Friday, May 22, 2009

Art Space Talk: Jimmy Wales (Part 2)

Brian Sherwin: Wikipedia has been criticized for lack of art coverage. For example, Jonathan Jones of The Guardian suggests that a lot of the amassed art knowledge that can be found on Wikipedia lacks passion and basic understanding of art-- he goes as far as to say that articles about art on Wikipedia are "dull".

Jones has stated that “Art is not science”-- going on to say, “the "facts" about art don't take you very far. Knowing what date Goya died doesn't mean very much if you can't enter the emotional world of his paintings.”. In other words, Jones feels that Wikipedia contributors forget-- possibly due to policy-- to inject meaning in the art articles they contribute to.

Jones used the Wikipedia bio about Goya as an example, stating, “The Wikipedia entry just goes through his life in this flat, unemphatic way, because it wants so desperately to seem serious and knowledgeable. In reality, this approach can disguise ignorance and, worse, deliver misinformation.”. What are you thoughts on Jones opinion? In your opinion, what should Jones and other critics consider when thinking about Wikipedia as a whole?

Jimmy Wales: I don't think our rules prohibit nor inhibit lively and interesting writing about artists or anything else for that matter. It is true that we don't always accomplish it, and I think everyone who writes Wikipedia in a serious way wishes and works to be interesting to the reader. Sometimes we fail, of course. And sometimes we succeed.

It may be true that some raw 'facts' about art don't take you very far. And it is true that to help our readers understand Goya, we need to help the reader "enter the emotional world of his paintings". But that shouldn't relieve us in any way of the responsibility of being factual, of citing good sources, of not substituting random opinion of any arbitrary passerby for actual good encyclopedic writing.

BS: Other art critics have had a more positive or neutral view of Wikipedia. For example, notable art critic Jerry Saltz once said at a CAA panel that, "We live in a Wikipedia art world.“ followed by, “Twenty years ago, there were only four to five encyclopedias--and I tried to get into them. Now, all writing is in the Wikipedia. Some entries are bogus, some are the best. We live in an open art world." What are your thoughts on Jerry Saltz’s viewpoint? Would you say that due to Wikipedia the art world is now more open than in the past-- at least as far as information is concerned?

JW: Well, I hope so. I agree completely with what he says about some entries being bogus, and some being the best. That's a nice way to put it.

BS: That said, is it a goal of Wikipedia to bypass the traditional ‘gatekeepers’ of information? For example, an artist may not be reviewed by an influential art critic-- he or she may not be notable within the mainstream art world itself, but he or she can still be considered notable on Wikipedia and technically have the same standing-- as far as information is concerned-- as artists who have traditionally been accepted by art critics. What are your thoughts on that?

JW: Well, in fact, Wikipedia and Wikipedians tend to be quite conservative and old-fashioned (in some ways) about notability, and quite liberal and progressive (in some other ways). We're able to find "notability" in lots of different places and for lots of different reasons.

An artist who works in commercial anime might be completely ignored by the academic art world, but adored in anime circles, and end up with lots of magazine articles about himself and an entry in Wikipedia that treats him - quite properly - as an artist of some public standing and interest. That seems fine.

But I should clarify that I don't think it is a 'goal' of Wikipedia to bypass traditional gatekeepers, and in some ways, of course, we can be perhaps criticized for empowering them too much. It's a complex question, again, and I think there are often no easy answers.

BS: Finally, do you have anything else say about Wikipedia and art in general?

JW: I suppose my greatest hope is that Wikipedia can, in some small ways, help to get the public started in art appreciation and education. Toward that end, entries about art and artists in Wikipedia should be high quality, well-sourced, and lively.

My hope is that if someone comes for some reason (school, personal interest, accidental clicking) to the entry on Picasso (for example), that they find themselves 2 hours later exploring some much less famous artist or art, or learning about particular schools of thought in art criticism, or reading about techniques in painting, or.. or... or...

Life is about knowledge and exploration. I hope that we are a cherished place for people to do that.

This is Part 2 of my interview with Jimmy Wales. To return to Part 1 click, HERE

To read more interviews visit,

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace Blog on Twitter

1 comment:

Nicola Parente said...

Thank you for sharing. I have asked myself some of these same questions while viewing Wikipedia. Knowledge is power and both Jimmy Donal Wales and you have made things clearer that art and artists need to continue on their journey to educate and communicate through their art form. As an artist, I use Wiki often when doing research on subject matter that inspires my work, and trust that its context is "fair and balanced". Thanks again for sharing! Nicola Parente