Art Resource in Digital Era: in context of Single-Artist Museum

Sang Ae Park, Nam June Paik Art Center, South Korea

The rapid development of technology has caused such changes to archiving methodology for cultural assets. In a museum context, it used to be possible to see artwork or to research art archives in only a specific venue with real objects, but this limit of space and time comes to mean nothing when digital platform has been introduced. Objects held by museum varied from artwork to art resource including archive, published materials, graphics, and among others. These analogue objects can be digitized, which exactly means creating digital copy, in order to be serviced on digital platform. There are digitally born objects as well. This paper suggests that digital art resource comprise: digitalized images of artwork, art archive, and published materials; digital-born archive and platform; and medatada of these digital assets. In order to provide audience and researchers with optimal virtual experience, it is important metadating target-objects. Metadata is usually told as data of data. It tells technical specifications, administrative attributes, structural characteristics, contextual data sets, and among others. Metadata would be functioned as outlines of each object and also as connecting points for all objects on the platform. Metadata would compose basic information for drawing an intellectual map of digital assets on the platform. It also is an interesting approach to explore digital art resource in a single artist museum context. A single artist museum is dedicated to one particular artist and carries unique attributes compared to other general museums. Attributes of this kind of museum will be explored focused on collection and research, both of which are highly related to constructing and using digital art resource. This paper will review practices in metadating digital art resource considering distinctive structure of each resource group and show some practices in designing digital platform servicing digital art resource in context of a single artist museum. 

Keywords: Art Archive, Metadata, Database, Digital Object, Single Artist Museum, Art Resource

  1. Introduction

It has been only two decades or so since we began creating documents using word-processing software and connecting with one another over the Internet. Since the 1990s, information technology has been advancing at an astonishing pace, reaching the point where we now use devices and machines that we had seen only in sci-fi movies two decades ago. The arts have evolved accordingly, incorporating the use of diverse new media. Art museums are no longer home to conventional artworks, such as paintings and sculptures, as they have begun to expand their collections of novel and technologically savvy forms of art. Exhibitions at art museums today incorporate diverse moving images and audio tracks, and can be accessed from virtually anywhere around the world through the Internet. Technological evolution has expanded the range of opportunities to access artworks, as well as ways through which to enjoy them. Furthermore, it has revolutionized the ways in which art resources are preserved and utilized. What are the characteristics of digital art resources that art museums are developing and using these days? How should platforms be designed so as to support the effective use of such resources? And what distinctive benefits and characteristics does the use of digital resources bring to single artist museums? In this essay, we shall explore some answers to these questions based on discussions of the concept and scope of digital resources for art museums, the meta-data standards for the preservation and use of such resources, and future applications of these resources to single artist museums. 

  1. Digital art resources and single artist museums 
  1. Types and uses of art resources for art museums


Based on the International Council of Museums (ICOM)’s definition of a museum, we may define an art museum as a nonprofit institution that collects, preserves, researches, communicates, exhibits, and opens to the public visual art resources for the purpose of contributing to the surrounding communities through learning, education, and sharing. Visual art resources, with their definite physical properties, can be divided into three main types. The first and foremost type of art resource is that of visual artworks. Art museums collect, exhibit, research, and preserve these artworks, deeming them to possess value distinct from that of other art resources. For our purposes here, we shall limit the scope of visual artworks to those with informational properties. The second type of art resource includes art museum records and archives. The records stored in an art museum archive include institutional records that have been organically created and accumulated throughout the history of the museum and special or manuscript collections that the museum has collected specifically in line with its collection policy. In general, manuscript collections consist of archival records created by artists, critics, and other related agencies that convey a wide range of information about the given artworks, exhibitions, and artists. Institutional records are those that each team or department of the gallery produces while preparing for, organizing, and running exhibitions and other major events of the museum. Art museum archives also include records that rival artworks, in terms of informational importance, such as video footage and source tapes for video artworks. Art museum archives keep primary sources that need to be preserved permanently, and employ them in carrying out the tasks of collection, exhibition, preservation, and research. The third type of art resource is the published records in art museum libraries. These library records are used mainly to support research, with particularly rare or limited-edition records potentially being displayed in exhibitions of the art museum.

