1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 “To take Montaigne’s fine image, these are the frieze of grotesques around an unpainted portrait, or, in the spirit of the pseudo-Platonic letter, the counterfeit of a book which cannot be written.” Giorgio Agamben, 1978. [i]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 1 water book

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 [if the above animated GIF doesn’t move, click on it]

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Or

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0  “http://i.imgur.com/b534n.gif[ii]

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Brent Ashley Twitter image-cropped

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Screenshot of tweet by Brent Ashley from 18th September 2012. (Creative Commons licensed image courtesy of Charlotte Frost, 2012) [iii]

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 ***

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 What is art history made of and why does it matter? In her book, Writing Machines, literature and media theorist N. Katherine Hayles argues that unlike art historians, scholars of literature have been largely blind to the physical qualities of the art form they analyse. She states:

[…] within the humanities and especially in literary studies, there has traditionally been a sharp line between representation and the technologies producing them. Whereas art history has long been attentive to the material production of that object, literary studies has generally been content to treat fictional and narrative worlds as if they were entirely products of the imagination.[iv]

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 What is problematic about this observation is that it sets up a false distinction. While art historians regularly pay a great deal of attention to the various properties of an artist’s tools and media, we too are often oblivious to literary materiality. That is not to say that objects like illuminated manuscripts or artists books are absent from the canon of art history (Johanna Drucker has written an excellent history of artists books, for example[v]). Rather it is to suggest that there are some important senses in which art historians disregard the materiality of the literature of the arts. To put this another way, while art history might privilege an understanding of paint on canvas that contrasts strongly with literary studies’ scant analyses of ink on paper, both disciplines (and countless others besides) are guilty of seldom considering the physical nature of their own practice and products.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Though we hold them in our hands and display them on our bookshelves, it is not, for example, books we see, but their narrative-worlds and knowledge-scapes. And now, these all-but-invisible objects are mutating in our hands and minds too and yet still we look elsewhere. As the book becomes an eBook or the paper page a webpage, the mental and physical fabric of reading – and, therefore, scholarship – is changing. What we are charged with then, is understanding the extent to which archival materiality co-ordinates our ideas and how digital technology is impacting knowledge today. Here, I will specifically consider how this affects art history. I shall think about how the evolution of the book shows us not just what art history has been made of thus far, and how this has contributed to the way we think about art, but what art history might be made of in the future.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Shapeways screen grab


15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Despite letting art historians off the self-reflexive hook a little too easily, Hayles’ Writing Machines presents some very useful ways of considering discursive materiality[vi]. This is because her book both argues for and, in its experimental format indeed embodies, an argument for media-specific analyses of literature. Hayles does not just explain but also demonstrates the relation between archival form and content by leading us through a more experimental reading experience. In this way, she begins to show how a multi-modal investigation of electronic literature can help us understand the hidden structures of a discipline as a whole, as well as the current moment of literary and indeed disciplinary flux. What I offer here takes Hayles’ art history-inspired and media-aware approach[vii] and turns it back onto art history through a range of theories, objects and practices that allow me to openly investigate the media-specificity of this discipline.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 As a result, this article project is distinctly multi-modal. At its broadest, it is comprised of four over-lapping and mutually-nurturing parts. First, there is Arts Future Book[viii]. This is the overarching research project and experimental academic book series I established (with the academic press Gylphi, in 2010) to publish new forms of art history and criticism. Working on the series with academic and industry project partners and from various international institutions including HUMlab (Umeå University, Sweden) and the Center for 21st Century Studies (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA) has provided me with the unique opportunity of staging a practice-based investigation into the future of art history books. Second, there is the CommentPress-supported text you are reading right now, which offers various routes through an understanding of art history’s media. Third, where Arts Future Book as project/book series takes multiple forms to research and present the nature of art contextual literature in post-digital flux, this article itself takes a number of forms. More than just deliberately web-based/not published in print – a simple if important step in upgrading the art history archive – it is accompanied by a specific collaborative component: an artwork produced with artist Rob Myers, entitled #arthistory[ix]. This artwork offers the illustrations expected within a work of art historical writing, a case study in and alternate way through a discussion of art history’s materialities, and is also a playful discussion of art historical methods like the orchestration of art taxonomies. Fourth, this article project is being published freely online where I am inviting my peers to subject it to a form of public or open peer review, therefore uncovering more of the writing and publishing process itself[x]. In these ways I have tried to make this as comprehensive and transparent an investigation into the nature of art historical media as possible and, in doing so, make a strong case for developing a more media-aware art historical scholarship.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 [i] Giorgio Agamben, Infancy and History: Essays on the Destruction of Experience, trans. Liz Heron (London:  Verso, 1993), 3.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 [iii] Screenshot of tweet by Brent Ashley from 18th September 2012, https://twitter.com/brentashley/status/248218773683834881

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 [iv] N. Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002), 19.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 [v] Johanna Drucker, The Century of Artists Books (New York: Granary Books, 2004).

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 [vi] N. Katherine Hayles, Writing Machines (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002).

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 [ix] #arthistory, Charlotte Frost and Rob Myers, 2012: http://hasharthistory.net/

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 [x] A fifth component of this project could be the resource I established in 2010 called PhD2Published. In 2010 I set up the first open-access resource dedicated to helping early-career academics get published. As is more the case with the UK PhD system, I had received relatively little advice on how to publish articles or books. I also felt academic publishing was an area still steeped in mystery, as few academics with book contracts even knew why one book proposal had been accepted while another was rejected. Having worked with a number of art organisations who promote collaboration, I knew that an open and participative model would be of value so I based the site on a WordPress blog that would contain a variety of differently researched and formatted bulletins on everything relating to academic publishing and career progression.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Though I was responsible for the site in the beginning, it was my intention to not only get an number of other contributors on board but – if I myself attained a certain degree of publishing success – to offer the site to new managing editors to run themselves. I envisaged this managing editors scheme as a second tier of what has been described variously as informal or even ‘ferral’ education. Among the benefits of running the site were that the editor could gain valuable visibility in an over-crowded job market, regularly interact with academic publishers both networking with prospective editors and developing their knowledge of writing and the publishing industry and get quick and honest answers about how best to broadcast their own research.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 On top of this, in regularly writing for the website and other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter – and possibly even video blogging – site editors would be gaining hands-on experience of how to communicate across a range of platforms. In addition to all this, from the start, I have kept files on how PhD2Published operates which I give Managing Editors complete access to. This means that not only does a Managing Editor come on board and learn how to get published by expanding their knowledge of publishing and networking with prospective publishers. Not only do they learn how to use and write for a range of social media. But they also learn how to set up and run a resource dedicated to public scholarship. In a sense then, PhD2Published is like its own own little publishing laboratory.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Having been involved with arts organisations such as Furtherfield and Rhizome and watched and written about email-based art discussion lists as well as critiqued art in a number of non-traditional (read: print) locations already, I was only too aware of how important it was to be able to communicate across a range of media. I was convinced that this type of holistic and hands-on learning would help provide a faster and more in-depth knowledge of academic communication standards and even allow us to start to rethink what academic learning and publishing might be. PhD2Published, http://www.phd2published.com

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