Technological Revolutions and Art History: A Four-Part Symposium

Thursday, October 15, 2020, 1:00–3:00 p.m. EDT
Thursday, November 12, 2020, 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. EST
Thursday, January 14, 2021, 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. EST
Thursday, March 11, 2021, 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. EST

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Historically, science and the humanities were not considered two discrete disciplines: the separation of these two branches of knowledge developed only in the modern era.Illustration from Athanasius Kircher's “Ars magna lucis et umbrae” of 1646. For art historians in the twenty-first century, this divide is only widening as some scholars embrace technological advances while others remain unconvinced that computational techniques and tools can bring meaningful changes to the field. Like the previous symposium, "Searching Through Seeing: Optimizing Computer Vision Technology for the Arts," hosted by the Library in 2018, this four-part event seeks to encourage art historians to connect with the computer sciences by exploring the role that technology has played in the development of the discipline of art history and providing an opportunity for conversation and the exchange of ideas.

Program: Day one

Abstracts: Day one

The first day of the symposium featured guests from leading American universities who examined how science and technology have been historically linked to art history, thus providing participants with a background for an exciting discussion of the current status of digital art history (DAH). Speakers included Professors Jessica Riskin of Stanford University, Alison Langmead of the University of Pittsburgh, Tianna Uchacz of Texas A&M University, and Park Doing and C. Richard Johnson Jr. of Cornell University.

Day Two (November 12, 2020)
11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. EST

Program: Day Two

Abstracts: Day Two

Presentations in the second session of the symposium will examine how the invention of photography impacted the study of art and how current technological breakthroughs have the potential to promote new developments in the field of art history.

Day Three (January 14, 2021)
11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. EST

Program: Day Three

Abstracts: Day Three

Presentations in the third session of the symposium will explore the ethics of digitization and how issues regarding access and discoverability impact research in art history. Speakers will critically examine how technologies, from 3D modelling to artificial intelligence, have the potential to expand audience engagement with cultural heritage institutions and their collections yet also, ironically, limit understanding and community connection by omitting context, introducing bias and legal restrictions, and problematizing concepts of ownership and authenticity.

Day Four (March 11, 2021)
11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. EST

Program: Day Four

Presentations in the final day of the symposium will highlight recent computational art history projects and other initiatives that expand access to and discoverability of the digitized collections of a variety of cultural heritage sites and institutions.

Past Symposia

Searching Through Seeing: Optimizing Computer Vision Technology for the Arts

Thursday, April 12, 2018, 2:00–6:30 p.m.
Friday, April 13, 2018, 9:00–6:15 p.m.

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In recent years, the potential uses of computer vision technology have attracted widespread attention. From vision-tech operated cameras that direct self-driving cars to facial recognition software used in social media, what it means to see has taken on renewed significance in the age of artificial intelligence. Black-and-white photograph of a woman looking at two screens.Oddly, however, computer vision has not yet reached its full potential for art historians. Image recognition software in particular has the potential to be a powerful tool for art history, one that we have a social responsibility not only to guide in its ever-growing applications but also to direct in its use.

This two-day symposium was an initiative to harness existing tools in computer vision science for art-historical research and advise their development. To this end, the symposium brought together professionals from the fields of computer science and art history to identify the precise technological needs for expanding image-based searching as a tool and a methodology with the ultimate aim of building a usable image-search platform with multiple applications in the arts.

The first afternoon of the symposium featured a series of lectures by major thinkers in machine learning and artificial intelligence and was open to the public. The second day convened art historians, curators, computer scientists, software engineers, business leaders in the tech sector, and funders to conceptualize new tools for the study of art. The day’s program began with lightning rounds of recent projects and an in-depth discussion of the potential of these technologies to enhance art-historical scholarship. The afternoon was devoted to developing new image-search platforms and forging new collaborations.

Program: Day one Program: Day two

Abstracts: Day one Abstracts: Day two

Thursday afternoon and Friday morning sessions were live-streamed and are available on The Frick Collection website.

The Frick Art Reference Library would like to thank ARTORY LLC and the HASSO PLATTNER INSTITUTE for their sponsorship of this event.

For more information contact:

Image credits: Athanasius Kircher, Ars magna lucis et umbrae (The Great Art of Light and Shadow), Rome, 1646

Metropolitan Museum of Art (