Is There A Critical Digital Art History Yet?

Today marks the beginning of the Rebuilding the Portfolio: DH for Art Historians (#doingdah14 on Twitter) workshop hosted at the Roy Rosenweig Centre for History & New Media. I am unable to attend these proceedings, but luckily there are a steady number of tweets that are keeping me up-to-date with the highlights of what is being discussed.

It’s only been a few hours since this workshop series began, but based on what has been tweeted so far, I can see that there has been a focus on attempting to understand the digital humanities and the digital tools of art history. There have been a few questions that have really peaked my interest such as, “What are the core concepts of art history that make it different from other disciplines?” (tweeted by @sarahObender), “What are the threshold concepts of art history?”, and “How might thinking about threshold concepts of art history change approaches to digital tools and practices?” (tweeted by @celeste_sharpe). I have been struggling with questions like this for quite a while, so I’d be interested to see what the folks at #doingdah14 suggest to answer these questions later on.

One thing I did find interesting was that in a few of the links posted on the Rebuilding the Portfolio: DH for Art Historians website is that there were only a few critical articles on the state of digital art history. The majority of the articles are about the Digital Humanities, digital collections, digital storytelling (through projects, publications or exhibitions), technical art history, and websites of professional communities (see here and here). While these are important aspects of Digital Art History, I am a bit surprised that there are not more articles about critical Digital Art History included.

The focus in Digital Art History at the moment seems to be on creating digital projects, thinking in new ways, and teaching Art Historians about the opportunities in Digital Humanities scholarship, so perhaps we haven’t quite reached the point where we can critically engage with the field of Digital Art History itself just yet–we need to create it first. Perhaps it needs more time to grow, mature, and develop before this self-reflexive engagement can occur? Or maybe critical engagement with Digital Art History can grow in tandem with the field itself?

Ultimately, I think Digital Art History needs more exposure. Workshop series, like “Rebuilding the Portfolio: DH for Art Historians” and similar workshops, are doing important work in making this happening by training Art Historians in Digital Humanities scholarship. This work needs to continue to happen, and also needs to continue within academies across the world to train future generations of Digital Art Historians.

It’ll be interesting to see what is discussed this week through the #doingdah14 hashtag, and how this field grows over the next few years.

My own interests lie in a critical engagement with Digital Art History as a field of research, but I have had difficulty finding much recent critical scholarship in this field as of late. If anyone knows of any books or articles about Digital Art History please comment below or send me a tweet @danutasierhuis




  1. I really enjoyed reading your review on Rebuilding the Portfolio. I often find myself asking the same questions, we are so eager to start “Digital Art History” that we haven’t had a chance to stop and ask “what is Digital Art History?” In fact, while working at the institute one of our instructors made a comment that she was surprised that “Digital Art History” did not even have a wikipedia article. I’d be interested in continuing this conversation with you and perhaps starting some type of open forum where we can begin to define this field.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! I would be very interested in chatting some more about defining Digital Art History with you too. Any suggestions on a forum (besides the comments section here)?

      Perhaps we could even start the missing Wikipedia article? There’s an article for almost everything else (I.e. Digital history, computer art, internet art, digital art, new media art, etc) except for Digital Art History… This should be fixed, I think 🙂

  2. Morgan Currie · · Reply

    This is a really timely issue Part of the difficulty in defining digital art history comes from the lack of consensus on the nature of analog art history. Even its origin in Vasari’s Renaissance mash-up of artist’s biography, connoisseurial attribution, and essentialist theorizing defies easy summary, and the range of approaches, subjects, and ideological leanings in today’s post-structuralist world is dizzying. This is without mentioning the inchoate relationships with curatorial activity, studio practice, and visual culture studies. I can’t think of a discipline that is harder to clarify, and I suspect that the ad hoc nature of virtual art history initiatives reflects the individual priorities of the scholars behind them. Getting collective buy-in to a top-down framework may be impossible in this environment. The organic development of a granular structure, much like that of art history in general, seems more likely.

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