Longtime Lines and Colors readers may have noticed my tendency to be cranky about art museums that are seemingly without clue in their approach to using their website to best advantage (though I take great delight in pointing out those who are using them well, as in the case of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the recent makeover of the Rijksmuseum website).
It’s sometimes not for lack of trying. Museums often put effort into producing articles, interactives, videos and other projects in various media aimed at engaging their audience and encouraging people to be more informed and involved in the appreciation of art and art related topics.
Short documentary video, in particular, is an area into which a number of art museums have put time and energy, whether accompanying particular exhibits, highlighting collections, exploring topics related to conservation and curation or simply general forays into art history.
ArtBabble, which I mentioned not long after its initial launch back in 2009, is a website produced by Indianapolis Museum of Art (whose own website I praised here) that provides a centralized source for browsing and viewing short video productions about art related subjects by a number of partner museums.
The site has just been relaunched after a major redesign, with a more efficient and elegant interface, better search features and an expanded variety of browsing paths. You can browse videos by themes, medium, period and style, location, people and more, including a list of artists.
Pages within a particular category are accompanied by an excellent set of sub-menus on the left sidebar of the other subcategories at the level you’re browsing.
I actually find the Partner Channels page, which features the growing list of participating institutions, to be one of the most fruitful sections from which to browse. I find that some museums produce materials more of interest to me personally than others.
What’s still missing is a more sophisticated search feature, with options for narrowing your search, though the current one does make provisions for filtering your results. You can also filter pages that offer browsing within topics.
Most of the videos are professionally produced to one degree or another. Many simply take the form of curators, conservators and other museum staff commenting on particular works. Others delve into the process of a particular medium, like the Museum of Modern Art’s short series “Pressure + Ink: Introduction to Printmaking“. The videos on mediums and techniques are generally overviews and not specifically instructional.
Some of the videos are aimed at engaging children in looking at art, and there is a video type “For Kids” that will let you filter for them; though I don’t see a way to filter them out of the results (which would be convenient).
Also, though most of the videos are in English, a number are in various languages (sometimes with subtitles). These are usually from particular museums (e.g. Prado, Van Gogh Museum).
A few of the features are longer, such as the series of recorded lectures “Wyeth Lecture in American Art” from the National Gallery, Washington.
How fascinating you find the kinds of videos offered will, of course, vary depending on your interests, but if you like them, the Art Babble site, particularly in it newly energized form, is a cornucopia of short documentary art videos and worth a Timesink Warning.
(Images above: Art babble interface; Dallas Museum Of Art Collection: The Seine at Lavacourt by Claude Monet – Dallas Museum Of Art; The Landscape Painter Martín Rico - Prado, Madrid; Pressure + Ink: Introduction to Printmaking – MoMA; Vincent Van Gogh In Paris: Montmartre – Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; Conserving Norman Rockwell’s “United Nations” – Norman Rockewll Museum; Wyeth Lecture In American Art: Ground Swell: Edward Hopper In 1939 – National Gallery, Washington)