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Digital Archives of Visual Arts – Analysis and Presentation

Explore Art is a project seeking to make large bodies of pieces of visual arts explorable for scholars and critics as well as for anyone generally interested in the arts. The project focuses on making correlations and structures in particular bodies of pictures discernible and utilizable.

The number of digital images people can access is enormous and continually increasing. Specialized Web portals such as Google or Flickr are offering billions of digital images. While limiting ourselves to works of visual arts reduces these myriads significantly, they still number in the range of several million. The image archive Prometheus (, for instance, has one million digital images on display. It is obvious that no one human being is able to sift through a number of pictures on this kind of scale. These bodies of images either contain great redundancies, or one has to accept that one can only survey small segments within these bodies. In either case, there is the question as to how the pictures one is actually dealing with at a given time are selected.

The theory of art provides ways of structuring quantities of images. Thus, different styles help dividing bodies of pictures both in terms of form and content into individual categories. Similarly, image details such as the names of the artists, the pictures‘ titles, their years of origin, painting techniques, and sizes, help when categorizing large bodies of images. By means of annotations about the individual images and by selecting representative artists, adequate methods used in computer science and visualization can help making structures and correlations accessible to a user, and may enable him to find suitable samples for an exploration of a body of works in general or for a specific issue in particular. Formal details on the images (artists’ names, pictures’ titles, years of origin, painting technique, sizes) usually accompany the works’ digital copies. Assigning works of art to particular styles and choosing representative artworks, however, first requires expert analysis of these works. Assignations of this kind are basically available for the most important and best known works of art; however, this method falls short when dealing with the ever increasing total number of works of art. In addition, such assignations are most often ambiguous and depend on the issue at hand as well as on the context.

For these reasons, the ExploreArt project focuses not only on developing an interface for working with large quantities of images and for structuring and visualizing them, but also on the development of methods for the automatic analysis of images as well as on suitable mechanisms of interaction in the realm of visual analytics. This places the project within the great interdisciplinary research areas of the Digital Humanities and digital art history.