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We haven’t found the right tool for born-digital publications. Are open-source, plain-text tools the answer?
I just attended the 2015 meeting of the Museum Computer Network—my first time attending a conference specific to the museum world. This event was filled with interesting people and discussions, and it was a real pleasure to participate.
The discussions around digital publishing in particular have left me with a sense that our community of museum technologists has its work cut out for it. As an example, here are some of the challenges that came up in the panel discussion on digital publishing on the conference’s last day:
- Kris Thayer (Mia) talked about building twelve issues of an award-winning digital magazine using the Adobe DPS tools. However, due to problems of vendor lock-in and the proprietary nature of the platform, her team is not continuing their work in this format. When their Adobe DPS license expires, two years of work will disappear from the Apple Newsstand, as if they had never existed.
- Ahree Lee and Susan Edwards discussed their work on the Mellini publication at the Getty. They spent a lot of time coming up with a unique UX for an unconventional publication, but some of the scholars on the project balked at the idea of editing their content in the Drupal interface that powered the backend. To the sound of groans, they described the painstaking process of exporting the content of a massive, born-digital project into MS Word for editing, only to be re-imported upon completion.
- Lauren Makholm (AIC) spoke about the digital publishing program at the Art Institute of Chicago, where they have successfully launched a series of online art catalogues using the open-source OSCI Toolkit. But even at an institution where buy-in exists at the highest levels, there was plainly some anxiety about how a small team would be able to keep an expanding number of complex web-app publications running for the indefinite future.
No Silver Bullet (Yet)
Digital publishing is still in its infancy–especially in museums and universities. I don’t think anyone has the silver bullet yet. I do think that the stories above represent a set of common problems which plague the industry as a whole: the problems of proprietary software and vendor lock-in, of providing tools that non-developers are comfortable with, and of ensuring the long-term accessibility of the work we produce.
In order to solve the problems our industry faces, we first need to craft better tools.
Specifically, we need a set of tools for digital publishing that can do the following:
- Avoid vendor lock-in. We are living in the midst of an arms race by hardware and platform manufacturers that are competing for dominance. As amazing as the latest innovations by Apple, Google, Adobe, Facebook, et. al. are, I think that we need to resist the temptation of the shiny and new if it comes at the expense of openness and accessibility. This applies both to hardware (like Apple’s iBooks or NewsStand apps) and software (ex., Facebook’s Instant Articles).
- Simplify the experience for authors and editors. There are many great open-source tools for editing text, images, etc. But the interfaces for these tools are often confusing for non-developers. Proprietary applications like MS Word or Google Docs remain dominant for a reason—non-technical users prefer them.
- Plan for the long term. The technology field is constantly advancing. But in the academic or cultural worlds we have to think with a longer time horizon in mind. The ethos of “move fast and break things” isn’t going to fly. What will become of our projects five years from now? Ten? Twenty? This is a problem that we don’t share with most of the wider tech industry, but it is hugely important. We’ve been entrusted with the preservation of human knowledge and culture, and we need to choose our tools with that responsibility in mind.
In advance of Orhan Pamuk’s October 28 talk at the Getty, a visit to Pamuk’s provocative Museum of Innocence in Istanbul
I first became engaged with the work of Orhan Pamuk not through one of his acclaimed novels such as Snow or My Name is Red, or even when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. Rather, ever since I discovered that the influential author had written a Modest Manifesto for Museums to accompany his novel and museum, both called The Museum of Innocence, he has constantly been on my mind. Point number six of Pamuk’s 11-point manifesto hit close to home
“Big museums with their wide doors call upon us to forget our humanity and embrace the state and its human masses. This is why millions outside the Western world are afraid of going to museums.”
While I haven’t done a systematic survey of the size of museum doors around the world, it’s difficult to imagine any museum having wider doors than the Getty’s magnificent sliding glass portal through which visitors pass on their way out of the Entrance Hall toward the museum’s pavilions. The curved door, designed by Richard Meier, is so substantial that opening it requires the assistance of a machine to slide it along its curving track.
Pamuk’s manifesto, however, is not a treatise on museum buildings, which has been an obsession for starchitects and their patrons. Rather, it expresses Pamuk’s love-hate relationship with our temples of culture. Pamuk—who before becoming a novelist dreamed of being a painter and architect—writes in the preamble to his manifesto: “I love museums and I am not alone in finding that they make me happier with each passing day. I take museums very seriously, and that sometimes leads me to angry forceful thoughts.” Pamuk’s manifesto envisions a different sort of museum for the future, one that presents humanistic and personal stories, rather than authoritative histories of nations and empires. Consider some of the other points of the manifesto:
A new campaign wants to ban the French impressionist. Here are the paintings that prove what daft philistines the ‘Renoir sucks at painting’ protesters truly are.
