Technological Revolutions and Art History, Part Two: Panel Discussion moderated by Tianna Uchacz
Next we have Dr. Tianna Uchacz from Texas A&M University, who will speak with four graduate students who are interested in digital art history in different ways and were kind enough to answer the questionnaire that Dr. Uchacz sent out on behalf of the symposium in the spring to a large number of recipients and she did report on the results of that survey in the October 15th symposium. So you can see her lecture there, I believe it's maybe posted or just about to be posted in the next week or two. So thank you very much. - Thank you, Louisa.
And thank you to our four participants today. I'm so excited to be able to hear from Elizabeth Bernick Nick Mols, Rheagan Martin, and Liron Efrat. All of whom are up and coming researchers.
And we are just thrilled that they responded to the informal survey that we sent around, that Louisa mentioned early in the spring, to just gauge the questions that were driving the field in relation to digital art history and expansion of technologies into our respective sub-fields. So I'm going to start by asking Elizabeth Bernick to introduce herself briefly and to answer the question of how have technological advances changed the way you approach traditional art historical research problems? - Thank you and I want to thank MoMA, and the Frick also, for organizing this and for inviting me to share my research with you. My name is Elizabeth Bernick and I'm a PhD candidate in the department of the History of Art at Johns Hopkins University, where I'm completing my dissertation on the itinerant artist Cesare da Sesto and his sketchbook. Cesare lived from 1477 to 1523. Very little is known about his life or the exact timing and order of his commissions in Milan, Rome, Naples and Messina.
Throughout his travels he compiled and used a remarkable sketchbook. One of the only of its kind to survive and it is our main source for reconstructing his career. The core of the long dismembered sketchbook, 26 folios, is today held at the Morgan Library and Museum. And during my time as a Samuel H. Kress pre-doctoral fellow in the Morgan's Drawing Institute, I had the rare privilege to study Cesare's drawings on a daily basis. And that much close contact inevitably started to raise questions about materiality and facture.
The main question I wanted to answer was, did these drawings once actually constitute a sketchbook and why does this matter? My doctoral training thus far though had taught me nothing about the history, the materiality, or conservation of paper. So luckily the Morgan has one of the best paper conservation centers in the world. And Reba Snyder, one of the Morgan's lead conservators, kindly taught me about how Renaissance paper was made and what kind of evidence this facture leaves behind for us to study today.
Most importantly, she taught me what chain lines are. As you can see here, chain lines are the vertical lines often easily visible on Renaissance paper if held up to a light source. Although here they have been further enhanced it to make them very visible. They are the faint impressions left by the wire sieve on which the pulp mixture was left to dry. Reba encouraged me to reach out to Rick Johnson who, as many of you are aware, is a computer engineer at Cornell.
He has developed software that can so precisely measure the distance between chain lines and their overall orientation on the sheet of paper that it is possible to determine if two pieces of paper were once mold mates. That is made on similar, but because handmade, not exactly the same molds by the same paper maker. Armed with this new material and technical knowledge, I was able to determine by taking high resolution, transmitted light photographs of the paper and measuring the chain lines, that Cesare really did make and use his drawings as a sketchbook, as the distances between the chain lines were consistent across all the folios. Here you can see I've roughly lined up the chain lines on several different folios to give you an idea of how they were all made on the same mold. I was even able to determine the original size of the larger sheet from which cut his folios.
That is, I know that he was using a royal sheet and then he made what are known as octavos by cutting it into eight pieces there. By measuring the chain lines on drawings by Cesare, now scattered across other collections, I was also able to add 10 new drawings to the sketchbook. Or return 10 drawings to the sketchbook. Here I show three examples.
Chain line evidence also helped me form a new hypothesis about the sketchbooks early provenance. So without this combination of good old fashioned close looking and new technological advances, I would not have been able to reconstruct Cesare's sketchbook. And I'll just close by saying, for anyone who would like some more information, especially about the technical aspects of this, I did publish these findings in an article on the summer 2019 volume of "Master Drawings." Thank you. - That's fantastic. Thanks so much, Elizabeth.
And now we'll turn to our second presenter and that is Nick Mols. And he's going to talk to us about his research and of course he'll introduce himself. - Okay, thank you Tianna so much for this opportunity.