Art resources are things that art museums collect, preserve, and use, and each art museum collects or produces certain art resources according to its own policy. Once collected, these resources are arranged and organized for better use and preservation, with different organizational techniques being used for different types of art resources. In general, art museums categorize the artworks in their collections by medium, while art museum archives sort and manage records by source, maintaining the existing hierarchical structure of the given archives and creating finding aids for users so that they can easily retrieve the records later. Art museum libraries, on the other hand, sort and manage art resources by subject and medium, and also keep lists of the resources in their collections. Artworks are to be preserved both physically and content-wise. Physical preservation refers to keeping the original physical forms of art resources intact, and involves the use of special methods and techniques aimed at preventing physical and chemical damage. For instance, art museum archives employ diverse means and techniques of conservation to prevent the oxidation and physical damage of their records. Art museum libraries re-bind books with deteriorating bindings, preserve the media in which sounds and moving images are saved, and produce and distribute copies of rare books for public reference. Content preservation, in turn, can be categorized into the preservation of the content itself and the preservation of the context. To keep the content of art resources intact, art museums produce microfilms, image copies, and digital copies of those resources so as to prevent alterations and modifications to the content at a fundamental level. While it is crucial to preserve the original tapes, LPs, and other such media containing moving images or sounds, it is equally important to preserve the media players that are needed to play these records. Since technological media inevitably become obsolete and possess limited lifespans, it is essential for art museums to carry out research in order to choose the proper alternative media to be used in the future. In the meantime, it is the exclusive purview of art museum archives to protect the context of art resources. Archives preserve the existing hierarchical structures of their collections so as to maintain the informational value of art resources and their context. Art resources at art museums are displayed in exhibitions, used in educational and research programs, and referenced in research by professional researchers. Meta-data on art resources describe the attributes of art resources, and thus provides channels of access to the resources. In the analog domain, these meta-data often take the form of lists of cards or documents.


  1. Creating digital copies of art resources


Today, we are increasingly resorting to digital means to secure and preserve records. Human history first arose and was transmitted in oral form, until humans discovered written language and paper. As technology continued to evolve, we learned to transmit our history in the form of fixed images, sounds, and moving images. Art museums have thus begun to preserve their art resources in the form of documents and photographs, and now in sounds and moving images. The advancement of electronics and information technology has heralded the digital era. Digital technology involves transmitting information consisting of sequences of symbols or phrases as units known as “bits”. Digital images and sounds, in other words, are sequences of binary code, made up of only ones and zeroes (Kim, 2013), and the human race has developed ways of coding, saving, and deciphering all kinds of information through the use of such binary code. As a result, many of us no longer visit physical libraries to borrow copies of books; we e-mail our writing and letters instead of mailing them via postal networks; and we do not need to develop photographs in order to find out what we have captured on our cameras. Furthermore, we obtain most of the information we need from the Web; we e-mail one another to communicate; and we share the details of our lives on our social networking sites. The digital domain has presented us with a new paradigm of communication and information. Friedrich Kittler has noted that, in the digital domain, sounds, images, and thoughts are not separate from one another, but are recorded as an integrated whole in each single medium (Shim, 2013). There are mainly two differing perspectives on the digital domain: one that insists on the compatibility of the digital domain with the analog one, and the other that insists on the novelty of the digital domain and its break from its analog counterpart. Like all revolutionary changes in human history, however, the digital domain was first introduced while the analog domain still existed, and the two continue to overlap in certain respects today. Now that the digital and analog domains co-exist, it is time that we begin to ask how art museums are converting their art resources from analog to digital formats, and how these digitally converted resources are distinct from the originals.

Art museums today create digital copies of art resources in their collections so as to save, transport, and use those resources in the digital domain. Digital copies refer to the reproductions of analog materials that can be read by machines. Digital copies therefore require digital platforms in order to be re-played (Zhang and Gourley, 2009). Art resources in two-dimensional media, such as analog documents and images, can be scanned using digital cameras, and those in three-dimensional media can also be turned into digital images using digital cameras. Films, videotapes, and LPs that contain moving images and sounds can be converted into digital recordings or other types of digital reproductions.

Thus converted into digital formats, art resources are additional and secondary objects related to original analog resources, and thus cannot claim authenticity. Yet they may possess much greater informational value than the original resources, in that they migrate the information and visual forms of original resources onto digital platforms that are much easier to access and use. Digital platforms allow users to enlarge and rotate images, thereby allow them to derive a much greater amount of information than would have been possible with the analogue media. Digital platforms are also much better substitutes for magnifying glasses, which were often required to read handwritten fine print on certain documents and memos. The use of digital copies also minimizes the exposure of analog originals to the public, ensuring better preservation. Newspaper clippings are frequently featured in the archives of numerous art museums and convey important information about the artists, exhibitions, and the contemporary social contexts concerned. However, actual newspaper clippings are highly prone to damage by light, air, and other factors, so providing these clippings to the public in their original form accelerates their deterioration. In the past, archives used to create microfilms of these clippings and other records, but today, digital copies provide the information that the public needs from these newspaper clippings while protecting the originals from the various sources of damage.

