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This week, we spent some time with the curators of WikiProject Visual Arts. Started in February 2005, WikiProject Visual Arts has grown to encompass nearly 16,000 articles which include 43 Featured Articles, 5 Featured Lists, and 79 Good Articles. While the project's scope includes a variety of child projects covering topics like animation and public art, the members of WikiProject Visual Arts seem to have had little contact with these other projects. With activity slowing at many of these child projects, much of Wikipedia's arts community has consolidated their conversations on the talk page of WikiProject Visual Arts. The project maintains a portal, a subproject dedicated to live and performance art, a list of open tasks, and style guidelines. We interviewed TonyTheTiger, Modernist, Johnbod, Kafka Liz, Ceoil, Lithoderm (Petropoxy), and Bus stop.
What motivated you to join WikiProject Visual Arts? Do you specialize in any particular art form(s)?
TonyTheTiger: I am not an art student or scholar. When I was in Business school, I spent the summer of 1991 in Washington, DC. My business school friend and DC roommate got me to go to a Smithsonian institution every weekend while we were in DC. That is pretty much how I got introduced to art. After that, I visited a lot of museums and went to a lot of shows, although I regret missing many (since that is mostly how I learn about art). I got involved with Wikipedia for cultural topics, like National Recording Registry and Campbell's Soup Cans, although I have strayed greatly to sports and other things since. I actually don't consider myself much of a member because of my lack of knowledge of most of the subjects. I am somewhat conversant in terms of modern art, but less so with all prior time periods. I mostly come by the talk page to pick the brains of the guys who know art. Because of the high volume of content I create, even a modest fraction of it makes me seem like I am an important member of the project. I don't really know art well enough to help the group make important decisions. Thus, I have trouble even saying that I am part of the project.
As an editor on Wikipedia I have worked on many hundreds of visual arts articles in several various stages of development throughout the modern era, and the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. I've also lent my efforts to art of all cultures and earlier epochs; as well as various other historical topics, although my focus in general is on painting.
Johnbod: I have always been interested in art history, and began to edit WP when I saw how weak some areas were, & have always mainly edited within the project area. Partly because of my personal preferences, and partly because the areas are weak, I do a lot on medieval art, topics in iconography, and dabble with Islamic art. Generally I do stuff that isn't just paintings.
Kafka Liz: I began editing Wikipedia as an art librarian. I used to check articles primarily to see if they corresponded to the material I was reading at the time, and then began correcting and adding to them in my spare time. My specialties are Classical, Byzantine and Mediaeval art, but I edit a wide variety of articles. I joined the Visual Arts project in hopes of expanding my scope and gaining a wider idea of the work that needed to be done.
Ceoil: The people. I see the VA project as an island of sanity on wiki. The VA community is small, tightly knit and incredibly supportive in my experience.
Lithoderm: I'm a student who vacillates between making art and writing about it. "Early 20th century German art" probably best defines my academic research focus, but what I enjoy about editing WP is how it allows me to write about anything and everything from Nasreddine Dinet to Master L. Cz. to Double spout and bridge vessels to Inuit culture to Hus. I guess my greatest fear as I prepare to go on to graduate school for art history is becoming what the Germans would call a "fachidiot" – an academic so engrossed in their particular field of specialization that they lose sight of the wider range of their subject. If nothing else, editing WP keeps me familiar with areas of art history that would otherwise be outside my specialty. As for the Visual Arts project in particular, I concur with Ceoil. It's small, but close and highly active. I've had requests for advice get buried or go ignored at larger Wikiprojects like WP Military History, but if you post on the WPVA page, you will be answered. I've never been less than impressed with my fellow members. Lithoderm 20:33, 20 May 2012 (UTC)
Bus stop: As an artist I'm passionate about visual art. I'm interested in contemporary international art. The art world can be international and easily span continents. Artists hail from countries but there seems to exist a world stage on which artworks are viewed with disregard for nationality. I think English is a language more employed across the international art world than any other language. I think this would place a responsibility on the English Wikipedia to strive for excellence in its coverage of the visual arts. We do have some fine articles; others need some work. I'm less interested in artists than in art. I'm especially heartened by the existence of entire articles devoted to individual works of art. I'm especially not interested in interpretation of art. I am of the opinion that interpretation remains in flux, that reinterpretation always remains a possibility, and that alternative interpretations can be valid. Of interest to me is the objective over the subjective: Materials used? Techniques employed? When made? Dimensions? Title? This information can be difficult to obtain but I feel it is most basic.
The project is home to 43 Featured Articles, 5 Featured Lists, and 79 Good Articles. Have you contributed to any of these? Share with us some challenges to getting articles about the visual arts promoted to FA or GA status?