I will just share my screen. Hope that works. So I'm Nick, a PhD candidates at the University of Edinburgh and I look mostly into the mathematical and global influence of the painter and architect, Sebastiano Serlio, by combining conventional arts history research with 3-D scanning and computer aided design. So in this presentation I will basically only raise questions which stem from digital applications for investigating historical lines, drawings, and vectors. And the line as a mathematical unit became one of the building standards of Renaissance theory, where architects and artists like Leon Battista Alberti, Albrecht Durer, or Sebastiano Serlio devised their lined theories, of course.
And they combine points, lines, and planes as constellations of vertices to translate concepts into tangible drawings. Forming the basis of what would become the vectorial and Cartesian coordinates system in digital computation. So there is an immediate link between the representation and what I'm of course doing methodologically. The image here shown is a Renaissance design from Serlio from 1551. Originally created through xylography. However, the process of the digital reproduction presents the image in a skeuomorphic manner, being an intangible material metaphor of its tangible paper original.
Making it ontologically different from the original prints. And here the 3-D scan addresses the issues of the digital, copy, reproduction, creation and it computes its own reality as it can be observed, yet not touched. And is only apprehensible in motion, as you can see very much unlike the original early modern prints. And during the data capturing process the scanner emits its multi-spectral gaze, protruding, peeling, and scraping data from the surface of the object, transmitting formerly unperceivable and unexplored data, which remained hidden to the human eye.
So the resulting point cloud output as encoded data sets allow algorithmic altering in which we can expect the now virtual ink of the virtual paper by applying scale of fields, which you can see in color, in point cloud processing software. The scaler registers topological deviations of the paper with an accuracy up to 50 micro meter, which is 0.05 millimeters, and observes the paper folds and curvature, it's grain, it's flaws, and the ink. And as seen on screen, the ink can be extracted and allows selecting the data's magnitude or elevation heights, which visualizes information unperceivable to the human body.
The ink or the lines then allow transposing the 3-D scan into CAD programs as loci, which you can see on the right-hand side, allowing the reconstruction of the drawing. And since the scanned point distance reaches micro accuracy, the digital reproduction allows a refinement of the image in a way the original object could not depict due to the mechanical limitations of xylograph technology. My forensic methods of drawing history to sans processes of architectural creation by anatomizing the hidden vectors that are embedded within architectural representations and the resulting drawing digitally copies a historic image and allows dismembering architectural proportions to investigate drawing processes and morphologies, transcending the boundary of analysis and creation, which is of course only possible through digital technology. And the point I want to make is, throughout the history of drawing the line or the vector form the basis for devising images and still manifest in present day vector data resulting from 3-D scans. The vector forms an unaltered code whereby 3-D scanning acts as a bionic extension of the human body in which the light ray replaces the human eye in a similar way the pen form the technological ascension to the body of the medieval scribe or the xylograph to the Renaissance master. And in conclusion, 3-D scanning does allows us to refine the accuracy of historical drawings in representative, ontological, or epistemological terms, raising questions on convention versus invention, method versus tool, and creative versus analytical.
And on that note, I would like to end with an open question. So thank you so much for your attention. - All right. Thank you. Thank you, Nick. We're now going to turn to Rheagan Martin from University of Michigan and I'll invite you to introduce yourself, and of course to answer how have technological advances changed the way that you approach traditional art historical research problems? - Great. Thank you so much.
I'll just share my screen with you. Sorry about that. Let's go back. Okay, so my name is Rheagan Martin and I'm a PhD candidate in the History of Art at the University of Michigan. And I'm currently the Samuel Kress Institutional fellow at The Warburg in London.
My dissertation focuses on the earliest printed books, books printed with movable type, in Venice and Venice was the first city-state to offer legal protections known as print privileges, which are somewhat akin to modern day copyright. So I wanted to approach this body of legal documents as data and apply data visualization software and techniques to see what I could extract from them. I'm not the first person to have had this idea. The director of the Archivio di Stato in Venice in the 19th century also created summaries of the print privileges.
And here I have an example for you. While some of them are greatly detailed, others of them he leaves out very important evidence. So for example, this one finishes by him summarizing, "they obtain the usual privilege with the usual sanctions," but doesn't offer the definition of what the usual privilege is, so it leaves some gaps in our data collection. So my first step was to go to the archive to fill those gaps and to find out that here is the privilege, and in fact, the title was protected for a period of 10 years and there was a fine associated with any counterfeits of that text of 10 ducats or 10 ducati.