It has happened. The gates have fallen. Artistic civilisation has collapsed. A mob has gathered outside the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, demanding that Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s paintings be removed from its walls because they “suck”. This is it, surely. The End.
Or perhaps not. Max Geller, whose Instagram account “Renoir sucks at painting” has mushroomed into a real life semi-serious protest movement against the French impressionist who died in 1919 and is a mainstay of every art museum worth its salt, has learned one rule for looking at art. You need to have opinions. In order to love some artists, you have to hate others.
Geller complains that people accept Renoir merely because his paintings are in museums. “Why do so many people think he’s good?” He is baffled by the acclaim this old French guy gets. He is right to question authority; we should not just accept a bland consensus about what constitutes great art. Hundreds of years of critical evolution – the paring out of fakes and forgeries, the definition of the canon – have created a pantheon of top artists that museums often present as unquestionable. But in real life, to engage with art is to be passionately selective. In the words of Shakespeare, as quoted by the critic Robert Hughes: “Nothing if not critical”. TS Eliot similarly observed that it would be very boring to talk about poetry with someone who liked all poetry. Dislike is the root of true enjoyment.
Who do you prefer, Caravaggio or Poussin? Jackson Pollock or Bridget Riley? These are not necessarily exclusive choices, but if no choices are made in a biased, passionate way then we literally won’t feel the force of art at all. It will all be a bland sludge gliding drearily past our eyes.
A lot of today’s supposedly educational institutions encourage people to accept the safe guidance of authorities. In doing so, they destroy the capacity to enjoy art. Guided tours and audioguides and textbooks that fail to discriminate or encourage discrimination, that feed out an endless parade of “correct” opinions, muffle the fire of art.
So I salute Renoir’s haters for this attempt at aesthetic democracy.
There’s just one problem. Geller is utterly wrong, and his reasons for disliking Renoir appear ignorant and philistine. “In real life, trees are beautiful. If you take Renoir’s word for it, you’d think trees are just a collection of green squiggles,” he complains.
Where to start? Do I need to explain that Renoir belonged to an art movement called impressionism? These painters sought to paint the flow and flux of the way we see nature, not to reproduce it in a pedantic way. They wanted to be evocative and suggestive.
If Renoir’s trees appear to be just “green squiggles” then you must be equally shocked and disgusted by JMW Turner’s vague skies, Claude Monet’s blurred morning light, and Camille Pisarro’s undefined streets.
With the “post-impressionist” painters who built on these artists’ discoveries, things get even stranger. Ban Cézanne! Abolish Van Gogh! Because they really do show nature as shards or squiggles.
Renoir does not suck. You just need to look at his painting Dance at the Moulin Galette. See how its sexy crowd of young Parisians are brought alive by dappled sunlight that glints and glances through the trees. How does this fail to be beautiful? The play of light that makes this painting dance is something we recognise and know to be a typical natural effect – but amazingly, no one had ever painted such a broken light before. This quickness of sunshine, this fluency of shadows, had never been acknowledged in art before Renoir came along.
Geller’s claim that Renoir fails to show the “beauty” of nature is astonishingly and crassly wide of the mark. Not only is the art of Renoir beautiful but he, personally and singlehandedly, taught the world to appreciate new dimensions to the beauty of the world we live in. By getting closer to the way we actually see, he showed us jewels that previous generations had never noticed. This can be seen gloriously in his sensual appreciation of a rainy day in the city, The Umbrellas.
Renoir is a rich and imaginative genius. He creates the equivalent of a provocative French novel in his painting La Loge, containing a whole narrative of dangerous liaisons in one glimpse of a couple at the theatre. He similarly encapsulates a whole life of artistic obsession in his portrait of the dealer Vollard caressing a statuette.
Just these few paintings are enough to prove the campaign against Renoir is daft and wrongheaded. It’s good to think about art and healthy to have strong opinions about it. But try looking harder first.
Hartwig Fischer, the current director of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden, Germany, is set to become the new director of the British Museum, one of the most prominent museum leadership roles in the world, The Times of London reported on Friday.