Johnbod: All my 10 credited FAs are within the area, and I have made smaller contributions to many others, and also regularly review at FAC. The 10 break down into: 5 with the Ceoil, JNW, Modernist etc "posse" (where we have really enjoyable collaborations), Funerary art which LingNut (now on his third life) got me doing, the huge British Museum GLAM collaboration for Hoxne Hoard, and three very largely by myself, but with some help from the museums involved, Royal Gold Cup, Holy Thorn Reliquary and recently St Cuthbert Gospel. For the last two of these the request came from the institution. Generally art articles are gently treated at FA, where there aren't too many, & I think the regular contributors have built up a good reputation. The ones I do "solo" are of course a huge amount of work, even though they were on single objects which, though important, had a relatively small literature compared to paintings of equivalent significance.
Lithoderm: When I contribute to FAs it's mostly in a peripheral way – for The Raft of the Medusa I mainly worked with locating, uploading, and editing images; for Caspar David Friedrich I was mostly involved in DYKing individual paintings by the artist as a way of enhancing coverage, with only occasional copyedits and prose adjustments to the main article. I've contributed one good article solo, William Blake's illustrations of On the Morning of Christ's Nativity. I guess I tend to shy away from FAs because of the massive amount of time involved and my own perfectionism. When you have OCD tendencies and are given a project with no deadline that can edited forever, it's like a black hole waiting for you to walk into it. Subjects that could be deemed obscure, or at least have less literature written on them, are easier to write and move on from. This probably explains why visual arts FAs tend to be about individual works of art or biographies of artists, rather than styles or general concepts. I can't begin to imagine the amount of time and work that would have to go into making an article like Renaissance art or Native American art FA.
Kafka Liz: The Visual Arts FAs to which I've contributed most – The Garden of Earthly Delights, Caspar David Friedrich and Book of Kells (FAR) – went well in my opinion, though I wouldn't say they were easy. I work primarily as a copyeditor, though at the time I had access to an excellent library as well, and what made the articles so much fun to work on was the knowledge that I had a solid group of editors collaborating with me. These editors, among them Johnbod, Modernist, Ceoil, Lithoderm and Outriggr (to name just a few – my apologies to anyone I have forgotten), all had their own strengths and specialties and could always be relied on both for help and constructive criticism. The main difficulty lies in tackling a very well-known artist or a broader subject such as a movement or period – the former because they attract so much controversy, the latter because comprehensive coverage can be very difficult to achieve.
What relationships do the project's members have with research institutions, galleries, and the artists themselves? Have there been any collaborations between WikiProject Visual Arts and the various GLAM projects?
Johnbod: I have been involved with GLAM projects for several museums, mostly in London or the UK, especially the British Museum and British Library, where we have excellent relations. A large proportion of all GLAM work falls in the project's area. Most of the artists I write about are dead, which probably makes things easier! Most items on the VA-related AFD list (new hands always welcome) are COI-ish biographies of living artists unfortunately.
How difficult has it been to acquire images of the artwork covered by the project? Are some visual artworks difficult to capture in a single photograph? How do international copyright laws complicate matters?
TonyTheTiger: I do not recall writing an article for which an image was not permitted or that I have had trouble obtaining a photograph for. There have been cases where we have had long debates regarding what fair use images were allowed. Thus, although many images were acquired that capture the subject, WP:NFCC has limited their use. Many FAs and GAs have endured significant removal of visual content that I considered helpful to the reader at some level, including Cloud Gate, Crown Fountain and Joanne Gair.
Modernist: The visual arts requires imagery. In order to create understandable articles the project needs to depict what the works look like. It necessitates the use of many fair use images particularly when depicting artwork from the 20th and 21st centuries. Consequently the visual arts project needs cooperation from museums, private collections, as well as the foundation and other projects. I am personally grateful for all the help from other editors and projects who have aided in obtaining correct permission uses for all the images that the visual arts require.
Johnbod: Fortunately I mainly write about earlier periods where the artist's copyright has expired; we have a lot of arguments about fair use. For older paintings and other 2D works we have (thanks to the Corel-Bridgeman decision) a vast number of images (though often old book scans of poor quality) and the ability to take what we like from museum websites. But 3D images are outside Corel-Bridgeman and we are much weaker there. When I began Royal Gold Cup we had no Commons images but I asked & several people (and later myself) helped to build up the excellent 23 strong category we now have – the article uses 11 of these as the object is complex. We still occasionally get editors objecting to galleries, which we used to see a lot of, but that battle is essentially won for art articles.