Art museums should decide on a clear policy or guideline regarding the selection process of art resources to be turned into digital copies, as well as the technical means to be used. Art museums should also consider the possible legal issues involved. It would be extremely inefficient for an art museum to create digital copies of all the analog art resources it possesses, given the shortages of manpower, budget, and time. Therefore, they need to prioritize which records are to be turned into digital copies on the basis of their intrinsic value, their use to the museum, and their vulnerability to damage. Then, the resources required to accomplish the task can be allocated in a systematic manner. Furthermore, art museums need to provide guidelines concerning the technical means to be employed in the digitalization process. As technological standards evolve and change over time, such guidelines on digitalization must be capable of withstanding or adapting to these changes over time. Also, copyrights should be given utmost consideration when creating digital copies. Art museums therefore need to thoroughly survey copyright holders and secure the rights for digitalization before proceeding with the creation of digital images.


  1. Preserving digital art resources


Digital art resources include the digital copies of analog art resources, as well as resources that were originally created in digital formats and digital platforms for the purpose of preserving and complementing digital resources. Alternatively, digital art resources encompass digital images of artworks, digital images and files of records in art museum archives and libraries, and digital platforms and their databases containing meta-data on digital files. In this section, we shall discuss the preservation of digital art resources and their informational value.

A digital medium serves to record and transmit all the elements of a given file, such as letters, images, and sounds. Shim Hye-ryeon (2013) argues that the digital domain supports the communication of information based on this digital convergence. Terry Cook (2001) has defined the digital paradigm, from an archival perspective, as resting on the understanding of objects that were formerly thought of as static, rather, as dynamic and virtual concepts; as recognizing historical records no longer as passive outcomes of certain actions, but as marking active interventions in shaping the memories of humankind and organizations; and as identifying structures of records not in the hierarchical organization of their creative context, but as located on networks that function horizontally. The digital domain, in other words, favors dynamicity over staticity, horizontal structures over vertical structures, and bilateral or multilateral communication over unilateral communication. Change and communication are therefore central to the digital domain. Also, the inevitable obsolescence of digital systems and the emergence of new ones are integral to this domain. Given this tendency of the digital domain toward versatility and evolution, we need to find ways to preserve digital art resources and keep their shape and content perfectly intact, notwithstanding the obsolescence and changes in supporting systems and media.

We can understand the preservation of digital art resources in two ways: keeping the content intact, and keeping both the content and the operating environment intact. Preserving a digital file requires the creation of three versions or copies: namely, the master copy, the backup copy, and the use copy. Master copies contain all the information without any loss, and exist purely for preservation purposes. Back-up copies are technical replications of master copies, and are used as a substitute for master copies in the event the master copies are damaged or lost. Use copies facilitate effective usage of art resources and also support the preservation of master copies. Art resources originally created in digital formats may include multiple elements at once, such as letters, voice recordings, moving and fixed images, and the like, as well as hyperlinks to outside sources of information. The preservation purist may insist on preserving all the elements and factors of each digitally created file in the master copy without excluding any detail. However, given the fact that information in the digital domain gains value only when it is communicated, others may disagree with the purist’s view. Digital storage devices have limited lifespans, and may become obsolete or incompatible with new hardware over time, so the data migration process needs to take place repeatedly and regularly, relocating digital resources to the most up-to-date devices available each time. Some, however, dispute the suitability of the data migration process, as it may lead to the loss of the intrinsic value of the original storage device and also end up saving data at times other than the time at which the given data were meant to be saved for the last time (Moser, 2014; Rockmore, 2014). Digital platforms, including databases, require operating environments that can be run alongside the stored data. Such operating environments can be preserved by means of emulation. Migration and emulation are both means of preservation that closely reflect the emphasis on communication and change in the digital domain, and fundamentally differ from the analog approach to preservation, which insists on keeping the original physical form of each given work intact. As we now live in an age in which the digital coexists alongside the analog, researchers argue for diverse approaches to preservation in both the digital and analog domains.


