Martha Kellogg Smith


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Using Controlled Vocabularies to Enhance Access to Cultural Information

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Martha Kellogg Smith

  1. 1. Information needs and uses of art museum visitors: implications for descriptive vocabularies <ul><li>Martha Kellogg Smith </li></ul><ul><li>School of Library, Archival and Information Studies </li></ul><ul><li>University of British Columbia </li></ul><ul><li>Special Libraries Association 2008 Conference </li></ul><ul><li>June 16, 2008, Seattle, WA </li></ul>
  2. 2. <ul><li> “ We’re curious, not connoisseurs.” </li></ul><ul><li>(comment of art museum visitor, </li></ul><ul><li>Winterthur Museum, Delaware) </li></ul>
  3. 3. Overview of talk today <ul><li>Contemporary art museum audiences and their expectations </li></ul><ul><li>What we know about art museum visitors and their information needs and behaviors from visitor studies </li></ul><ul><li>Non-specialists’ levels of artwork interpretation and information use </li></ul><ul><li>Implications for art vocabularies in museum information resources </li></ul>
  4. 4. Art museum audiences: expectations of art museums and their information <ul><li>21 st century learners, leisure and lifelong learners of great diversity (IMLS, 1999) </li></ul><ul><li>High expectations for descriptive and interpretive information about art objects </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Educational role of art museums as “authorized knowers” (Lisus and Ericson, 1999) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>High expectations for information access </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Raised in part by Web-based and gallery-based technologies </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Art museum visitor studies: empirical evidence and theoretical constructs <ul><li>Relevant information on: how novice artwork viewers express themselves and non-specialist artwork interpretation and information use </li></ul><ul><li>Culled from a qualitative meta-analysis of art museum visitor studies (Smith, 2006) : a picture of the visual observation and verbal description skills of non-specialist art viewers </li></ul>
  6. 6. Subject access to artworks and vocabularies of description <ul><li>Desired artwork information: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>depicted characters, persons, events, locations, and objects </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>symbolism and abstract themes, stories and narratives </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>media and techniques </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>original creation contexts and functions of these works </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>overall significance of the works </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>prefer this kind of information in brief synopses or overviews of artworks (most often to be found in object wall labels) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Evidence that art viewers want subject access </li></ul><ul><li>(Frost et al. 2000, Gordon 1996, Hourihane 1996) </li></ul><ul><li>Practice of art object and image subject indexing in art museums is still very limited (White 2002, Gilchrest 2003) </li></ul>
  7. 7. Evidence from artwork tagging projects <ul><li>Visual elements </li></ul><ul><li>landscape, winter landscape </li></ul><ul><li>countryside, outdoors </li></ul><ul><li>snow, snowfall </li></ul><ul><li>moon, moonlight, moonrise </li></ul><ul><li>night sky, clouds </li></ul><ul><li>open fields, meadow </li></ul><ul><li>stream, creek </li></ul><ul><li>foothills, horizons </li></ul><ul><li>trees, evergreens, forest, grass </li></ul><ul><li>nighttime, evening </li></ul><ul><li>winter, Christmastime </li></ul>Henry Farrer (American, 1843–1903) Winter Scene in Moonlight , 1869 Watercolor and gouache on white wove paper 11 7/8 x 15 1/8 in. Accession no. 1999.19
  8. 8. Evidence from artwork tagging projects <ul><li>Moods and themes </li></ul><ul><li>cold, darkness, silence, solitude </li></ul><ul><li>desolation, isolation, bleakness, melancholy, lonely, empty, stark </li></ul><ul><li>beauty in nature </li></ul><ul><li>peaceful wilderness, peace, inner peace </li></ul>Henry Farrer Winter Scene in Moonlight , 1869
  9. 9. Evidence from artwork tagging projects <ul><li>Curatorial description </li></ul><ul><li>prosaic terrain </li></ul><ul><li>precise technique </li></ul><ul><li>Pre-Raphaelite ideals </li></ul><ul><li>primitivism </li></ul><ul><li>autodidact </li></ul><ul><li>chill nocturnal setting </li></ul><ul><li>subtle asymmetry of composition </li></ul><ul><li>anticipates tenor of Surrealists landscapes </li></ul>Henry Farrer Winter Scene in Moonlight , 1869
  10. 10. Visual observation and verbal description skills of beginning, non-specialist art viewers <ul><ul><li>Describe and list the visual elements of what they see </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Note subject matter of depicted objects, figures, events, and locations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Prefer realistic works over more abstract works (most accessible based on everyday visual experience) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Rely first on their own emotions, memories, associations, and values in assessing works </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lack a large vocabulary of art terms and concepts and have an undeveloped sense of critical analysis </li></ul></ul>
