Digital Art Curation Grad Seminar: Your Input Welcome

Adobe-Photoshop-0.63-on-System-7-300x225I really enjoyed teaching my Digital Public History Seminar for the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies. As a follow up, I am thrilled at the prospect of teaching another course for their Archives and Digital Curation specialization. INST 745: Introduction to Digital Arts Curation is a course that is on the books but has yet to be taught. So while the course learning objectives are fixed, I have a lot of flexibility in terms of how I go about achieving them.

In thinking through this, I’ve been toying with the following as a framework. Per the learning objectives of the course I will need to cover a little bit on digitized art. That said, the primary focus of the course is going to be born digital works. So I’m thinking about framing this largely around considering the extent to which various born digital works are best understood through a set of related but distinct set of perspectives.

That means understanding digital works as;

  • fixed creative works to be conserved
  • live performances to be documented and or recorded
  • the result of a creative process of working within the constraints of a given digital medium which produces a trail of potential archival records
  • the execution of an application or source code and data which could be broadly shared for others to use/reuse

Key Conceptual Issues

Part of what I am most excited about with born digital art is that art works are some of the best places to unpack a lot of assumptions that are taken for granted in other areas of digital preservation. That is, thinking through issues in art curation/conservation/documentation/preservation has been one of the best ways I have clarified my own thinking on seemingly more mundane issues in electronic records, software preservation, etc. In that vein, so far I think the following are likely the key conceptual issues I will focus on over the course of the semester.

  • Resistance in the Materials: I love this as a place to get into the materiality of digital objects.
  • Significant Properties: I like how art pushes back hard against the idea of any kind of innate significant properties in objects
  • Fixity: Since the alographic/autographic distinction comes from art and is itself important to understanding the identify of digital objects this is a neat place to explore that.
  • File Formats: It’s huge for digital preservation in general, but I also like the opportunity to think through how formats themselves become materials with affordances that structure experience.
  • Emulation & Virtualization: It has been neat to see the kinds of things Rhizome is doing in this space.
  • Screen Essentialism: It’s an important concept for digital works in general but particularly important in the complexity of art.
  • Platform Studies: I’ve been itching for a chance to assign Racing the Beam, and this is going to be the moment.
  • Social Memory: I love how this perspective shifts away from the things to what the things mean.

Kinds of Art Considered:

nayn-catI’m trying to think broadly in this area. Thinking of areas where what had been analog practices have shifted more or less entirely into digital practices (digital photography, computer aided design, music, film and video) as well as areas where digital media has enabled new kinds of works (video games, flash interactives, chiptunes, electronic literature, animated gifs, web comics). Along with that, I’m just as interested in looking at vernacular art (everyday people’s digital photos, memes, lolcats) as I am at fancier stuff.

Assignment Structure:

I really want to focus on having students produce pragmatic and practical work. So I’m thinking about having students create a series of documents one would create if you were working to justify and plan for the acquisition or documentation of a work. In that vein I’m thinking about having students pick from a list of works I provide and having them do the leg work to plan to preserve it. I’d love ideas about what kinds of documents and material students should create.

Here are a few things I am thinking about:

  • Proposed Collection or Object Acquisition Brief: When I was working at LC I had a few opportunities to advise on potential acquisitions and ended up working up a short format to cover how to describe the technical, legal, preservation and access issues.
  • Preservation Intent Statements: I think this work by work or collection by collection approach to establishing what matters about a given thing and how you are going to ensure that you have access to what matters about it in the future.
  • Digital Curatorial Research File: I really like how Seb Chan talked about doing this for the Planetary App, and I could imagine that serving as a viable deliverable.

Readings I’m Considering: 

Still in the early phases of this. But I figured I would share the list for folks to comment on and to spark suggestions for other things I should be considering.


  • Rinehart, R., & Ippolito, J. (2014). Re-collection: art, new media, and social memory. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  • Salter, A., & Murray, J. (2014). Flash: building the interactive web. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  • Sterne, J. (2012). MP3: the meaning of a format. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Kirschenbaum, M. G. (2008). Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Montfort, N., & Bogost, I. (2009). Racing the beam: the Atari Video computer system. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Articles and Reports

Things I could use your help on:

So that is where I am at so far. I’ll likely blog about some of these elements in more detail later, but I wanted to get this up and out there to start soliciting opinions on how best to do the course.

In particular, I would be interested to know:

  • What other kinds of assignments do you think would be useful?
  • Are there any particularly good readings I should be considering?
  • Are there any key conceptual issues you think I should add or subtract?