilizing digital tools doesn’t make it a digital pedagogical shift.

But, unlike the very distinct difference between digital and digitized for academic research, I think that there needs to be a bit more nuance, or even flexibility, in the differentiation between digital and digitized. I feel this way, mostly, because the advent or including digital technologies in a classroom can affect a learning objective or one of the outcomes of the course.

Smarthistory, from the Khan Academy, is a great resource for introductory level classes in their discussion of art. In the class I TA for, I showed this example of a formal analysis as an introduction to the topic in our own class.

Using digital technologies can create engaging classroom settings. This past week, my recitation group started a collaborative Google Doc for their final exam so that they can have a place to study, ask questions, and synthesize some of the main ideas or themes from that week. This didn’t affect a learning objective or create a new avenue of research, but it did offer a new opportunity for a mode of study, communication, and collaboration for the students.

In our class discussion this week, we looked at two distinctive pedagogy examples that specifically integrate digital technologies in their classroom. Additionally, I think that they are interesting examples to use as points of comparison because each had a similar aim: to critique the canon of Western Art History.

The first example that we looked at was from Duke University:

In this article, Art Historian Caroline Bruzelius and Digital Humanities Specialist Hannah Jacobs discussed their teaching of an introductory level art history survey course with the use of an interactive, mapping syllabus. Not only would the syllabus show the chronological space of the time of their course, but it would also show the chronology of the art that they were studying in the class.

Screenshot of the “Living Syllabus.” To view the full site, click here

This course approach is really interesting to me because the students are still exposed to the traditional canon of art, but already within these introductory discussions, they are exposed to the issues inherently built into this canon. Bruzelius and Jacobs discuss them as such:

Although we used the canonical objects illustrated in the standard introductory textbooks, we approached these places, objects, and the raw materials of which those objects were made as points of departure for a semester-long meditation on the lives (and trajectories) of things. As a result, we practiced visualizing narratives about:
● Why did certain works of art (and not others) “make it” into the canon, an why are these almost always objects from the major museums of America and European capitals: the Louvre, the British Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example?
● What is the significance of the materials from which works of art were made?
● Why do we find certain types of objects in certain types of places (for example, Egyptian obelisks in Rome, Paris, and London)?
● How were these or other objects transported, and what part did they play in networks of exchange?
● What are the dynamic relationships between objects and spaces?
● What were the systems of exchange—what were valuable materials (ivory, lapis, and gold, for example) traded for, and why?

Bruzelius & Jacobs, “The Living Syllabus,” p. 6

For art history majors, many professors will expect them to be aware of and know the objects that make up the canon of art history, despite how problematic and filled with white European male artists it is. Introducing the topic in this way, where the class is built around the concept that makes you question not only why certain art objects and periods are prioritized, but also gets you to think about how and why the Louvre has the works that it does is a unique foundation to have the study of art history. Moreover, the course includes days in which the students are able to learn, hands on, some of the digital technologies that are being employed in the world of digital art history.

In a contrasting example, Prof. Nancy Ross at Dixie State University decided to completely disregard the typical survey class and instead teach an introductory course on women artists of the twentieth century. During this class, students were also asked to research a women artist, particularly their connections with one another. In doing this, they were able to make a complex network of women artists.

Ros3
The network analysis that Dr. Ross’s students made

Upon first reading the article which was published in 2013, my first thought was, wow, I really wish that they had the tools that we learned this semester to create their visualizations because it would be much more dynamic (and probably easier!).

After reading the article, it was really fulfilling to hear about how Ross felt as if her students were much more engaged in the course material not only because they were interested in it, but also because they felt as if they were making contributions to actual research on the topic. It is extremely easy to rely upon survey texts and secondary resources when teaching, especially when teaching large introductory courses, but the result of this is that many younger students believe that scholarship is finite and complete. Ross remarked that, while creating the data for the visual network, students were able to clearly see the gender biases in many of the traditional art history texts and also the different in the way male and female artists were treated in these texts. Allowing them to actually participate in the creation of the scholarship (similar to what I talked about earlier in a blog post about collaboratively creating Google Maps) usually leads to a greater interest about the project and the end results then what a paper assignment may produce.

Pinterest

Pinterest. Not something you would really expect to see in a post about digital pedagogy, right? Well, just like you might not think of the ability of Google Maps to be used in the classroom (or museum or other cultural heritage institution), Pinterest might surprise you! One way we talked about it in class was the creation of a collaborative “site” where each student could make their own exhibit- this provides a much more collaborative, as well as perhaps easier, alternative than to say, Omeka.

