Editors’ Choice: The Tate Uses Wikipedia for Artist Biographies, and I’m OK With It

Image of a computer keyboard

Recently, several folks on Twitter have noted their displeasure that the Tate appears to be linking to Wikipedia articles in lieu of authoring their own written biographies of artists represented in their collections.

I… actually don’t have a problem with what the Tate is doing.

A screenshot of the Tate’s citation of Wikipedia

A screenshot of the Tate’s citation of Wikipedia on an overview web page for Jackson Pollock.

Except for a few unique institutions founded around a single artist’s estate, very few art museums really have the authority, or, frankly, the mission, to be authorities on the biographies of the artist in their collections. It would be one thing if the Tate were deferring to Wikipedia articles about the unique objects within it’s collection. Bendor Grovesnor erroneously suggests that the Tate copying and pasting this for their collection catalog entries, but they are not. Instead, they’re using it for that most unsatisfying categories of copy expelled by art museums: the artist biography.

As a graduate student and curatorial fellow at the National Gallery of Art, I spent hours and hours of expert time drafting biographies of artists represented in that museum’s Dutch collections. This was almost always a secondary literature review (thank goodness, no responsible museum board will fund research trips to archives to write three-paragraph biographical blurbs!) I and my colleagues generated some quite rich and educational copy for the website, and it was a lovely learning experience… for us, the students.

However, except for the most minor artists, we were mostly just rewording and enriching well-covered biographies from the Benezit Dictionary of Artists or Grove® Art Online. Hours of expert research time was basically spent reinventing the wheel – something that absolutely did not have to be done for ridiculously well-biographied artists like Rembrandt. Any one of these hours could have been better applied researching and communicating what was unique to our museum: the specific objects in the collection itself.

Read the full post here.

This content was selected for Digital Humanities Now by Editor-in-Chief Laura Crossley based on nominations by Editors-at-Large: bbuck, cwilkin.