He will be the first non-Briton to hold the museum’s top role since the 19th century.
UNESCO – Recomendação sobre a Protecção de Museus e de Colecções
PROPOSAL FOR A NON-BINDING STANDARD-SETTING INSTRUMENT ON THE PROTECTION AND PROMOTION OF VARIOUS ASPECTS OF THE ROLE OF MUSEUMS AND COLLECTIONS
UNESCO – Circular sobre a Recomendação sobre a Protecção de Museus e de Colecções
Transmission of the draft Resolution of the 38th session of the. General Conference on the Recommendation on Museums.
Lowell Saab-Pedroso Center for Portuguese Culture and Research -The University of Massachusetts
- Location: Boott Cotton Mills Museum, Reflections Room, 115 John Street, Lowell MA.
- Time: 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM
- Fee Information: FreeContact Name: Phil Lupsiewicz
- Contact Email: e-mail us
- Contact Phone Number: 978-275-1705
A boy is shown breaking his fall on a Paolo Porpora painting in Taiwan in this image from video. (TST Art of Discovery Co. / YouTube)
A boy accidentally punched a hole in a 17th-century painting at a museum in Taiwan, after he stumbled and broke his fall on the valuable canvas.
The 12-year-old ripped a fist-sized hole in Paolo Porpora’s “Flowers,” an approximately 350 year-old oil-on-canvas piece worth an estimated $1.5 million.
The incident happened at the Faces of Leonardo: Images of a Genius exhibition in Taipei, where Porpora’s 200 centimetre-tall canvas was on display alongside 54 other paintings.
Security footage from the museum shows a boy in a T-shirt and shorts with a cup in one hand, who pauses to lean against a barrier set up in front of the painting. The boy then appears to catch his foot on the barrier, causing him to stumble and fall. He thrusts out both hands, while still holding the cup, and breaks his fall against the painting. He then stands up and freezes while other museum patrons stare, apparently dumbstruck.
Museum officials say the boy ripped a fist-sized hole in the bottom right of the painting, which depicts a bouquet of flowers in a vase.
The exhibition’s organizer, Sun Chi-hsuan, told reporters the boy’s family will not be asked to pay restoration costs. He added that the painting is part of a private collection and is covered by insurance.
Sun said the boy was at the exhibition with his mother, and was paying attention to his guided tour when he tripped and fell.
The museum’s conservator said restoration efforts will focus on strengthening the fragile canvas, and not on retouching the painting.
It’s not the first time a patron has clumsily damaged a classic work of art. In 2010, a woman ripped a 15-centimetre tear in Pablo Picasso’s “The Actor” when she tripped and fell into it at the Metropolitan Museum, in New York. Six years earlier, casino mogul Steve Wynn accidentally put his elbow through Picasso’s “Le Reve,” which he owned at the time. And last year, an Irish man was sentenced to five years in prison after he fell into and tore Claude Monet’s “Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sail Boat.” The painting took approximately a year-and-a-half to repair.
The 12-year-old Taiwan boy is not expected to face charges for his slapstick stumble.
And while he may have damaged a centuries-old painting, judging from the video, it appears he managed to avoid spilling his drink.
“Museums are intended to provoke thoughts, feelings and conversations,” Edward W. Maibach, director of the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, said. “A climate museum, if done well, can help start an important conversation about climate change in America.”
Miranda Massie may not be the most obvious candidate to create a museum in New York City devoted to the subject of climate change. As a child growing up in the Hudson Valley in the 1970s, she rebelled against her father’s early efforts at recycling. Later, after flirting with getting a Ph.D. in history, she became a lawyer specializing in civil rights and took a job in Detroit.
Upon returning to New York several years ago, though, Ms. Massie began to view environmental issues — and climate change in particular — through the lens of social activism. “If you don’t have the right to thrive as an organism, then everything else falls away,” she said. “I came to see the environment as a civil rights issue.”
As a conservator passionate about the structural treatment of old master paintings, I probably see something different than the average viewer when I look at paintings, in particular if they are panels.
In addition to admiring the artwork, I have been trained to understand its materials. Knowing how to conserve paintings is as much about the history of the artwork as it is about consulting the current cohort of peers who may often be thousands of miles away. My recent participation in residencies and trainings supported by the Getty Foundation through its Panel Paintings Initiative provided the opportunity to do both: to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to conserve these complex paintings and to unlock a network of experienced professionals with whom to discuss them.