My experience with Pinterest has mostly been in museum education internships. As most art history or history students (or perhaps only female students, but I will not devolve into a gender discussion in this blog post) may relate, the idea of education in some way, shape, or form usually arises as a possible idea as a career path. For me, this resulted in two education internships: one at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT and one at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA (the MFA internship was intended to be focused on adult education programing, but children’s activities need a lot more hands to help clean up after). In both of these internships, I relied heavily on Pinterest to use as inspiration and ideas to create activities, crafts, and educational tools. This is a really great opportunity for institutions with lower budgets to find already pre-made lesson plans.

Example of a useful “user” on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/EHeumannGurian/

Mapping Time

In preparation for class this week, we looked at several timelines, including the MET’s Heilbrunn timeline and the BBC’s British History timeline. I’d like to talk about these two resources as I think they are good examples of how digital timelines can be quite robust in terms of the information they offer their users. As it says on the Heilbrunn’s homepage, the timeline is made up of essays and works of art with chronologies. The Heilbrunn timeline does more than plot works of art in time, it connects users with scholarly information and offers multiple points of entry depending on how one likes to search or browse. Since the timeline is connected to the MET’s online catalog, users can also search the timeline using keywords so that similar images/objects can be found outside (or within) the same time period/region as the image/item they are investigating. The BBC’s British History Timeline is similar in that it links nodes on the timeline to BBC articles, but it lacks the visual element of the MET’s timeline (which, in all fairness, makes sense given that the MET is an arts institution and the BBC is not). An element that I found particularly well-done within the BBC timeline is its ‘take a journey’ feature, which asks users to select a theme (slavey, women’s rights, technology and kings/queens) as a way to narrow down the kinds of information they encounter. I could see this type of organizational approach being particularly useful for large quantities of information in timeline form.

We looked at two different timeline tools in this unit, Timeline JS and Time Mapper. After working with Timeline JS, I actually wish that I had used Time Mapper as I think it would have been more interesting, and many projects I have envisioned (and even talked about in previous blog posts) would likely work with a tool like Time Mapper. The main difference between Timeline JS and Time Mapper is that Time Mapper I had really wanted to link out to the archival exhibition page of a show that White’s work had been in, but hyperlinks in the google sheets page seem not to work. I had a pretty hard time getting some images to link because of the way the source websites had them formatted – this was intensely frustrating. I think a pronounced flaw of Timeline JS is the inability to link images that aren’t already on the web. In class we discussed how one might go about uploading images to the web and thus be able to use them with Timeline JS, but that extra step feels like it could be quite frustrating, especially if a scholar was working with a large amount of material that was not available in digital format elsewhere on the internet.

I think that timelines are great visual tools for most any discipline, but I am still note sure they qualify as digital art history. I view them as wonderful supplements to written text that make information easy to digest and enjoyable to interact with, but I’m not sure they enable us to ask new questions about the works we study. That being said, I would love for someone in the comments to disagree with me and help me see timelines in a new way.

Here’s my timeline of the life of American Photographer Minor White. In retrospect, I wish I had used Time Mapper as I think the geographic element of that tool is what enables a timeline to be more dynamic and interesting. Given that White’s work was photographic (aka depicting real places) I think having his works mapped out across the continental U.S. would have been a more exciting way to think about his work and career.

[I would like to thank and acknowledge the Minor White Archive at Princeton University Art Museum, the source for most of my information for this timeline]:

Hold Me Closer, Time Mapper

I will start off by saying that I love digital mapping. I love the coalescence of text, media, geolocation, history, images, and prose to tell stories and relay histories to a wider audience in a more interesting package than a research paper. Our explorations this week were a great chance to delve into another kind of mapping – TimeMapper, run by KnightLab and closely related to TimeLine JS. While I embrace this exciting and relatively painless way to quickly throw information into the interactive, digital ether, I really do wish that this software would embrace me back and let me personalize more of the great features it has to offer.

The idea of TimeLine JS is intriguing enough – timelines without the mapping aspect, that is. If we see timelines as Michael Goodchild does – as the potential for mapping lifespans – timelines become something much more relevant to real, lived experiences of people. Our place in time and the chronology of history’s unfolding is integral to the human experience. Part of the reason why I like the TimeMapper application, though, is that it not only incorporates the chronological aspects of existence, but the location of experience. As much as our sense of place in time matters to living, our actual place in space carries much cultural and social meaning as well.

The thing about timelines is that if they’re not intuitive, the reader can get stuck easily on a snapshot, a single point of the timeline with little sense of where the timeline goes or will end. The great thing about mapping capabilities is that often times you can see all of the points of the timeline not arranged in a linear fashion, which makes it difficult to navigate on screens at times, but in a cluster based on location, which can give some sense of understanding beyond cultural.

