The Art Genome Project in the University Classroom
Luis Castañeda is Assistant Professor of Art History at Syracuse University. His teaching focuses on the history of art and architecture in the Americas. His book, Spectacular Mexico: Design, Propaganda and the 1968 Olympics will be published this year by the University of Minnesota Press. Matthew Israel recently spoke to him about Artsy and The Art Genome Project.
MI: Could you comment briefly on how Artsy functions as an educational resource or the value of The Art Genome Project for your students?
LC: I find that the Genome interface positions artworks at the center of the learning process without losing sight of the bigger context in which artworks exist. Students especially appreciate the ‘real world’ aspect of the site, where artworks are not only presented as significant and interesting objects in isolation but also as objects with a price tag that, in some cases, they could potentially buy themselves.
From the point of view of an educator, this brought home a really important point that I strive to emphasize but that is not always present in the teaching materials available to me, like survey books: the fact that art doesn’t just interact with society and history in theory but that it is part of a real-world system that students can one day become involved with professionally.
In this sense, Artsy also worked to introduce students to the multiple types of people and institutions that are part of the artworld, pointing them in directions for potential professional development in the future.
MI: Could you explain more specifically how you have used Artsy in your classes?
LC: I have used Artsy in a graduate seminar that analyzed how and why different art historical methodologies have changed over time. We examined The Art Genome as a contribution to this history. We looked at how the Genome arranges artworks in relation to one another in order to see which art historical approaches it draws upon as well as what it adds to art historical thinking.
The idea was not just to identify predecessors for the Genome or to try to position the effort in some kind of genealogy of art historical approaches, but also to engage with the technology much more directly and practically.
Of particular interest was how the Genome differed from the multiple tagging projects that are available, especially given how much nuance it introduces into the organization and classification of artworks.
The Genome is also significant because of what it represents in terms of multidisciplinary thinking and collaborative work. Its significance is thus not purely ‘intellectual’, as it is also a successful example of ways in which art history can complement the efforts of the many other professionals active in the art world. Like my undergraduate students, my graduate students were happy to learn more about this context as future art history professionals interested in working in some of these contexts.