Thursday, March 29, 2012

Discussion: PLEASE don't simplify art!

We had a very interesting e-mail from one of our users. We've decided to post it here together with our reply, and ask you to join the discussion. Perhaps together we'll find optimal way of further development of WikiPaintings.

PLEASE don't simplify art!

Art is great and beautiful, but also complex, confusing and frustrating. Using the same historicist approach that dictates a certain path of art movements through time is allowing for the continued misinformation of the general public, and insuring that poor art historians and critics remain in positions of power (and so the art market prevails over art itself). An encyclopedia of painting is possible, but grouping these artists across time under art "movements" is ignoring their own, individual, nuanced trajectories full of unexpected twists and turns. Please do not disseminate concepts that are still in discussion. The idea of art movements as a linear history of art itself is already questioned and discredited by most serious scholars. Please do not force artists and their works into neat little boxes. Categorize only what is objective and certain: dates, names, techniques. But please, please do not force a conceptual framework onto art! Please don't help maintain misconceptions about art! Please don't objectify art - it is much much more. This is a great project, but it is already headed in a labeling rather than informing and enlightening direction. Please. Help art break free from the confines of imposed categories!

Anonimous user.

Do we?

Thank you very much for your passionate remark! It’s a real pleasure that someone obviously well-informed and so in love with art still finds our project great, despite of the fundamental disagreement with its structure.

We truly do understand your point of view. Indeed, when applied to such a different (in historical perspective and conceptual value) items as art of 15 and 20 century, notions like art movement and genre are somewhat confusing, because they have slightly (and sometimes crucially) different meaning in those contexts.

However, do you really think it’s possible, or productive, to talk about art history without these notions? Can you study art avoiding terms like Renaissance,School of Paris, and portrait? Don’t you think that limiting a vocabulary to “objective” categories like dates, names, and techniques is even more “forcing a framework” in the sense of eliminating possible interpretation?

Let’s not go to extremes, because both of them are absurd. Putting art into “neat little boxes” of styles, and claiming that Monet’s Impressionism is literally the same as Levitan’s Impressionism is just as stupid as avoiding all style classification at all, and stating that those two artists have nothing in common and differs one from another as much, as Rembrandt differs from Malevich.

There are plenty of amazing sites, dedicated to individual artists, which provide well-structured analytical scope of their “nuanced trajectories full of unexpected twists and turns”. There are also quite a lot of extensive web recourses which do not apply any classification to art. We offer something in between. You can browse some artist’s woks chronologically and analyse evolution (or degradation :) of his unique style, but you can also compare stylistically related paintings of different artists and draw your own conclusions.

We don’t see how it’s possible to provide basic knowledge without “labels”. Would you use them as information or disinformation depends solely on your intellectual potential.

We just provide you with tools. Use them creatively!


WikiPaintings Team.


  1. Hello,

    I'm glad my feedback has caught your attention, and thank you for opening discussion here. To me, that's the important part - discussion and reflection on anything that seems to be given and certain, be it in art or anywhere else in life.

    Something I had not considered, but seems obvious now, is that a project like this requires a fixed structure (and it is indeed a great challenge to deal with art without getting subjectivity mixed in). I see where you are coming from. So perhaps it'd be more productive to offer some suggestions more punctual to what I think could be done.

    It would be interesting to have a short description of each art movement/style/genre and wikipedia link before the images (as is the case with artists). That way, users would have a solid referential as to why those works are grouped together. Something like "portrait" may be clear, but why, for example, is Louise Bourgeois listed under something called Confessional Art under Japanese Art? More than well-known movements like pop, it is those fringe movements that bother me.

    More complicated but also useful would be a page listing references used in the construction of the website (there are movements I've never heard of, for example, and it would be interesting to know where those terms came from).

    Perhaps these discussions will gain greater depth once the wiki functionalities are enabled. But in the mean-time, the sheer image compilation power of this project is what inspires me.

    Regards, MS

    1. Thanks for your feedback)
      We are planning to create descriptions for movements, styles, etc. and provide them with references. I belive that even such "obvious" genre as portrait need some comments from the point of view of its history, for example. The problem is in creating texts that would be simultaneously short, comprehensible, thorough, and not simplified. That's quite a task, and it would take some time to fulfil it.
      As for Louise Bourgeoise - it was technical (but of course embarassing) mistake. We've corrected it. Thanks for pointing it out.
      We are waiting for more ideas and remarks)

  2. It may be just my association which goes too far, but this problem resembles the old, philosophical problem of universals. Or maybe it does not resemble it, but is just a type of the problem - which question is a type of the problem in itself! There are some domains where realism seems to be more relevant than nominalism or vice versa, but I would argue that generally the question is unsolvable. And I don't mean that it cannot be solved only in metaphysics, but it is also a practical problem in a way.

