Tuesday, December 13, 2016

in161213  Writing art history as it happens 

I met an art history student from the University of Washington today, and I told her I had been thinking about someone to write about the history of printmaking in the Pacific Northwest. Art history books have been written by scholars in the past, but I think it’s time to reinvent the way art history books are written.

Wouldn’t today's art students be interested in a startup to do this?

I’ve been studying online magazines, for example, which have been around for a generation. I subscribe to one from Spain on printmaking. Art magazines have a kinship with art history because so many scholars rely on magazine articles and essays to provide substance and validation of the information available to them.

However, I feel art history books lack the immediacy of real art experiences. One might have an art experience by going to an art museum. Reading material at the museum, such as labels of the works on display, audio guides, books, and live guided tours make the art experience even more interesting. It’s great to know the back stories which docents can tell about the works in the art museum.

But for every hour spent in an art museum experience, many thousands of hours are spent by people using their mobile devices, desk top computers, podcasts, and TV—far outside the world of art and art experiences. Forward-looking art history students should consider blending the tradition of scholarly art history with newer ways of publishing.

One of the owners of a Halfwood Press publishes an electronic magazine he calls “Baseball art and history,” which is about baseball card collecting. I loved previewing his online publication. Like most electronic magazines, it mimics a real magazine showing two pages on screen with right pointing and left pointing arrows for turning pages.

The double-page spread in the link below, for example, features an article with artwork, a photograph, and a video insert. There is a hotspot indicating a link to another page in the magazine or other websites.

Link to the Helmar Brewing Co. online magazine.

Art history books could be made the same way as e'zines but instead of thick tomes, they could be created in installments. I’m reminded of 18th and 19th century practices such as used by Dickens in which he would write a chapter to be published in a monthly magazine. Eventually these chapters were sewn together to make his complete novels. 

When I met the art history student this morning, these ideas all came together, and I told her that - just this morning - I was wishing I could find an art history student who would be willing to explore the topic of printmaking history in the Pacific Northwest—possibly get on track for an MA or PhD someday.

Currently this student is a docent in a local art glass center. I know other art history students who work at some of Seattle’s art museums such as the Seattle Art Museum, the Frye Art Museum, the Henry gallery, and others.

The normal course followed by an art history student is to seek a job in academe. In my opinion academe is unable to provide sustainable, effective positions for art historians. I recall a time when one of the art historians at the University of Washington left academe to work for one of Bill Gates’ early art projects.

This prof was able to pursue his scholarly bent and probably gained more security than he had with his professorship. Not only that, he would participate in new technologies that would make his work seem more meaningful.

I suggest that young people who are interested in art history endeavor to reinvent the way art history goes down. My own experience taught me how even in the vaunted Halls of Ivy, history can be distorted and at risk of being lost. I am referring to the period between the Second World War and the mid-1980’s when I was at the UW.

So much has already been virtually lost temporarily. I would help young historians cobble together an online magazine designed so as to restore some interesting facts about the past 50 years in the Pacific Northwest art history.

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