Arts, Humanities, and Complex Networks

Collectivizing the Barr Model

by Dieter Merkl, Doron Goldfarb, Josef Froschauer, Martin Weingartner, Max Arends


When Alfred Barr designed his famous diagram for the MoMA Cubism & Abstract Art exhibition of 1936, he drew up upon his extensive art historical knowledge in order to visualize the evolution of modern art based on the relationships between various modern art movements. Relatively few featured artist names reflect a shift of perception of the developments of the arts away from interactions between individual geniuses to interactions between art collectives. The choice of these “isms” was, however, highly selective: Barr left out a number of movements that did not fit into his evolutionary model (Astrit Schmidt- Burkhardt: Stammbäume der Kunst. Zur Genealogie der Avantgarde, Berlin: Akademie Verlag 2005). Thus, his diagram was highly acclaimed for its educational value, but also criticized for its selective point of view. The recent growth in availability of publicly available digital resources dedicated to art history makes it possible to address such criticism by again shifting the focus: Away from the interpretation of cultural developments through individuals to their collective interpretation through a large group of people. One source of collectively accumulated art historical knowledge is Wikipedia. Although, of course, not comparable to the work of dedicated scholars, it has been shown that this collectively edited encyclopedia features accurate factual information to a high degree. Based on previous work (Doron Goldfarb et al.: Art History on Wikipedia, a Macroscopic Observation, in Proc. WebSci, 2012), we therefore construct a bipartite network of links between Wikipedia articles about artists and about art movements. The underlying idea is that each movement is comprised of its members and that ties between movements are based on individuals acting as bridges between them. The resulting network shows the relationships between art movements as present on Wikipedia, connected by the many individuals who determined their historical evolution and based on the contributions by the many individuals who participated in the creation of this collective knowledgebase.