Discovering art through fiction

I think it’s safe to say that here at ArLiSNAP, we all love art and we all love books. This month I ran into a couple of art/book intersections I found really fascinating. The first is a great post by Scott Indrisek on artsy where 18 artists share books that have inspired them.

This is a fun, kind of back-door way to find artists you might connect with. I found myself clicking through to see the work of artists who like the same books as me. Artist Shara Hughes shares my love for Eckhart Tolle’s mind-bending spiritual book A New Earth, and her collage-like, colorful paintings really appeal to me.

Kevin Wilson’s novel The Family Fang is a book I often put on my staff picks shelf when I worked at a public library. It chronicles the misadventures of a dysfunctional family in which the parents use their children as props in public art performances. Turns out this is one of provocative painter Betty Tompkin’s “favorite novels about art.”

Check out the list: do you see any of your own favorite titles mentioned here?

The second art/book intersection I noticed this month is Sara Baume’s novel A Line Made by Walking. Baume takes the title from Richard Long’s 1967 photograph of the same name, showing, as you might expect, a line he made by walking:

A Line Made by Walking 1967 Richard Long born 1945 Purchased 1976 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P07149

 

But Baume’s use of specific art works is hardly limited to the novel’s title. The book centers on Frankie, a young artist floundering in a disorienting depression. Almost as if she’s planting markers in the ground, Frankie periodically “tests herself”, describing art works related to a particular subject. As she pulls her beloved, late grandmother’s bicycle out of a shed:

Works about Sheds, I test myself: Cornelia Parker, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View. In 1991 the Banbury Army School of Ammunition agreed to blow up a perfectly ordinary garden shed at the artist’s request…

These are real works of art with real historical context, that somehow Baume deftly fits into the life and thoughts of her fictional character. I didn’t immediately recognize the artist Cornelia Parker by name, but the description of Cold Dark Matter reminded me of a work I’d seen at the ICA Boston. A quick Google search surfaced the piece: Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson), which I then read about at length.

Cornelia Parker, Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson), 1999. Charcoal, wire, pins, and nails, 144 × 60 × 72 inches (365.8 × 152.4 × 182.9 cm). Gift of Barbara Lee, The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women. Photo by Charles Mayer Photography. © Cornelia Parker

Baume includes an index of artworks, listed by chapter, at the end of the novel. Many I’ve studied (Vito Acconci’s Following Piece, Tracy Emin’s My Bed), some I’ve seen (Christian Marclay’s The Clock), but most were new to me. This was such a unique way to encounter art; because I was deeply involved with the character and her struggles, I cared about the specific works of art that had affected her and were now helping her find her way. I often stopped to look things up, such as Wolfgang Laib’s Milkstones, which I find indescribably moving. These sculptures many have left me cold, had I discovered them without Baume leading me there.

 

I leave you with this short video showing Laib’s meditative creative process, and a very strong recommendation to read A Line Made by Walking this summer!

 

A peek inside the art inventory project at the Boston Public Library

At the Boston Public Library, we’re undertaking an item-level inventory of over 320,000 original art works. That’s a lot of art:

Item by item, we are developing descriptive metadata for each object in the Print Collection using content and vocabulary standards defined by the project. One of the ways we help to preserve the materials is to (carefully!) remove prints from old mats. Here’s a quick look at how we un-mat:

1. Observe the print trapped in its sad old mat.IMG_2152

 

2. Open the window mat and tell the print that you love it and it’s going to be okay.IMG_2153

 

3. With a very sharp knife, carefully cut along the adhesive hinges.IMG_2155

 

4. Set the print free! Well, actually, put it in an acid-free folder and label it. Include any ephemera that may have been lurking beneath.IMG_2157

Art + Feminism + Wikipedia

In March I was invited to three different Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thons! I had a basic idea of what these were about, but I was eager to get involved and find out more. One was held at MIT Libraries, and one at the Institute of Contemporary Art, but I decided to attend the one held at my beloved alma mater, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt). It was hosted by librarians at MassArt, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts and the Tufts School of Arts and Sciences.

