American Representational Art: Recent Online Developments


The amount of American representational art knowledge available online without charge increased notably in 2010. Non-profit sources continue to add content in new media as well as in text and static images. Commercial sources are offering more comprehensive information on historic artists. The largest search provider has recently made it easier to find higher quality content.



Increasingly in-depth articles, plus many essays, were added to Resource Library during the year. The titles may be located in various ways including the chronological index.

Over the past year, TFAO continued to add significant content to the Individual States Art History Project. The content for some states has reached considerable breadth and depth. For example, California Art History contains 47 scholarly essays and 64 articles from within Resource Library, 29 links to other online materials, plus information on 84 books, 33 magazine articles and 17 DVD/VHS videos. TFAO is developing an Educational Progress Award Program, designed to add additional educational content to the art history of selected states. The program is scheduled to be announced in May.
Within the catalogue named Topics in American Art, TFAO volunteers added a large volume of new information to the catalogue's 161 topics. The most recent topic added was Ethnic Ancestry, Culture and Influences in American Art, a page that names and provides a count of Resource Library ethnic citations. The first phase of research identified 36 European countries noted in Resource Library's articles and essays.
The America's Distinguished Artists catalogue added hundreds of historic artists to the existing thousands of names compiled in prior years. For each artist there is a link to the latest Resource Library biographical scholarly essay or article, often containing links to prior texts regarding the artist, or, other online sources of biographical information when there is none in Resource Library, or, to both Resource Library biographical information and other online sources. In 2011 TFAO volunteers will begin identifying all external sources of biographies as entries for each letter of the alphabet are audited. An example is source identification for the letter T.
A new section named Shaping an Art Collection was added in 2010 to TFAO's Resources for Collectors, Life Long Learners, Students and Teachers of Art History. Shaping an Art Collection was developed to both assist museums well as private collectors seeking advice on the subject. Pages in TFAO's Museums Explained were amended in connection with creation of the new section.
In early 2011 TFAO launched a project to edit selected Resource Library Magazine pages. Resource Library Magazine was the predecessor of Resource Library. The existing legend at the bottom of some pages is being replaced with a new legend with several beneficial components. During this process, other formatting and presentation revisions are being made within some pages.
For 2011 Resource Library will publish fewer articles and essays relating to museum exhibitions than in prior years. Greater emphasis will be placed on greater breadth and depth of materials published for selected exhibitions. Also, TFAO's National Calendar of Art Exhibitions will list fewer upcoming exhibitions for follow up. Why? Resource Library and other online sources have amassed considerable information for many artists and topics. Since many museums continue to provide exhibitions relating to artists and topics already covered in depth online, publication of information on those exhibitions will not add enough incremental knowledge to warrant further online publication. TFAO will instead seek knowledge in areas not yet sufficiently developed online.


Other non-profit organizations

Museums increasingly are posting to their websites content in several forms of media. This is a departure from an emphasis in past years of posting exhibition information via text and some images of related artwork, and in some cases, placing online images of objects in their collections. A trend is developing among numerous institutions to post online video, audio and, in some cases, contents of entire catalogues and brochures. Another promising trend is for museums to archive on their websites extensive information about past exhibitions instead of removing it once exhibitions have closed.

In aggregate, less in-depth American representational art exhibition information than in prior years was available to Resource Library from museum, gallery and art center sources during 2010. A primary reason is that many museums' human resources diminished due to funding reductions. Staff reductions at museums are causing less time to be available to compile materials for online publication. Also related to downsized funding: the quantity of major exhibitions was reduced from prior years. Many museums have mounted smaller exhibitions requiring less expense. For instance, a greater percentage of less-expensive photography exhibits occurred in 2010 for many museums.

Reflective of more museums' interest in interaction with the public, names, phone numbers and email addresses of staff members are increasingly prevalent in "about us" sections of museum websites. This trend has allowed quicker access to museum staff members by members of the media and the public.

Museums, historical societies, and other sources are rapidly increasing the quantity of online artist biographies. As an example, Wikipedia is rapidly accumulating biographies of American artists. As Wikipedia matures, the "notes," "references" and "external links" following Wikipedia biographies provide increasingly valuable references for further study. Links to Wikipedia's biographical content are being added as TFAO cycles through the update schedule of America's Distinguished Artists.


Commercial and private sources

During the past year commercial dealers and galleries accelerated postings of more expansive biographies of artists. Increasingly they are creating whole pages and minisites devoted to a single artist. Many of these pages evidence extensive research and excellent presentation. Some galleries are providing videos of both gallery tours and lectures.

Over the past year TFAO noted an acceleration in a recent trend of descendants of artists creating sites devoted to the artist. Many of these sites are quite rich in content.


Improvement in locating relevant information

Google changed its search algorithms in February to favor sites with in-depth content and research relating to subjects over sites with scant content, high amounts of advertising and gimmicks to redirect viewers to sales sites. This has helped sources focusing on content. As Google's algorithms are fine-tuned, its policy change should be of benefit to sites that offer knowledge and understanding of subjects as their primary goal, such as TFAO's online digital library.


John Hazeltine
Traditional Fine Arts Organization

The above article was first published March 4, 2011 and revised August 7, 2011.

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