With THAT Camp quickly approaching, I have been thinking about digital humanities quite a bit. For those that don’t know, digital humanities is a cross disciplinary field that helps explore the humanities through digital exploration. That might mean anything from an online history exhibit to in depth text analysis of literary works. Across the country, Digital humanities centers are springing up to support new kinds of digital research. The reach of these centers varies widely- some are mostly history based, and in fact it seems like a great deal of digital humanities research focuses on history. Others are more broad, and include projects in many humanities disciplines: Art History, Literature, Language, Classics, etc. A big part of the discussion in the Digital Humanities is talking about new models for publishing: what does it mean to publish online? What does peer review look like for online projects? How should promotion and tenure change to account for digital work? (Some places won’t even accept digital scholarship as part of a tenure portfolio).
One humanities discipline that I rarely see addressed in digital humanities, though, is Fine Art, and the question of why has been on my mind a lot. One obvious reason I come up with is that funding agencies for arts and other humanities are different- there’s the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEH has many initiatives to support digital work (see the new Office for Digital Humanities), while the NEA- well, I don’t think it has much in the way of digital initiatives (please correct me if I am wrong.) Which is a shame, really- the NEA could go very far towards “bringing the arts to all Americans” (one of the goals stated on their “about us” page) by supporting digital work, especially if they also supported work that released into Creative Commons or some such license. The separation of funding agencies is one explanation for the divide, but are there others?
To be sure, Fine Art is different from other humanities disciplines. The measure for success is different, for one thing- it’s nice to publish a book, or have a book written about you, of course, but more weight is placed on exhibitions- where do you exhibit? Is it a solo or a group show? The important thing, of course, is the professor’s work, but it is not enough to make work an never exhibit it. I’m sure similar discussions must take place in the academic fine art world that take place in other disciplines, such as: Are there other models for tenure? What should count? What about an online exhibition?
I wonder if digital humanities in general has room for fine art. Where I work, we offer research faculty fellowships once a year to help faculty with digital projects. I don’t think any fine art faculty have applied, but I wonder what would happen if they did. Our Center is not really set up for a fine art project, and, to be honest, I’m not even sure what one would look like. But I would be interested to find out.