  1. Digital platforms and meta-data


Meta-data, i.e., data of data, refer to secondary information that sorts and categorizes the types of given data so as to facilitate intelligent control over and structural access to information (Korean Society of Archival Studies, 2008). Meta-data, in other words, describe the attributes of art resources and enable the mapping of related resources while also serving as points of access to each of these resources. In this section, we shall examine standards for the description, structure, and machine-readability of digital art resources. A descriptive standard regarding the content or listing of artworks at art museums is Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO), and a representative standard for data structure is found in the Getty Research Institute’s Categories for the Description of Works of Art (CDWA). A leading standard for the encoding of digital resources into machine-readable formats is CDWA Lite XML Schema. CCO and CDWA describe the content and structure of such data as artworks, architectural works, cultural resources, digital images, and art collections, and link each object based on data values entered into relation elements. The essential elements of data required by CCO are almost identical to those required by CDWA. CDWA’s requirements include: catalog levels of objects/works; types of objects/works; classification terms; titles or names; creator descriptions (concerning groups of creative works); creator identities; creators’ roles; creation dates; dimensions descriptions; materials and techniques descriptions; general subject terms for subject matter groups; repository/geographic locations of current locations; current repository numbers; related textual references and citations; names, sources, biographies, dates of birth/death, nationalities/cultures/races, life roles, and related persons or corporate bodies of persons/corporate body authorities; place names, sources, place types, and broader place contexts for place/location authorities; generic concept terms (including the schools of thought behind generic concept authorities), notes on concept scope and note sources; and subject names, name sources, and broader subject contexts for subject authorities. The list may include additional items and elements required to represent the attributes of given artworks, and the same sets of data may also be linked by means of interactive references.

“Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)” provides a main standard for the description of the content of records in art museum archives. Proposed by the Society of American Archivists, DACS is meant to describe the hierarchical structure of archive collections, and therefore concerns collections and not items. Information required by DACS includes: reference codes of identity elements; names and locations of repositories; titles; creation dates; extents; names of creators; scope and content of content and structure elements; conditions governing access, physical access, technical access, and languages/scripts of the materials used for conditions of access and use elements. The standard for describing the structure of these contents is the Encoded Archival Description (EAD), and the meta-data schema for describing machine-readable formats is EAD XML DTD. A major standard for listing or describing the contents of published records in art museum libraries is the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules (AACR), and the schemas for the structure and machine-readability of AACR-governed records are Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) and MARC21.


<Table 1. Meta-data on digital art resources>

Artworks Archives Published records
Content description standard CCO DACS AACT
Structure description standard CDWA EAD MARC
Machine-readable description standard CDWA Lite XML EAD XML DTD MARC21


Proper names and terms used in meta-data should be available for search and reference, based on the data in the control glossaries. Leading control glossaries include the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), the Library of Congress Name Authority Files (LCNAF), and the Library of Congress Thesaurus for Graphic Materials, as well as the Getty Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), Union List of Artist Names (ULAN), and Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN). The controlled items that are used as meta-data in these lists allow users to make connections between art resources with different structural attributes, and provide effective search and research support.

Digital platforms support the storage, search, and viewing of digital art resources, as well as the access to physical, analog resources. The meta-data on each art resource are entered into a platform, along with related images (moving and fixed alike), so that users can search and view the resources on the platform. Digital platforms include spaces for saving master and back-up copies as well as a service space that is accessible for searching and viewing, and the servers storing master and back-up copies must be set up in physical locations of sufficient distance from the service server so as to ensure the security of the originals. The final unit objects included in the descriptions of art resources of each type on the service server differ from the related meta-data. As for artworks and published records, independent objects are the subjects of final descriptions. Regarding archival records, however, each collection of items grouped together is the subject of a final description. Also, related elements of meta-data may be defined and grouped so they can support interactive referencing. In the past, due to these differences, digital databases consisted of separate service servers for different types of art resources. However, new digital platforms based on expanded databases that mainly support search and viewing can make different types of art resources available together in the form of virtual exhibition tours and hypertexts.


  1. Digital art resources in single artist museums


A single artist museum refers to a museum that specializes in a single artist and his/her lifetime oeuvre only, with a commitment to reflecting upon and inheriting the artist’s spirit and legacy. Single artist museums can be established while their featured artists are still alive (with the artists’ consent) or after the artists’ death, according to the artists’ will or the decision of surviving family members and friends. A single artist museum therefore insists on collecting the works of only its featured artist, keeps archives dedicated to the artist and his/her works, and maintains close ties to surviving family members and the estate of the artist. Although single artist museums are dedicated to certain artists, they are also spaces that serve public interests and purposes by advertising and promoting reinterpretations of their featured artists through exhibitions of the artists’ works and life achievements. These museums also support art history research programs and projects that cater to their featured artists and their lives. The scope of programs and events organized at single artist museums often expands and redefines itself over time, with increases in funding and the number of visitors.