Below is my TimeMapper, a map of about 23 points detailing some gulag music research I’d done a while back. I red memoirs and diaries of former Gulag prisoners, and pulled out names (when able) of people participating in musical events in the camps. I then added geolocation and prose to the names to create this timeline. I think the difficult thing about putting this information into TimeMapper is that I’m not sure the timeline tells a new story or is an effective way of presenting the information. The timeline doesn’t let me easily show cateories of musicking or types of people, or in any way let me visually group people because it’s a timeline. In the past, I’ve been interested in finding common themes across the people’s stories. I haven’t thought before about whether or not the chronology of all of their experiences made a difference, however, and I think that this timeline does make me consider it. I’m just not sure someone would find it useful for informational purposes as I think they’d get bored fairly quickly.

Altogether, I think the Timeline feature could be useful depending on the project, and can help us approach our research data from new perspectives that may or may not be obvious.

Crowdsourcing or Outsourcing?

Nancy Proctor identifies ways in which the role of the curator is changing in her article, “Digital: Museum as Platform, Curator as Champion, in the Age of Social Media.” She notes that curators’ roles are moving from ‘stodgy’ experts who control the collections and information to being those who embrace change, and take a more collaborative approach to the community. Museums have typically been viewed as authoritative and snobbish, and they are working to improve their image with the public. Museums have had to embrace social media, especially since a museum’s digital presence is no longer confined to its website, and thanks to social media, it has lost control of the digital media published about its collection. Proctor summarized the challenges to the art museum in three points:

“First, a shift from substance and solidity towards activity and performance, and from history to the contemporary. Second, a privileging of the temporary exhibition over the permanent collection. And three, exhibitions that focus on creating events and sensations rather than generating knowledge.”

Nancy Proctor

She notes that the role of curator is increasingly one of “storytelling” or generating narratives rather than producing classical art historical knowledge. How did generating knowledge become bad? I understand that museums are trying to engage more sectors of the public, and that is a positive step, but I think there is room for all kinds of viewers; those who want sensory experiences, those who want to learn, and those who want both. I like the idea of curators being approachable, but I don’t think of them as ‘collaborators’ with the public. I do think curators need to be acutely aware of the community they live and work in, and it should inform their decision-making process, especially in the creation of exhibitions. However, scholars who have spent years researching and studying a field are experts, and should remain so. On a separate yet related topic, I disagree with the current trend of decreasing the word count on the wall labels at museums, as well. Typically, this is done to feel ‘less educational,’ and to make visitors to the museum feel more comfortable. Can’t they just read less if they want to? What about those who would like to read more? There must be a way to reach more members of the public while still keeping current museum-goers happy. I believe there is a vast difference between making information more accessible and losing depth and nuance.

This week in class we discussed crowdsourcing, and its use in museums. Museums are working to increase their members and attendance, as well as to stay relevant in today’s world. One way that museums use crowdsourcing is in transcription. The museum will set up a project, for example, transcribing handwritten letters, and ask members of the public to work on it. Museums view this as leveraging some of their most passionate users. Data sets can be made available to scholars, which expands knowledge generally as well. Crowdsourcing projects allow those who are interested in history to actually work on it themselves, while making them feel that they’re helping to build something they care about. Using crowdsourcing for transcription of handwritten documents that OCR is not able to work with is quite valuable. This can be tremendously helpful for research institutions that have vast amounts of archival material, in a variety of forms. In addition to letters, there are also items like exhibition contracts and art dealer stock books. These types of projects are quite valuable to local history projects and restoration projects, especially for small, public history institutions places who have a small staff. This kind of work becomes a symbiotic relationship between the public and the institution. Particularly valuable are the older members of the community who have a lot of knowledge to contribute. I do think there is a difference between crowdsourcing and outsourcing. The difference lies in the collaborative relationship between the community and the institution. For example, in a transcription project, the transcription is one aspect of a larger project. Not only do the museum staff need to plan and set up the platform, they will also vet and process the data after transcription has taken place. The members of the community are contributing to a larger project that the museum staff is also working on as well. Crowdsourcing can also be seen as a form of engagement in which users contribute directly to the knowledge creation for cultural heritage. These projects can be very successful when users feel that they are part of a community working toward the goal of knowledge creation, as well as the ability to interface directly with the project team. Crowdsourcing, social media, and engaging with the public are some ways that a museum can create a sense of community, which has tremendous benefits, even if it is a virtual community.

References:

Nancy Proctor, “Digital: Museum as Platform, Curator as Champion, in the Age of Social Media,” Curator: The Museum Journal 53, no. 1 (January 1, 2010): 35–43.

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