[NetBehaviour] Exploring Tate Art Open Data 2

Michael Szpakowski szpako at yahoo.com
Mon Feb 10 00:15:40 CET 2014

This seems a measured and fair response. I wasn't having a pop - rather rehearsing my perplexities out loud..
I *do* think there are some further issues, especially in the case of historical collections, about what is *available* for the data to be extracted from - and this suggests the danger of circularity here:
"I've found no great surprises in the Tate collection data, which I take
as a confirmation of how well existing models have done".

 From: Rob Myers <rob at robmyers.org>
To: netbehaviour at netbehaviour.org 
Sent: Sunday, February 9, 2014 9:24 PM
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] Exploring Tate Art Open Data 2

On 09/02/14 08:17 AM, Michael Szpakowski wrote:
> Isn't one of the problems with all this data led stuff that data is a
> human construct  - so it depends upon human assumptions,classifications
> and questions.

It is, and this is one of the reasons why I am visualizing Tate's
models. This is as much an examination of the model as of what it
attempts to represent.

That said, some of the data is more quantitative than others. And to
take an obvious example the representation of women artists that the
collection data makes concrete is a thing.

> Of course in a sense everything does but it strikes me
> that data carries a aura of objectivity which is quite misleading. What
> we discover depends entirely upon what questions we ask and they in turn
> are grow out of our pre-conceptions and what the questioner perceives to
> be in their interest...

Absolutely, just like everything else in the humanities. The difference
is only that this kind of visualization is novel enough that we can see
its obvious deficiencies. This can be a springboard for wider critique
of methods.

> I'm not saying it's not interesting or useful but that maybe that the
> whole shiny concept needs scrutinising a little more...
> To be more concrete - there's nothing whatsoever objective about what
> constitutes an art movement so any data derived from questions atound
> this notion this is predicated upon a human construct subject to
> outright lies, self interest, self deception, mistakes, failure to
> observe, squeezing round pegs into square holes &c (not only this of
> course).

I've found no great surprises in the Tate collection data, which I take
as a confirmation of how well existing models have done. Mostly I've
learnt about minor art movements I haven't heard of before and got more
of a feel for the flow of particular careers and genres. I'd like to
take the Turner bequest out and re-examine the data as I think that
would significantly alter the iconography of the collection.

If the quantitative data contradicted an argument (e.g. if it revealed
that in fact there are works by more female than male artists in the
collection), that would be interesting. If the qualitative data
contradicted another model (of movements for example) that would also be
interesting, and that leads into institutional critique.

I regard data visualisation as visual rhetoric, a term that I apparently
didn't make up, although I think I mean it more literally than other
users. This both sets its limits and contextualises its strengths and risks.

- Rob.

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