So then I was able to organize the 212 privileges from my period of investigation into a spreadsheet or a CSV. I assigned unique IDs to each one of them, partially created from their location in the archive, and then was able to pull out other information. Some of it very obvious such as the date that it was issued, the duration, the beneficiaries.
And then some of it less obvious that only emerged as it was organized into this spreadsheet. The fines are often distributed to many different parties, so once I saw that all organized in front of me, I was able to compare how the distribution structures of fines started to break down. Once I had my CSV, I first just plugged it into a simple graph.
Previous scholars of these documents who were looking at them sort of one-off or only as they applied to specific prints have dismissed them as not having any inherent logic or not really representing any useful data. But the graph here, I feel fairly confident in arguing that we see periods of uncertainty at the beginning and end of this period. And then we see a rather normal or almost biological rise and fall in the fines associated with counterfeit texts. So in fact, we do start to see a clear picture emerging. And then I also use the data visualization software Tableau.
And this is just one example of information that I was able to pull out. But I wanted to see, for example, are the privileges associated with certain types of professions over others? So, as you might expect, the most common one is printer and the next one is null, because these are not standardized forms. They often simply don't list the profession. But other more interesting information does emerge, such as the fact that singers, or the cantore in the Basilica Saint Marco, represent a fairly large category of profession that received print privileges. So, as you can see, this isn't immediately visual and this is sort of my challenge in taking a body of data and then using data visualization, and then applying it to art historical research. But what it has done is it's helped me to know what to look for and to know how to look at that.
So, for example, sort of counter-intuitive, some of the texts that received the highest terms in the privileges are astronomical and mathematical texts. While some of the received the lowest are religious texts. So knowing how they were prioritized or privileged in their own time, helps me consider where to look for visual elaboration and representation.
So that's a very quick rundown and I'd be happy to entertain questions later. - Wonderful, thank you so much, Rheagan. And our last presenter is Liron Efrat from the University of Toronto and I'll let her, again, introduce herself and tell us about her research. - Hi everyone. Thank you, Tianna, for having me.
I'm very excited to be here. My name is Liron Efrat and I'm currently completing my PhD at the department of Art History at the University of Toronto. My research focuses on mapping different forms of augmented reality applications in cultural context, including museum augmented reality apps and apps for heritage site. Basically, I'm interested in how augmented reality can be used to reconstruct the user experience of cultural heritage, content, and sites. So to identify some of the common ways that augmented reality is used by cultural institutions I have collected 60 augmented reality apps.
So some sort of pool of examples. And I've used comparative method to map 12 categories of augmented reality apps. So some of these categories are described in related publications that I authored, but to better illustrate this typology and also to make these categories more accessible, I have created CHAR an online collection of cultural heritage AR apps, in which I've indexed my data for these augmented reality projects that I've collected.
So I guess this is the time for me to share my screen. Let me see. There we go. All right, so I hope that you guys can see that. So basically what we see here, this is my collection. It currently contains 60 objects.
This is still a work in progress. And basically what we can see here is the collection description. And these are the categories. These are clickable, as well. And we can scroll down to see all the objects in the collection.
And in this collection, basically, objects can be browsed individually and also according to their categories. So, for example, if we click on one we can see all the objects under this category. And if we will enter into a specific entry, for some reason, oh, here we go, it's loading. We can see all the metadata that relates to this particular entry and I also include some bibliography here with specific information related to each entry. So the purpose of this collection is basically to inspire us to combine those categories and further expand the use of the technology in cultural content, and also to expose project leaders to some of the ideology that might be associated with their apps and to connect between the theory and practice of new media in the field of cultural heritage augmented reality. And I'm going back to the question of, sorry, going back to the question of how digital tools can help us reconsider art historical questions.
Then my response to this would be that, we must also consider today how digital tools are used to make art and heritage accessible. So in many instances from virtual exhibitions to augmented reality apps, and especially now at the time of COVID, unfortunately, we only experience art by means of digital mediation. So while questions around spectatorship and the spectator have been around for decades, art historians who considered similar questions in the past, like Michael Fried or Claire Bishop for example, have focused mostly on aspects related to audience and artwork interactivity and interconnectivity. So today we may want to ask, not only how viewers become participants in an artwork settings, but also how institutions, organizations, and individuals, and artists employ these technologies to retell existing and alternative stories by means of digitizing and re-curating art and heritage. So, in a way, the digitization of art and heritage exceeds being a process of documentation or preservation, and it is not only an emancipation of the artwork from its aura, to paraphrase Benjamin.
