Smart history

, 13 February 2011

The experience of visiting a Louvre or a Prado and being overwhelmed by all those historical paintings which in most cases are incomprehensible exaggerations and beautifications of the reigning personality can lead to both, admiration but also frustration….

…because regardless of the age (student forced by the college or grandmas visiting because it’s free entry) most visitors leave 90% of the details behind, not understanding why the main character is not looking at the visitor, why the king’s little kid eventually vanished from the painting and hastily substituted with the nephew’s figure, or all the colour, shapes & landscape’s codewords. Too much information, too little sources, not enough free guides, and in most cases… not enough time or €€ to visit the aforementioned galleries.

It may be true that the most important art works are finally being digitalized with projects like the recently announced Google AP, which do not only showcase high-quality photos, but also comprehensive material from both the work & the artist.

Smart History is one of those parallel, less ambitious but at the same time much more accessible & useful projects that two art historians, Beth Harris and Steven Zucker, each with twenty years of teaching experience decided to create one day.

Both saw an opportunity to use conversation and the web to make art history accessible to their students. The Smarthistory website currently covers more than 300 works of art and is fast becoming a viable alternative to the commercial textbook. Their aim? Becoming a referent source (besides wikipedia and Google) for art history and at the same time a multimedia experience to enrich (if not substitute… although this is still hard today) art history textbooks by making a comprehensive & commented video per art work.

Their project won 2009’s best education website @ Webby Awards and they’re currently pledging for a few $$ via Kickstarter in order to keep the art history conversation going. Every $100 contribution from you makes one more video possible.

Oh! Just one comment…. while watching their educational video on William Holman Hunt’s “Strayed Sheep” they suggest most of the art history is focused on France…. oh bad bad bad!!! OK France may have the UNESCO’s biggest historical heritage… but come on! Europe is so much more than just France….