‘I Don’t Know Much About Art But I Know What’s Online’: a quick and angry rant

This article on Read Write Web made me mad.
It starts wit the obvious:

“No one can have a “museum experience” without stepping foot in a museum. Let’s just get that out of the way. It doesn’t matter how digitally precise your online version of “The Forge of Vulcan” is, tilting your head to draw the light across the raised ridges of paint is not an electronically duplicable experience. That doesn’t mean digital art collections don’t have great value. After all, art books do.”

And ends with:

“No Stand Outs The collections of museums are making their way online, if for no other reason than they serve as a kind of advertisement. I have yet, however, to come across an outfit, small or large, whose goal was to make their entire collection, or even a substantial majority of it, available online. The few that tried did not hit the trifecta of navigational ease, resolution and information that would make it the most useful.”

This makes me angry. So many people access interesting tit bits of information every day form Read Write Web. Yet you would have thought they would do their homework. Undoubtedly you cannot fully replicate a real object in a digital space Walter Benjamin told us that in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. And the idea of trifecta is kinda cool. But My work revolves around understanding what users think of online museum collections, why museums use them, their purpose their usability and god damn it, not one person I have interviewed, observed, surveyed and stalked ever suggested that an museum online collection was an ‘advertisment’ and there are several museums whose goal is to make their entire collection available online. The British Museum is one of them, and I quote:

When complete the database will contain a record of every object in the Museum collection, with associated conservation and scientific reports where available…. The information in the records is made available in its entirety. … The database is the result of 30 years work but is still in its early stages. We are continuing every day to improve the information recorded in it and changes are being fed through on a regular basis. In many cases it does not yet represent the best available knowledge about the objects. This is being added as fast as possible, but will take many years.

If that is not a goal to make the entire collection available then I don’t know what is.

The article doesn’t point out how time consuming and not to mention expensive digitising museum collections is, and in this day and age of ongoing government cuts, its not going to get any easier to digitise. Also seriously museum collections are VAST, digitising every object can take years. Museum online collections are utilised every single day for digital resources which cannot be accessed anywhere else. It is discouraging that the article didn’t mention, all the ongoing research into information seeking and usability of museum websites, that it did not quote that much is being done by researchers and conferences like Museums and the Web to dispel the generalised myth that museum websites are a bit crap. They are not. End of. Maybe I am bias, but I don’t care. I love museum websites for what they have to offer, not just as digital museum researcher but also as a museum lover. The wealth and depth of what is available is outstanding, they are extensive, informative and most importantly enjoyable. Rant off.

5 thoughts on “‘I Don’t Know Much About Art But I Know What’s Online’: a quick and angry rant

  1. Well said.
    Such high quality cultural resources serve as serious research resources as well as learning resources and cultural enrichment.
    Anyone can have an opinion, but it takes years of study and experience to create good catalogues and interetation. It takes real talent to make it all seem so simple and straightforward that everyone thinks being a curator (digital or analogue) must be easy and a very pleasant occupation.

  2. I think your blog post is a little unfair. The author of the article didn’t say that there categorically were no museums who’s goal it was to make their entire collection available online – just that he had yet to come across any. And then he asked people to suggest any he may have missed out in the comments. Sounded more like wanting to start a conversation than making a grand sweeping statement to me.

    The British Museum is also not a western art museum (which was the focus of his review). There’s a big difference between art museums and the rest – I don’t think anyone would argue that the Science Museum should photograph 100% of its collection (including every scalpel), whereas there’s a fairly reasonable expectation that someone like the Tate might have a picture of every one of the works in its permanent collection online.

    I think I’d also have to agree with the conclusion that, in general, art museum websites aren’t quite there yet in providing a perfect user experience for browsing their art works. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t some great websites providing valuable experiences already – just that there’s more work yet to be done.

    I might write more about how I’d envisage a perfect art museum browsing experience in a separate post…

  3. Pingback: Frankie Roberto – Some thoughts on what an art museum experience might feel like online

  4. Pingback: Quantity or quality? « electronic museum

  5. Pingback: Last week I had a bit of a rant. This time I’m calmer « Clairey Ross' blog – rambling thoughts

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