According to Wikipedia Jimmy Donal “Jimbo” Wales is an American Internet entrepreneur and co-founder and promoter of Wikipedia. I recently contacted Jimmy after reporting on an art project controversy involving Wikipedia. As readers know, I try to keep things fair and balanced. Thus, I wanted to give Wales a chance to share his thoughts on Wikipedia, art, and the concept of notability as far as visual art is concerned.
Brian Sherwin: Mr. Wales, as you know this interview will focus on art. Thus, I think it would be good to start out with some general info about your opinion of art in general. You identify yourself as an Objectivist-- with that in mind, how is the philosophy that you adhere to reflected by the art that you personally enjoy? My understanding is that you are very supportive of the arts community in general. Would you like to discuss that?
Jimmy Wales: I enjoy a wide variety of art, and I don't think it's particularly easy to answer your question without a great deal of introspection on the point, and I've not really undertaken that in any systematic way.
Having given that caveat, though, I can say that there is art that I personally enjoy for a variety of reasons - sometimes because it presents a heroic vision of life, but other times because it presents a disturbing or frightening image of life - but in an intelligent way.
I suppose I can say that the common denominator for art that I admire is: intelligence.
BS: Wikipedia has shown support for visual art by establishing a Wikipedia project titled Wikipedia Loves Art. My understanding is that Wikipedia Loves Art will take place each year in February. Can you discuss the project and your involvement with it? It will be an annual event, correct?
JW: I'm not sure if it will be annual or not - I wasn't directly involved in the organization of it, and I don't know what the organizers are planning. I understand that there is now a version of the event taking place later this year in the Netherlands. Exciting stuff!
Let me get on my soapbox a bit, and in a way that I can be gentler about than I used to be. Museums should welcome the Wikipedia community because we serve a major role in bringing art to everyone in a way that will drive interest in sustaining and protecting art in the long run.
Some museums in the past have presented a rather "proprietary" view of artwork in their museums - even art that has long since passed out of copyright. I don't think they do themselves a service in that attitude, and I'm thrilled to see how many museums are coming around to the opposite view - that the best way to promote art is not to control the distribution of information about art, but to join and support the global conversation about art.
BS: Are there plans for other art-specific Wikipedia projects that are endorsed by you?
JW: I think that Wikipedia's coverage of the arts can and should be improved. It's pretty good in some ways, and not as good in other ways. We have gaps in coverage. We have uneven quality.
The community engages in lots of "Wikiprojects" around all kinds of things. This is a good thing and I'm happy about it.
BS: Concerning artist bios on Wikipedia-- in your opinion, what makes a visual artist notable? Often it is assumed-- based on the deletion debates I’ve viewed-- that an artist is simply seeking free promotional exposure by having a bio created on the site. That said, it would be helpful to know in your own words what makes a visual artist “notable” for inclusion on Wikipedia.
JW: I'm probably not the right person to ask, since I don't get directly involved in such debates. But I'm sure many people can understand the complex dilemma that the community faces. There are no easy answers here.
The fact is, there do exist people - not just artists, obviously, and in fact, I doubt if it is a very big problem with artists as compared to some other professions - who would like to use Wikipedia as a self-promotional platform. But that's not what we're here for, really.
We have to contend with potential hoaxes, with puff-piece bios that have false or inflated claims - this sort of nonsense is routinely handled by the community. And the primary way we do it is through reference to quality third-party sources. What counts as a quality third-party source is going to depend on the context. The rules should be as simple as they can be, of course. But also, no simpler.
This is Part 1 of my interview with Jimmy Wales. To read Part 2 click, HERE
To read more interviews visit, www.myartspace.com/interviews
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