I think this has become a creative process that involves the re-curating of materials in an interactive way, and also makes us reconsider what can be interpreted as either art or heritage. So I'm happy to also show some more features of this collection in the Q&A, but with that I'll end my presentation and I thank you. - Thank you so much.
And thank you to all four of you. So I would invite you all to unmute at this point and we're gonna take five minutes now, and just consider one question for our round table discussion before we move on to the more formal Q and A session that we'll open up to all participants from today's symposium. And so the question that I wanna pose to you is, what art historical research topics and questions do you think are best suited to computational tools and methods, but that have not yet been explored by these techniques? Do I have any volunteers to raise your metaphoric hand? - I can jump in.
It's not, of course, something I've totally come up with on my own and luckily some very smart people are already working on this, but for someone like me who works on prints and drawings, of course I talked about chain lines, which are on all paper, but watermarks are more commonly and widely studied, and kind of recognized to be a very useful tool in just learning more information about a piece of paper. But I would just say that you'd be surprised how many pieces of paper now, in various museum collections, don't have watermarks. Which is why I think it is interesting and important to fall back on chain lines sometimes. But, anyways, I just think the system for museums, and private collectors, everyone, should just more systematically make the kinds of photographs that we need to study the watermarks to then make those available to the public in searchable databases.
I know this something Rick Johnson is also working on, ways that we can now so precisely photograph the watermarks that we can measure them, that we can just be a lot more precise about saying this watermark is like this other watermark, comparing them, and making these publicly available searchable databases because you'd be surprised, even for an artist as famous and well-studied is Leonardo Da Vinci, there is no systematic study or database of his watermarks. And I think it would really help us to better understand and deepen our knowledge of Renaissance paper, if that was available. - Great, thanks. And, actually, given that, Nick, you also work so closely with works on paper, I wonder if you have anything to add to what Elizabeth has said or another direction that you think we should also consider? - Yeah, absolutely. I think what Elizabeth said is fantastic. I totally agree with that.
And to that we can immediately add, it would be very helpful to start cataloging remote sensing data. So, again, these are scripts that you can have. You upload them and you can have a remote sensing software running on your laptop or whatever.
But a lot of the watermarks, pentimenti, ink, all of these things can be investigated by remote sensing. And the potential of remote sensing for me, if an artist drew on paper and erased it, you can't really see it by photograph necessarily. You can't see it by your eye, but remote sensing immediately tracks that. So there are quite a lot of possibilities with remote sensing, because it's basically a highly accurate photograph that goes into micro technology. And that is definitely a potential that I see.
You can use that for paintings, was there something painted before? We can't see that. Of course there are also other tools to investigate that, I'm very much aware. But having that as an add on to databases would actually be very helpful as well, I think. - Great. Thanks.
And, Rheagan, given that you work tangentially with works on paper, but not so much about the materiality, I wonder if that's ever played into the questions you want to ask, or if there are other more pressing ones that you find have come up in your work? - Yeah. Thank you. I think these tools that you've discussed are very interesting. I think my investigations, to shifts gears a little bit, to think about so many data visualization tools and so many digital tools are language based and that's something that it can do very well to read, and recognize, and crunch language. And so one thing that could definitely be an interesting avenue is thinking about things like artists contracts whereas before they maybe have been studied only for specific well-known paintings or commissions, but to be able to read across an entire body of them and to pull out new trends and information based on language. And I think that's a way that the visual and the material would connect much faster than perhaps in my project, but looking at paintings contracts will definitely include that language of material techniques process. - Great, Liron, as I look at your database, at your wonderful collection of digital, do I dare say, ephemeri? I'm not that pessimistic, but at your collection, I wonder, are there questions that you would love to be able to ask of that material that the tools just aren't there yet? - Yeah, I think that if we think more generally about the discipline of art history, then what augmented reality in this context of art history and especially in the context of museum and cultural heritage allows us to do, is to expand the idea of what we understand as the art historical canon and also this idea of the chronological perception of history.
Because augmented reality and virtual reality, and all those kinds of technologies that are facilitated within this context are basically relational. So that means we're inserting another piece of information, more data, into an already existing piece. And so that really allows us to expand how we interpret and bring in more frameworks for further interpretation. So, in many museums and in many institutions, we see those technologies, especially augmented reality trying to be used as a new form of audio guide.
