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Meet the Wikipedians behind WikiProject Visual Arts

A hamsa, the identification symbol of the Visual Arts WikiProject. (From the interview: “Universally, visual art involves the eye and the hand, perception and creation. [The Hamsa] seems like a good iconic representation of these principles.”)

Who wrote the English Wikipedia’s articles about Vincent Van Gogh’s and Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings, or about sculpture, landscape art and abstract impressionism? There’s a good chance it was a member of WikiProject Visual Arts, a collaboration of editors who contribute to Wikipedia’s visual arts coverage. The current issue of the “Wikipedia Signpost,” the community’s weekly newsletter, has an interview with several Wikipedians involved in the WikiProject, which was started in 2005 and whose scope now encompasses nearly 16,000 articles. The interviewees include an art librarian, an artist and an art history student, but also several people who developed a deep interest in art besides their own professions. Here are some of the things they said about their work:

On motivations to contribute:

I’m a student who vacillates between making art and writing about it. “Early 20th century German art” probably best defines my academic research focus, but what I enjoy about editing WP is how it allows me to write about anything and everything from Nasreddine Dinet to Master L. Cz. to Double spout and bridge vessels to Inuit culture to Hus. I guess my greatest fear as I prepare to go on to graduate school for art history is becoming what the Germans would call a “fachidiot” – an academic so engrossed in their particular field of specialization that they lose sight of the wider range of their subject. If nothing else, editing WP keeps me familiar with areas of art history that would otherwise be outside my specialty.
I’m interested in contemporary international art. The art world can be international and easily span continents. Artists hail from countries but there seems to exist a world stage on which artworks are viewed with disregard for nationality. I think English is a language more employed across the international art world than any other language. I think this would place a responsibility on the English Wikipedia to strive for excellence in its coverage of the visual arts.

On the value of collaboration:

I work primarily as a copyeditor, though at the time I had access to an excellent library as well, and what made the articles so much fun to work on was the knowledge that I had a solid group of editors collaborating with me. These editors [...] all had their own strengths and specialties and could always be relied on both for help and constructive criticism.

On the collaboration with cultural institutions (GLAMs):

I find myself at the Chicago Public Library‘s Harold Washington Library Center quite often when the public online resources and my local Blackstone Library are insufficient for a topic. They have been quite helpful in researching in general. Recently, I have been creating numerous painting articles in an effort to provide a resource for the largest ever Roy Lichtenstein exhibition that is being held at the Art Institute of Chicago. Prior to May 9 only one of his paintings had an article. Now, Category:Paintings by Roy Lichtenstein looks pretty respectable. I am trying to get at least 25 of his works on the main page via WP:DYK. I had fallen a little short on more than a half dozen articles and the visual arts reference librarians came through with a lot of things that enabled me to find sufficient content to make many articles DYK-eligible. The library has also hosted an official Wikipedia Loves Libraries event.

On challenges:

The most difficulty that I have encountered in my time editing Wikipedia has been in relationship to Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh is an enormously famous figure who generates tremendous interest worldwide and consequently controversy goes with the territory…

On opportunities to get involved:

There is plenty for new members to do, so long as they have good and up to date references, which most libraries have, and can also increasingly be found online. We very recently got a huge release of good images to Commons from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore which need further categorizing and using in articles – there are nearly 20,000 images at the Commons Category:Collections of the Walters Art Museum. Anyone who wants help or suggestions will be very welcome at the project talk page, where we have a very incomplete “To do” list. This is the home of the supposedly extinct “low-hanging fruit”…
Translation is a great way for new people to get involved, as translating an article is certainly less of a reach than researching the entire thing yourself. Every time I go onto foreign language wikis I run into great articles without English equivalents, just waiting to be translated. Etruscan sculpture (FA [featured article] in Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan), Spanish Baroque painting (FA in Spanish), The Yellow Cow (a Franz Marc painting, FA in German), Loss of books in late antiquity (FA in German, also a substantial article in French and Danish) etc. etc. Any takers?

Examples of visual art covered in Wikipedia:

Read the full interview with Wikipedia editors TonyTheTiger, Modernist, Johnbod, Kafka Liz, Ceoil, Lithoderm (Petropoxy) and Bus stop in this week’s Wikipedia Signpost:

WikiProject report:Views of WikiProject Visual Arts

and check back early next week for the upcoming issue of the community newsletter.

Tilman Bayer

Senior Operations Analyst (Movement Communications)

2 Responses to “Meet the Wikipedians behind WikiProject Visual Arts”

  1. Paul St. Denis says:

    “Who wrote the English Wikipedia’s articles about Vincent Van Gogh’s and Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings?” There is a good chance that a community of people wrote them, not just a WikiProject Visual Arts member.

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