By Ryan Horne
Our second day in Athens began with the visualization group presenting their findings and building upon the previous day of discussion. The group began with an observation that I think is critical to the work we are doing: much of the work surrounding visualization is based on the objects themselves. In other words, every grouping of objects may necessitate a different approach to visualizing the intersecting spaces and provenances surrounding it; we may be able to create general ideas and best practices, but there certainly is not a one-size-fits-all approach to visualization.
Another key point, and one that is far too often ignored or minimized in digital humanities projects, is that before we even begin to design our innovative, amazing, and inspiring visualizations, we need to address documentation, metadata, and data integrity. Without a strong emphasis on documentation we are not leaving a trail to decipher our decision making process or exactly what the visualization is supposed to achieve, and if our journey to the final visualization product is a tangled mess, we will be unable to effectively expand our work or even use it to its fullest potential. Along those lines, the use of standardized and recognized metadata is essential for any digital art history or digital humanities project. Once again this is not something that should simply be a “check the box” exercise, but something that is embedded into the very fabric of any art historical project.
From our discussions today and yesterday, another theme is beginning to emerge. The last institute was centered on networks and connectivity, and this one seems to be coalescing around the concept of gateways and entry-points. We discussed how art historical objects can serve as an entrance to different spaces and concepts: between the ideas expressed by the artist and those of an audience, between the spaces of production and acquisition and those of artistic creation, between the real world and mythical subjects depicted on it, In the same way, an object when digitized becomes a pathway from the physical world to the digital; for instance, when someone views a digital representation of an art work, they are entering several different spaces (intellectual, digital, etc) through that work. We can even consider the device that allows that to happen (a phone, laptop, ipad) as a digital equivalent of an axis mundi that provides a connection between the physical world and all of the various “worlds” surrounding a given object.
With these discussions as a background, and the initial presentations from our white paper teams complete, the institute is now shifting to the creation of groups around content “hubs”, where we will focus on how different aspects of art historical research and experience (ideas, people, styles, and objects) interact with our white paper subjects and inform our ideas. Even with just two days down the institute has been an amazing and thought provoking experience, and I am quite excited to see where we go from here.