    Similar thing we have in biology. We tend to think of life on earth as of a big structure with many hierarchical levels - this is actually what biological classification is about. But theory of evolution seems to say that life is just a huge bunch of vehicles for genes and in nature there are no such things like classes, orders, families or even species, but there are rather just gradient similarities between individuals.

    The state of art can be alike. The works of art are similar (of course), they are different (no doubt about it), but can we say of any categories for them? If we can, is it objective or is it just a matter of convention? If it is objective, where does this objectivity come from? If it is only convention, is it more useful or more misleading? And so on. It is a hard question, but nevertheless very interesting.

    1. It's like you read my mind) I wanted to use the same example (of biological classification versus diversity of life forms)in my first entry.
      I have one more analogy - of Plato's Cave. Sure, we all are trapped in the imperfection of our language and our knowledge. But that doesn't mean that cognition is impossible; it only requires incessant efforts))

  3. Hi, it seems you have analyced the market and have arrived to the conclusion that this project should be created the way your are doing it. ok. Then just go ahead because what you do seems pretty honest, coherent and interesting.

    As time goes by you will be able to adjust it.

    Thanks and tell you that I consult wikipaintings on a constant basis ´cose it helps me write better articles in my blog. I´ve also linked wikipaintings in my blog (it will help you :))

    Lots of success.

    Antonio Basso

    1. Thanks! If you have any ideas about making our site better - please share! We really do pay attention to remarks of our users. We may not react on them immediately (due to the obvious practical reasons) but we are working on them.

      ps. love your blog! very bright!

  4. The technology will dictate the system. Look to wikipedia for a roadmap... ideas and obstacles. Seems to me, a wiki would result in a more subjective than objective classification system.

    As a wiki, the humanistic problem of classifying art is addressed through public edits, over time. Feedback and discussion give allowance for gray areas, educated opinions, professional judgments, and expert disagreement.

    Other less academic options, many of which this site already avails itself: Categories (tags might be implemented as categories allowing for tag suggestions and amorphous classification systems such as the tag cloud). A like button (by which one might order the artwork according to what is aesthetically pleasing... or at least according to what is popular). And a random feature (you can't get much more 'complex, confusing, and frustrating' than that).

    Perhaps, in time, each art work could be entered into a database (a different technology / system). This, according to the each work's visual elements: Dimensions (flat, arrayed), colors (black, white), lines (straight, curved), shapes (square, circle), objects (box, ball), structures (alien, human), figures (child, adult), forms (male, female), configuration (joined, separated), organization (chaotic, patterned), and so ultimately to SUBJECT (war, peace).

    With regard to the entire collection, then, patterned schemes might emerge: chronological patterns, sequential patterns, spatial patterns, compare - contrast patterns, advantages - disadvantages patterns, cause - effect patterns, problem - solution patterns, and so to topical patterns... or TOPICS (war, peace).


    In the meantime, one may already view the collection by artist (group, nationality, century... school, and movement). So why not 'impose categories' in terms of the art itself (regarding style, genre, and technique)?

    1. NOTES: 1. Where it states 'forms (male, female), configuration (joined, separated)'; it might instead read, 'forms (female, male), configuration (separated, joined)'. In this way, 'female' would follow upon the idea set by 'child', 'male' would continue this thought, and 'joined' would suggest what is patterned and peaceful (in such case, 'female' comes to suggest separateness, chaos, and war).* 2. 'Technique' should fall under the heading of 'artist' and 'movement' under 'art'.

      *I neither mean to argue that the goal of art is peace nor to draw any such conclusion. Rather, I aim to present a linear mode of reasoning whereby one idea naturally leads to the next, irrespective.

  5. Hello, I apreciate that you follow this discussion because valuable conclusions may be reached. I do agree with the idea that art cannot be encapsulated in a framework, but at the same time and for the use of such enormous amount of data, a categorization will be needed. There is a need for a category name (e.g.'movement') to simplify searches, or to just organize data. So I completely agree with the way you are doing it. Anyway, It will be nice to find a page somewhere in the site, clarifying that categories are just guidelines and may be inacurate, so to avoid controversy.

    I understand that an artwork cannot be

  6. stick to painting, i dont need to see this site flooded with postmodern garbage.

  7. of course art can be classified, everything we do can become filled under a style name.

    Sometimes some artists push boundaries of course, but always under influence of their time and peers.

  8. Excelent job nice photos, dont worry about the text you put on it (that goes to the crying moron that dont want art to be simplified), as long as you keep posting great images :)

  9. Y por favor incorporar un mayor número de obras de Mujeres Artistas, que no se convierta esta enciclopedia de arte en un escaparate más de discriminación sexista del mundo del arte.

  10. Fantastic ! ONLY missed a great Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amaral ...

    See more about Tarsila in: Mercado Arte - Tarsila do Amaral