As the invitation promised, we were led through basic Wikipedia editing skills by accomplished Wikipedia editor Amanda Rust, the Digital Humanities Librarian and Assistant Director of the Digital Scholarship Group at Northeastern University.

Publish!
Wikipedia editor Eve Kahn on the left, Digital Humanities Librarian Amanda Rust on the right.

After teaching us the basics of Wikipedia editing, Amanda and MassArt librarian Gabrielle Reed talked about the purpose of the project. Gabrielle’s event invitation sums it up well:

Wikimedia’s gender trouble is well-documented. While the reasons for the gender gap are up for debate, the practical effect of this disparity, however, is not. Content is skewed by the lack of female participation. This represents an alarming absence in an increasingly important repository of shared knowledge.

5pillars.jpg
Choosing female artists to represent on Wikipedia.

We were given a list of female artists associated with MassArt who did not yet have a page on Wikipedia, but of course we could also choose any female artist who was not represented. I choose from the list and began doing research on Frances Euphemia Thompson. MassArt librarians helped me find primary research materials on Ms. Thompson. She was an artist and educator, and one of the first African American women to graduate from Massachusetts Normal Art School (the precursor to MassArt).

              

I found some good biographical information on Thompson in this book by Mary Ann Stankiewicz.

          

MassArt librarian Katie Riel at the left, ready to help and/or display our efforts on social media. On the right, MassArt librarian Danielle Sangalang helps me find more information on Ms. Thompson for my very first Wikipedia article, which you can see below and find at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Euphemia_Thompson!

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 12.10.20 PM.png

Talking with MassArt librarian Gabrielle Reed, I was happy to find out that this series of edit-a-thons started at ARLIS! It grow out of the ARLIS/NA Women’s SIG, and was led by Sîan Evans together with Michael Mandiberg, Jacqueline Mabey and Laurel Ptak. From small beginnings, it has grown into an international movement, complete with an online guide to help anyone start an event: http://www.artandfeminism.org/organizing-kit/.  As Gabrielle told me, “They make it so easy for us, there’s not excuse not to do it.”  She added, 

“It’s a concrete way to contribute something – the world is so crazy right now, I feel like it’s important to do things that make a difference.” 

I think we all felt the same way, and we had a great time working together, using our voices to add more diversity to Wikipedia.

happyeditors
Happy Wikipedians!

Reflections from a First Time Attendee: 3 highlights from ARLIS/NA 2017

I’m Anna Van Someren, one of the over 70 first-timers at this year’s ARLIS/NA conference in New Orleans. My path toward art librarianship has been long and loopy. On the way, I’ve passed through art school, advertising, and teaching. While managing digital media projects at MIT, I became interested in library and information studies and decided to get my MLIS from Simmons College, with a concentration in Cultural Heritage Informatics. I’ll graduate this May! Right now I’m working on an arts inventory project at the Boston Public Library and a metadata internship at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Dare I specialize – should I even go to ARLIS? (Yes!)

I’ve heard bad things about the job market, and a specialized library job is even harder to find. Maybe I should just hope for a full-time job anywhere! But my dream job is to work as an art librarian. The people I’ve met through my local chapter, ARLIS New England, have been so kind, encouraging and generous with their time. And taking the Art Documentation class taught by the celebrated (and approachable, funny, inspiring) Ann Whiteside whipped my humble wish into a fevered frenzy. Working with art students, finding resources to inspire them!, I thought.  Collaborating with art professors, following their research, finding what they need before they even know it!, I trembled. Purchasing art books! … So I did it. I attended my first ARLIS/NA conference. And I am so glad that I did.

Highlight #1: The ArLiSNAP Career Development Workshop

I’ve been to things like this before – you get someone to glance at your resume, you maybe get an established professional to give you some vague advice while you stare at them, wondering desperately: How do I get to where YOU are? and What comes first, the crazy good haircut or the crazy good job?  But this one was different. It was three hours of creative, engaging, productive fun!

