Beyond the Zip Drive: CD-ROM and Publication in Art History

Article excerpt

Applause is due to the publishers of the first catalogues raisonnes on CD-ROM for their prescient thinking,their investment of substantial funds that will not be offset by sales, and their persistence in completing projects fraught with extraordinary technical and legal difficulties. They have jolted all of us into the 1990s and have opened our minds to the infinite and innovative possibilities that electronic publication holds for journals, books, museum catalogues, and course packets.'

Art historians and critics cognizant of the importance of electronic publication have encountered myriad difficulties in embracing it. These problems include the procurement of appropriate hardware; the quality of color resolution (which can vary not only because of imaging standards but also because each monitor or printer may differ); potential unresolved legal issues concerning intellectual property rights; the high cost of the most scholarly software; and rapidly outmoded technology.

Once art historians have a CD-ROM in hand, other immediate problems loom: It may be a challenge not only to locate a relatively new and powerful computer with a CD-ROM drive and sound amplification, but also to determine exactly what hardware and software one needs to view the CD-ROM. And can it operate on different platforms? Luna Imaging's pioneering CD-ROM of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Collection at Taliesin West could initially operate only on DOS, not on Macintosh. Another example of the absence of cross-platform capabilities is the CD-ROM for Frederic Remington: An Electronic Catalogue Raisonne. A notice on the disk clearly states that 50 megabytes of free hard-disk space are required to install and run the program but neglects to note that the program operates only on DOS, not on Macintosh.

The problems continue. Many public libraries do not allow readers to use personal CD-ROMs on their computers. There are also the inevitable and maddening equipment disparities, not to mention the unpredictable nature of institutional technical support. The new computers for the music faculty in one major university were equipped with CD-ROM drives with sound capacity, but the computers with CD-ROM drives for art and art history faculty were not equipped with the plug-in headphones needed for sound amplification. But, then, most CDROMs for art historians are not programmed with sound. (Those produced for wider audiences, such as the CD-ROMs for the Barnes Collection and the Cezanne exhibition, published by Bill Gates's company, Corbis, do incorporate sound, however. The Cezanne CD-ROM even comes with a "voice-over" of the artist, while the Barnes Collection disk features period jazz). The most frustrating aspect of using CDROMs-because of their extensive digitized imagery-is the time it takes to search for and retrieve images. Low-resolution images are retrieved faster; "high res" ones look better. In addition, the resolution of reproductions is intentionally restricted to frustrate those wishing illegally to market pictures they download from electronic media.

Copyright issues for writers, imageproviders, and users of CD-ROMs are far from being resolved. Intentionally, the resolution of the images on the CD-ROM for Edward Hopper: A Catalogue Raisonne was suppressed, and each was imprinted with a copyright symbol to reassure owners that their works would not be pirated from readers'/users' screens for unauthorized commercial publications and other products. Licensing requirements are explicitly strict. The label on Frederic Remington: An Electronic Catalogue Raisonne places the logo "Compact Disc Interactive" next to the copyright, as well as the warning, "Neither software nor content may be copied, reproduced, downloaded or used for any purpose without the written permission of the publisher and/or the owner of the respective work of art." Thus, the software allows the user to program a selection of images and data interspersed with personal interpretative written material that can be printed, but the warning states that any such printing from the disk is illegal. …