And so the idea of the database is really to expose that and also showcase different and other forms of applying this technology to expand this idea of reusing the new technology to do what we already did before. So we can really see projects in here that explore counter-factual histories and projects that really bring in alternative discourses, and alternative histories into the same context of what we have been doing and seeing as a canon so far. So I think this is something I would like to see more of and I hope that this database would encourage that. - Wonderful. I want to open the floor briefly for any of you to respond to the responses of your peers. - I have a question about digital archiving, I guess.
With virtual reality being a relatively new technology, and I'm sure changing rapidly, is it challenging to maintain these files in a readable way? Or how does that work? - Are you asking me? - [Rheagan] Yeah, sorry. - So this is a complicated question to answer, because it really depends on the platform, depends on the technology employed, and also depends on how it's stored. Virtual reality is different from augmented reality.
And I can say that these are questions that institutions, based on interviews that I've conducted with professionals in this field, these are questions that... They're current challenges in this field. And another challenge that many institutions can consider is that we want to make those engagements shared, in many instances, and virtual reality makes it more difficult, because it's an individual experience, basically. With augmented reality this is more easily facilitated, but still we have issues concerning the platform and if users, at the most practical level, need to download data onto their phones and they need to download an app, or this is something that is cloud-based. And these are all questions that institutions are considering and there's no one answer to this. So it really depends on the independent preferences of the institution.
What I did with this database, unfortunately, not to violate copyright, I couldn't upload the apps themselves. So what I did is basically those entries are representations of those apps. So they include a lot of meta data, including categorizations and the actual types of technologies and frameworks used and videos. And I also refer to sites and other bibliography to provide more information. So that's how I kind of went around this issue.
- Great. Thank you so much. I want to just conclude with one quick question and that is, I'd like to hear maybe a one-liner answer from each of you about how this kind of work can be facilitated. So what kind of training do you think that the rising cohorts of art historians might need in order to advance digital art history, and how can mentors, or professional associations, institutions help to make that happen? Just a last minute, rapid fire brainstorm session. - Could I just answer? - Yeah.
- It's basically what I did myself, as well. I think the cliche thing, of course, of the day is interdisciplinary research. But I'm actually part of a You Creates (indistinct), so a computer lab space, as well as data center, as well as with the department of architecture and art history. And I think that is absolutely crucial for the training of digital art history. You can't do it as a department on yourself.
I believe you can, of course, disagree. That's what I would say. Yeah. - Awesome. Thanks Nick. - And if I can jump in, I would also agree. I gained most of my skills through an interdisciplinary lab that was hosted in a graduate library. But what I would add is that, I think to many art historians who are unfamiliar with digital tools, it may seem very intimidating and they think they have to know how to code a computer from the ground up.
And actually there are many very user-friendly tools now that is a great entryway into this kind of investigation. So that's a great place to start if you don't have the coding background. - I agree with Rheagan.
I have a background in data analysis and I encounter this among colleagues in my department all the time. People are concerned that some of these tools may not be accessible if you don't know how to code or if you don't have certain technical background. But that's not true. Many tools out there are free and accessible.
And I have to admit that I taught a seminar on digital art in this past winter semester and I included two workshops for my students, kind of like introducing them to web VR and AR tools. And I gave them the option to just use those tools to create a final project. And they didn't have to, but to my surprise, all of the students actually chose to use those tools, and they had support on campus for any technical issues and questions they may had. But they used it and the results were really great. So I guess just search for what's out there.
- All right and last word goes to Elizabeth. - Well, from my personal experience, I would say it's really helpful and important to reach out to and build relationships with conservators, because they often are all ready on the frontline of having to know and keep up to date with the latest technology as it relates to their field, and whatever objects they study. And they just have a wealth of knowledge that's really, sadly, I think too often runs parallel to what art historians, like in the academy are doing, and at least in my experience too, are very generous with their time and knowledge, and are excited to share that. And you'd just be surprised by how much it can change your perspective to look at the kinds of questions they ask, which usually had never occurred to me. - That's great. Thank you all for a wonderful rapid-fire presentation of your research.
It was wonderful to hear about it and thank you for your input in the panel. - Thank you. - Thank you. - [Woman] Thank you all.