e-Learning and Innovative Pedagogies’s Updates

No Detail Goes Unnoticed When Art Is a Click Away

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / Tripp from Chicago

nytimes.com | Article Link | by Ken Johnson

The construction of new art museum buildings like that of the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan’s meatpacking district naturally receives a lot of attention. But there’s another kind of construction going on that tells more about where museums are at and where they are going than any shiny new edifice: their websites. That might sound surprising to anyone not professionally involved in museum work, but if you want to know how museums are changing their philosophies and programs in a time of increasing financial pressure and the continuing rise of private museums like Eli Broad’s in Los Angeles, websites are the most visible and informative places to look.

With their constantly evolving capabilities for representing art and effecting communication, websites are actually driving forces in how museums are adapting to changing times. In 2013, the excellent site of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis posted a white paper by Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, summing up discussions about the future of museums by art museum directors. In it he wrote, “The external force of the Internet and social media — combined with museums’ own efforts to create more interactive educational and exhibition programs — leave no doubt that the two way relationship between the museum and its audience has the potential to reshape the future of art museums in ways not yet envisioned.”

One thing you can say for sure about museum websites is that they’ve become much more useful. Many museums have put their entire collections online, and many more, like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, are in the process of doing so. Recently the Whitney Museum of American Art put its collection of more than 21,000 objects by more than 3,000 artists online in an exceptionally easy-to-use format, with pages of thumbnails in alphabetical order. It’s fun to scroll through to see who the favorites have been and to discover artists you have never heard of and wonder whatever became of them. Some sites, like the one for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also provide essays on particular pieces, like Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “The Harvesters” (1565). The Met has the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, too, which offers more than 900 scholarly, thematic essays on just about every aspect of world art, illustrated with nearly 7,000 objects from the museum’s collection. Regularly supplemented and updated, it makes art history textbooks like Janson’s nearly obsolete.