The (Not) So Visual Arts

Below is a movie exported from Keynote of my final presentation for a module in the M.A. in Digital Cultures programme in U.C.C.:

The presentation draws attention to a perceived lack of visual content available online from many small scale arts institutes and organisations, and calls for a more visual interface leading to visual archives and databases that are searchable and permanent.

This is the second presentation given this year, developing on from the issues and ideas brought up in the first semester presentation that can be viewed below.

Below is a copy of a presentation I recently delivered on ‘The Importance of Sustainable Online Arts Archives’

The presentation addresses the following considerations and concerns regarding my research into online arts archives:

What am I going to do?

In my dissertation, I plan on putting forth an argument for the importance of sustainable online arts archives to the future of both arts education and to society in general. I will be looking at the current standard in Irish arts archives and databases, from the good, the bad, and I might say the visually lacking.  What I mean by visually lacking is a website or archive of works that has poor aesthetic and visual layout regarding overall content and navigation/search functions. The various examples will be contrasted to each other, highlighting the importance of design & visual layout in the most successful examples. International examples will also be brought in to help establish a best practice approach and industry standard, particularly in the case of arts education archives. I will look into the role of metadata in visual archives (in particular relating to arts colleges), and how I believe there is a gap or need for further work to be done in this area. This allows me the opportunity to bring attention to this somewhat underfed aspect of current arts education.

Why am I interested in doing this?

When I was a student in art college, I remember the level of frustration when researching an interest or topic only to find very little in the way of other artists’ work in that area. This may have had something to do with the interest being somewhat niche in nature, but if I had been studying in another discipline other than the visual arts, I would almost certainly have found  more in the way of other research that had been done in the area, simply as a result of having a text based interest. The problem is that many artists search visually for research and reference material, and if you are to find anything of use visually online you usually need you to know what kind of text accompanies a visual before you are able to find a related/relevant image.

Archives and databases are a crucial aid in this problem of search and find-ability. This is true for any discipline, but I will be looking at how visual arts archives in particular can offer additional benefits to non-text-based researchers. As I show in my presentation, examples like the Printed Matter online catalogue of over 45,000 artists’ books ( offers an option to search the collection through a series of loosely grouped visual ‘Tables’, almost like you would at a book fair, where visuals are displayed for you to peruse and pick up ones that are of visual interest to you. This layout facilitates and encourages visual research, and an artist that is interested in artists’ books will get far more out of searching through this catalogue than they would from entering text into Google searches around ‘artist books’ or ‘self-published content’.


Why should anyone be interested in this?

The other reason I am interested in this issue of online arts archives is specific to the art college environment. In art college, many graduates do not go on to have a direct career in the visual arts. Many take up tangential career pathways, and many more go on to pursue work in an entirely different discipline. The culmination of their serious study and research in the arts is often the end of year exhibition that occurs annually at the end of their final year of study. This exhibition is also their main final assessment, and is the equivalent of a thesis or dissertation in another discipline. As it currently stands in Ireland, there is no art college in the country with an archive of past final year exhibitions. When works are documented well, such as the National College of Art & Design’s website ( highlighting the work from the current year, they are still only available to view for the year of the current exhibition, and do not become part of a searchable archive afterwards. This means that for both the students involved and society at large, the cultural contributions of a large portion of Irish society involved in arts education are lost forever.

Sustainable online visual archives solve this problem, and also become an important research and referencing tool to future generations of students and artists.

How do I propose to do it?

My working plan so far is to carry out comprehensive research into the area of online archives. I will not be limiting this to only visual arts archives, as the features and structures of different types of successful archives have many common elements, and using and referencing them will aid in developing a more holistic and integrated approach. I will also be specifically researching visual arts archives, with particular regard for how images of work are displayed, tagged, and stored. I will relate this back to Irish standards, and see where the gaps/strengths are in the area nationally.

I also hope to survey artists and developers involved with the creation of visual archives, and examine some of the issues they faced and what they found worked well/didn’t work well.

If possible, I would like to interview a select number from this same group to expand upon thoughts surrounding the importance of visual archives and how to better develop sustainable models going forward.

This research will be combined with a literature review of the area, and feed into my dissertation and digital artefact.