Unlike general museums that exhibit works and artifacts from diverse artists and periods, single artist museums focus on a single artist at a time. This focus often facilitates the effective mapping of the art resources in those museums’ possession. A single artist museum’s digital platform basically consists of databases of artworks and archival and published records, and these three databases may be combined into a single integrated database. The integrated database derives factors of relation among meta-data, and uses control headings as points of connection, while supporting the viewing of related information with hyperlinks. Each digital file may be linked to other single files or multiple files at once, according to the control headings. Furthermore, new types of digital platforms may be created on the basis of this integrated database as well. Examples include research platforms that the museum provides to the public by linking the findings of research projects it has funded to the existing database, as well as exhibition platforms that feature virtual exhibitions in connection to the database. Research platforms, which are especially suited to single artist museums due to the narrowness of the focus of these museums, saves digital recordings of various discussions, seminars, symposiums, publications, restoration processes, and the like that have taken place at the given museum, and provide them in conjunction with existing digital art resources, based on the meta-data on those digital recordings. The diverse images of artworks stored on the research platform are high-definition images that can be rotated and zoomed in and out, and that are displayed alongside the results of related research and restoration processes. The research platform can also provide hyperlinks to public resources on the Web, thereby serving as a research hub. Research platforms are thus made accessible through the Web as part of the given museum’s official website. The exhibition platform, on the other hand, recreates actual museum exhibitions in the digital domain using high-definition images and videos, which also supports the related art resources and research findings. In general, museums regularly redesign their exhibition spaces with new or feature exhibitions, unlike single artist museums, which usually maintain certain spaces dedicated to their featured artists or simulations of the studios of their featured artists on a year-round basis. Exhibition platforms that are based on the designs of these spaces in single artist museums often employ virtual reality technology to enhance the viewing experience.

The generic database for the digital platforms of single artist museums may serve as passive channels of service to users. Research and exhibition platforms, on the other hand, represent more active initiatives on the part of these museums to reach out to and attract users. Databases are meant to support accurate search, provide information on related facts, and ensure adequate access to analog and physical resources, so they are often designed in reflection of the unique structural characteristics of given art resources, and provide users with information on the contextual structure of those resources. Research platforms can expand upon the real-life images of artworks and archive items by adding relevant research findings and restoration results. Unlike databases that are primarily designed according to users’ prior requirements and needs, the research findings and related content on research platforms continue to expand and radiate outward, thus providing future research suggestions for researchers. Exhibition platforms do not handle only flat and two-dimensional information; rather, they recreate artworks and exhibitions in three-dimensional, virtual-reality spaces, providing users with novel experiences and adding depth to the information provided. 

  • Conclusion


Art resources that art museums collect for the purposes of promoting learning, education, and public sharing can be categorized into artworks, archival records, and published records. Art museums strive to collect, preserve, and make better use of these resources. Once chosen according to each museum’s collection policy, art resources are re-organized so as to keep their original structures and media intact, and these resources may be displayed in actual exhibitions, and also used in educational programs and research. The advancement of electronics and information technology has given rise to an expanding digital domain, which forces transformations in the ways in which art resources are preserved and used. The focus of preservation has shifted from keeping the original physical attributes intact to preserving the informational value of given artworks in the process of change and communication. Artworks, formerly confined to only certain spaces, can now be used and viewed from anywhere at any time. Digital art resources include digital copies of analog originals, resources originally created in digital formats, and digital platforms that store and service digital art resources. Meta-data can be created on top of these digital art resources, and used to connect resources, allowing interactive referencing on the given digital platform.

A single artist museum, founded to commemorate the legacy and work of only a single artist, researches and exhibits the featured artist’s works as well as artifacts relating to his/her life and era. Digital resources at such a museum can be used in the form of a general database catering to users’ prior needs, as well as a research platform and an exhibition platform that are designed in line with the museum’s initiative. The database in this case is a platform that stores digital art resources and their meta-data and enables users to search and access chosen items. The research platform, on the other hand, displays research findings, restoration results, and public resources on the Web that are relevant to the real-life images and factual information on existing digital art resources. The museum may use such a platform to suggest new research suggestions regarding the featured artist and his/her works. The exhibition platform, featuring the year-round exhibition of the artist’s works and/or studio, provides users with novel digital experiences and in-depth information. Art museums today can adapt to the changing paradigm of art preservation and use only after they have developed a proper understanding of how art resources are preserved and restored in the digital domain, which emphasizes convergence, change, and communication.





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Cite as:
S. Park, Art Resource in Digital Era: in context of Single-Artist Museum. In Museums and the Web Asia 2014, N. Proctor & R. Cherry (eds). Silver Spring, MD: Museums and the Web. Published March 2, 2015. Consulted .