  11. 11. Non-specialists say they need: context and explanations of specialized terms <ul><li>Viewers transition from a “reactive stance” to growing awareness of comparisons to be made beyond their own personal experience and the need to refer to museum-provided contextual information </li></ul><ul><li>Seek brief synopses of artworks that include information on depicted stories and characters, symbolism and abstract themes, media and techniques, and the original creation contexts and functions of these works and </li></ul>encounter difficulties with unfamiliar art historical and foreign language vocabulary terms
  12. 12. Non-specialists and specialized vocabulary <ul><li>Encounter unfamiliar art history terminology and terms from foreign languages and cultures (e.g., kast , krater , polychrome ) and confusing historic geographic references ( Netherlandish , Neopolitan ) </li></ul><ul><li>Visitors do learn vocabulary at the museum as they read labels or go on tours, and they practice “text echo” </li></ul><ul><li>Visitors do question museum information at times when they encounter specialized art concepts or terminology which seem to obscure information rather than provide answers </li></ul>
  13. 13. Conceptual framework of art interpretation and information use <ul><li>Level I Description : describing, listing, enumerating, and naming objects and their parts, telling stories, making associations, using emotions ( uses visual information ) </li></ul><ul><li>Level II Analysis and Identification : classifying and contextualizing artworks by styles, dates, functions, origins, conventional themes, etc. ( uses contextual information ) </li></ul><ul><li>Level III Integration : evaluating, explaining, and synthesizing the many strands of visual, personal, comparative, and contextual information ( uses interpretive information ) </li></ul>
  14. 14. Erwin Panofsky’s iconographic theory and art object/image indexing <ul><li>Panofsky’s Level I pre-iconographic interpretation : natural subject matter, that is, depicted “everyday” generic people, objects, events, and simple emotional states ( a dog, a child, a train, a foot race ) </li></ul><ul><li>Panofsky’s Level II iconographic interpretation : named or specific people, objects, places, or events; conventional themes and stories in art ( Lassie, Shirley Temple, the Orient Express, the Boston Marathon ) </li></ul><ul><li>Panofsky’s Level III iconological interpretation : deeper meanings that these depictions, themes, and stories have in the contexts of artworks’ creation and cultures ( faithfulness, innocence, mystery, endurance ) </li></ul>
  15. 15. Pre-iconographic Iconographic Iconological human female Athena Promachos [Attic Greek, Black-figure] competition horse, hunt, pond Shah Jahan [Mughal] virility, power still life, flowers, butterfly Vanitas [Baroque] beauty, death, soul, transience, Resurrection
  16. 16. Conclusions and research directions <ul><li>Need to address difficulties with unfamiliar art historical and foreign language vocabulary terms encountered particularly at the analysis and identification ( iconographic) Level II , e.g., Athena Promachos, Shah Jahan, Attic Greek, Black-figure, Vanitas, Mughal, Baroque </li></ul><ul><li>Results of user-supplied keywording can be leveraged to create bridges among the interpretive and vocabulary levels though which non-specialists progress </li></ul><ul><li>Use the consistency and clear definitions of controlled vocabularies for Level II (and some Level I) concepts as the backbone of museum resources for non-specialist viewers </li></ul>
  17. 17. Pictures and References <ul><li>PICTURES </li></ul><ul><li>Mrs. Si-a-gut, Coiled Cedar Root Basket , Cowlitz/Nisqually, 1899, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, acc. no. 3.2000/1. </li></ul><ul><li>Dorothea Lange, Human Erosion in California (Migrant Mother), Nipomo, Californina , 1936, J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA. </li></ul><ul><li>Enamel Plaque , Germany, Rhine Valley, Cologne, ca. 1170, The Cleveland Museum of Art, acc. no. 1953.274. </li></ul><ul><li>Vasily Kandinsky, Composition IV , 1911, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfallen, Dusseldorf , Germany. </li></ul><ul><li>Henry Farrer, Winter Scene in Moonlight , 1869, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, acc. no. 1999.19. </li></ul><ul><li>REFERENCES </li></ul><ul><li>Frost, C. O., Taylor, B., Noakes, A., Markel, S., Torres, D., and Drabenstott, K. M. (2000). Browse and search patterns in a digital image database. Information Retrieval , 1, 287-313. </li></ul><ul><li>Gilchrest, A. (2003). Factors affecting controlled vocabulary usage in art museum information systems. Art Documentation , 22(1) , 13-20. </li></ul><ul><li>Gordon, C. (1996). Patterns of user queries in an ICONCLASS database. Visual Resources , 12(2) , 177-186. </li></ul><ul><li>Hourihane, C. (1996). The Van Eyck Project, information exchange, and European art libraries. VRA Bulletin , 23(2) , 57-60. </li></ul><ul><li>The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2005). Image cataloguing test. December 7, 2004. Available at: </li></ul><ul><li>Panofsky, E. (1955). Iconography and iconology: An introduction to the study of Renaissance art. In Erwin Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts (pp. 26-54). New York, NY: Doubleday Anchor. </li></ul><ul><li>Seren, T., Donohue, D., and Underwood, L. A. (2001). Integrated art documentation: The Guggenheim perspective. Art Documentation , 20(1) , 31-35. </li></ul><ul><li>Smith, M. K. (2006). Art information use and needs of non-specialists: Evidence in art museum visitor studies. PhD dissertation. University of Washington. </li></ul><ul><li>White, L. (2002). Interpretation and representation: The who, why, what, and how of subject access in museums. Art Documentation , 21(1) , 21-22. </li></ul>