As noted in a previous Report, the icon for WikiProject Visual Arts is a Hamsa amulet. Why was this symbol chosen to represent the project and how does it communicate the project's goals or purpose?
Johnbod: It replaced a more clichéd Western image a few years ago (Van Gogh sunflower?); I vaguely remember the discussion. It is visually clear and strong at small size, unexpected, and reflects some guilt at how poor our coverage of non-Western art is – above all Indian art.
Lithoderm: Universally, visual art involves the eye and the hand, perception and creation. Regardless of the Hamsa's cultural associations, it seems like a good iconic representation of these principles. I wasn't around when it was chosen, but it seems appropriate.
Have you been involved in any of the child projects of WikiProject Visual Arts? How much collaboration typically occurs between the arts projects? Have there been any efforts to collaborate on articles or revitalize dormant projects within Wikipedia's arts community?
TonyTheTiger: Which projects are you talking about? I likely have created content that is relevant to some of them.
Kafka Liz: Child projects? The mother never told me! ;)
Lithoderm: My reaction is pretty much the same as Tony's: "We have child projects?" One could also add, "We have a parent project?" WikiProject Arts itself is so inactive it feels perfunctory, a placeholder on the hierarchy of Wikiprojects. Being too specific is one problem, being too general is another. I didn't even know we had WikiProject Culture until today. "Visual arts" seems to fall right in the Goldilocks spot of being neither too specific nor too general.
Johnbod: I had to look at the list, apart from Comics and Architecture! Generally I think most projects across WP are less active than a few years ago, & consolidation is better than splitting. Some of these should be merged. The Public art project is essentially a GLAM thing which has been active in relation to (mainly US) projects & which we interact with.
What are the project's most urgent needs? How can a new member help today?
Modernist: We can use good editors' help with referenced material. We always have needs for usable high quality imagery; in particular artwork from the 20th century and the 21st century. While works in the PD (public domain) are most desirable; Fair Use is also both usable and necessary.
Johnbod: A lot of the basic high-viewing articles are still much too poor, and I increasing concentrate on improving these – recently Romanticism and Neoclassicism, with Baroque maybe next. The big Renaissance articles are patchy, where they exist (Italian Renaissance sculpture anyone? – and no, there is no suitable redirect). Very many Old Master biographies are still mainly EB 1911 or something even older, and we have hundreds of one-line stubs on major paintings (imo, one thing we don't need is more of these, but expansions of what we have). Non-Western art is mostly very poorly covered, with some exceptions. The decorative arts are very thin indeed: we have little except biographies on things like silver and furniture, though ceramics are better. Sculpture is weaker than painting. As with most of WP, we are strong on biographies (but mostly from old sources), and articles on single works, but weak on thematic articles, which is what most encyclopedias concentrate on. There is plenty for new members to do, so long as they have good and up to date references, which most libraries have, and can also increasingly be found online. We very recently got a huge release of good images to Commons from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore which need further categorizing and using in articles – there are nearly 20,000 images at the Commons Category:Collections of the Walters Art Museum. Anyone who wants help or suggestions will be very welcome at the project talk page, where we have a very incomplete "To do" list. This is the home of the supposedly extinct "low-hanging fruit", if you ask me (and you did).
Lithoderm: Johnbod gives a good summary of our deficits. I would point out that Italian Renaissance sculpture is a Featured Article on the Portuguese Wikipedia. Translation is a great way for new people to get involved, as translating an article is certainly less of a reach than researching the entire thing yourself. Every time I go onto foreign language wikis I run into great articles without English equivalents, just waiting to be translated. Etruscan sculpture (FA in Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan), Spanish Baroque painting (FA in Spanish), The Yellow Cow (a Franz Marc painting, FA in German), Loss of books in late antiquity (FA in German, also a substantial article in French and Danish) etc. etc. Any takers?
TonyTheTiger: I think it would be great if we could get many more individual works on WP. If we could get the effort that is seen at WP:SONGS and WP:EPISODES for works of art that would be great. I am not trained in this field and find individual works hard to properly reference. When I look at Category:Paintings by artist and see how few works of some of the great artist have articles, I feel something important is missing. It would also be great to raise the quality level of some of the renowned artists.
Ceoil: The major bios are for the most part very poor. There are a few exceptions: Hans Holbein the Younger, El Greco, van Gogh and Titian are especially strong, well sourced and insightfully written. But the Goya and Jan van Eyck bios are a disgrace, and sadly more representative. Maybe there has been too much emphasis on individual works, which are generally much easier to take on.
Next week, we'll check out a WikiProject that started out as a bot and evolved into a paramilitary vandal-fighting force. Until then, keep out of trouble in the archive.