Ashleigh Coren took us through a three-part writing activity that to our pleasure and surprise, resulted in some pretty decent personal statements. Mine still needs some work, but I’m excited to use it on LinkedIn, in interviews, and pretty much everywhere. Then Breanne Crumpton moderated a great Q&A session with a panel of three well-established professionals: Kim Loconto, Kristina Keogh and Heather Slania. Here’s a pdf document summarizing their advice on cover letters, resumes and interviewing in our field. My question was “How do you address a gap in your resume due to staying home a year with your new baby?” The panelists agreed that employers notice such gaps, and suggested mentioning it briefly in the cover letter narrative. They also recommended that parents and caregivers attend the ALPACA meeting later in the day (see my highlight #2 below).

After fielding our questions, the panelists gave us personalized resume advice. We broke into small groups and took turns sharing our resumes and asking questions. This was especially valuable to me, as I’m moving from academia into librarianship; the expectations can really vary in different fields. I feel much more confident about my resume – or I will, as soon as I finish implementing all the new ideas!

  

Highlight #2: Art Librarian Parents and Caregivers SIG (ALPACA)

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this group, but liked the idea of meeting and hearing from other working parents in the field. The ideas generated in the discussion were exciting: research into federal and state family leave laws, for example. I had to leave early for another event, but this meeting had a deep impact on me later in the day.

I was talking with a friend who had also attended the ALPACA meeting. We talked about one of ALPACA’s main concerns: “work life balance”. My friend has a mentor who had once worked with her to unpack this idea of balance – which can sometimes feel like pressure to achieve the impossible. Does successful “balance” mean giving exactly half of your attention to your job and the other half to the rest of your life (your family, personal health, social life, and other activities)? In real life, that would be impossible on almost any given day! This mentor encouraged my friend to think about the effort of balancing one’s life over the long term. For a span of time, work may require more of your attention, and at another time in your life, circumstances may cause a shift in the direction of your energy. I was relieved to realize that maybe balance doesn’t have to mean two equal halves. Maybe we can find balance through flexibility, or in the slow swinging movement of our attention over many years.

Highlight #3: ArLiSNAP meeting

I was excited to attend this meeting. As you know if you’re reading this post, ArLiSNAP stands for Art Library Students and New ARLIS Professionals – and I’m trying to transition from student to professional. Perfect! Like every other ARLIS meeting I’ve attended, the vibe was welcoming and buoyant. I scribbled notes as fast as I could – “the virtual conference is online at the learning portal!” – “check out VRA job digest, VRA FB and twitter!” – “check out ArLiSNAP blog!” – “volunteer to write blog posts!”

  

Of course there were many other highlights in my conference experience, including sessions that gave me an inside look at the work art librarians do. I also had a beautiful walk down Magazine Street, saw a gorgeous sunset over the water, and ate delicious meals with dear friends. Turns out I love New Orleans!

Next year, NYC!

Please welcome your new Feature Post Writer, Anna Van Someren!

I am so excited to start contributing to ArLiSNAP as a Feature Post Writer! I’m graduating with my MLIS from Simmons College this May with a concentration in Cultural Heritage Informatics. I feel really lucky to have found this community for students and new professionals in the field as I navigate my way in this new career. I started out as a video artist, and worked as a digital video editor after receiving my MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. I’ve been a youth worker, after-school program coordinator, and an adjunct professor. More recently I spent 5 years at MIT as an academic project manager for research initiatives in new media and digital humanities.

At my first library job, I was really surprised at how much I love working the reference desk! Right now I’m working at the Boston Public Library in the print department, helping to inventory their art collection – it’s a dream job, discovering and describing original works of art! I also work at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston as a Contemporary Art Collections Metadata and Data Documentation intern.

In my spare time, I read wildly esoteric spiritual books, try to fit in a yoga class here and there, and do community organizing for immigrant and refugee rights.