A Map by Any Other Name

Medieval art curator Melanie Holcomb

Everyone is getting in on the act. As more articles are written on the power of digital media, more individuals, companies and institutions are realizing they need to take advantage of the possibilities. A perfect example is the Metropolitan Museum‘s digital “Connections“. It’s a wonderful new online feature linked to the museum’s main site. It is a weekly digest, updated every Wednesday, of four (this week – some weeks will have less) minute episodes examining a theme by a museum staff member presented by the combination of an audio narration and accompanying slide show of the works of art.

The concept is terrific and deceptively simple. Its purpose is to show how different time periods and mediums can work together to present a mini thesis. Thomas Campbell, Director of the Met, explains it. “Here, as works of art are tied together—across time, cultures, and disciplines—we hear our staff’s individual responses to these objects, and by extension, introduce new ways to travel through and understand the Met’s incredible riches.”

Walker Evans 1938

It may not seem like a big deal but it is a major step, in a very accessible format, toward teaching people how to look and more importantly see – to make connections. And its ancillary, more subliminal, higher level objective is teaching how to think – how to broaden one’s perspective, specifically when looking at art.

Navigational chart, 19th-early 20th century, Marshallese people, Marshall Islands, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of the Estate of Kay Sage Tanguy, 1963

When I was in college, interdisciplinary courses were just starting to be offered – comp lit was a relatively new concentration. Now, it’s standard fare, as is creating individualized interdisciplinary majors. But even young people don’t necessarily carry over that concept when they visit a museum. This is intended to soften the blow, to make looking and learning about art and how it relates to the world, less intimidating and more entertaining – and it succeeds.

Astrolabe, Yemen, 1291, Pierced and engraved brass, bequest of Edward C; Moore, 1891

There are two suggestions I have for the museum at this point. Firstly, for whatever reason, the site is rather slow to load. And secondly, the presentation could be a bit more lively visually. You only see a photo of the staff member (as pictured above) with a voice over. It would be so much more inviting if we were to journey through the museum with them, literally connecting the different departments and objects – more like a virtual visit. But of course that would have been much more complicated and expensive. So as a first step, I applaud them.

The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise, 1445, Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia), Robert Lehman Collection 1975

I watched the episode “Maps,” wherein Medieval art curator Melanie Holcomb explains “how maps help her make sense of the world.” She is an animated entertaining speaker and I found her topic fascinating. She does move quickly, however, trying to cover quite a bit of ground in her short clip. The art zips by and I found myself having to pause the video to really get a good look.  As she was talking and I was watching the slides, I immediately began to make other mental connections of my own – considering other articles and pictures I’d seen that I could have tied in with this theme.  All the artwork featured here is from that episode – can you make the connections?

View of London from Greenwich, 1825, Joseph Mallord William Turner, Bequest of Alexandrine Sinsheimer, 1958

I highly recommend taking a short visit to the site. This Wednesday will be a perfect introduction – there will be two episodes featuring Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton talking about the many meanings of the color white and Educator Aimee Dixon describing the depth of meaning found in the color black. The Museum invites audiences to engage further with the works of art and share their responses to the episodes through questions posted on the Facebook page, so if you’re game you can check that out as well. Have fun!!

42 thoughts on “A Map by Any Other Name

  1. Thanks for the recommendation. I haven’t been to the Met in way too long and am bummed that I won’t have time when we visit in February. The Connections series is pretty cool and I just watched a few episodes (yeah the interface is basic and takes forever to load.)

  2. wonderful. connections are so important.
    my daughter is studying this in english, in 6th grade.
    often the connections are right in front of us, but take longer to see.
    love today’s “small things” on the site.

  3. This is great! What a wonderful initiative on the museum’s part. Just listed to Small Things and loved it. It’s always amazing what you can learn on the internet :) Looking forward to the Costume Institute episodes…thanks for the introduction!

    xo Kelly

    • Hi Kelly – Isn’t it a great idea?! I love that they’re doing these episodes – and such short time sensitive bites that we can all listen to in between posting!!

  4. I love this concept. It’s my way of getting a little NYC in LA. I am forwarding this to my dad’s first cousin who lives in upstate New York. She recently retired as a librarian and would love this. I look forward to exploring one of these. I listen to Pod Casts all the time on topics I like but never tried this. Interesting post, thank you.

    • Hi Ann – I haven’t gotten in to Pod Casts yet – will have to investigate that option! And you can now get your dose of a NY museum visit

  5. Hi Quintessence…
    really good post…
    it’s important that people understand art and how it IS part of our daily lives and not just a thing on a wall…this initiative by the Met will hopefully bridge some connections….
    have a great day..

    • Hi Maureen – Thanks – yes, I think the Met is filling a little void here – hopefully people will get it.

  6. I will definitely check this out. As an art history student (way back then) one could not fail to see the activities of the time reflected in the art of the time. I am so happy to know The Met has stepped up and introduced this new feature. What a happening place they are! xx’s

    • Hi Marsha – I was also an art history major as I think many of us in this corner of the blogosphere are. So glad to see the Met taking advantage technology to spread the word!

    • afpt – Thanks – I think you’ll enjoy it – and the episodes are in very manageable small chunks – perfect for a student on a time budget!

  7. So happy to know about this! This coming weekend we are going to stay overnight in the city with our boys. Since they’ve been to The Met, we plan on taking them to MOMA —- exposing young minds to great art!

    Stay warm! Elizabeth

    • PPT – You’re so terrific about exposing your boys to art – it will most definitely make a difference in the long run – sounds like a fun outing!!

  8. I love how far we’ve come in the technology era; the digital age is alive and certainly dynamic. Thanks for the intro-i’ll be sure to visit the site. Hope you’re off to a great week! XX

    • Hi Stacy – Yes, I love how technology can be used to combine history, art and the modern world!

    • Hi Diana – I think you’ll enjoy – the little episodes are bite size – quick and easy to watch – and inspiring to look around the site to learn more!

    • Buzz – What a FABULOUS idea – and they could incorporate games of some sort to make it even more interesting and fun!!

  9. I really enjoyed this post- How informative- I think it is such a great concept to share art ‘on the go’ sure beats playing Anger Birds- and it’s nice that afterwards you feel as though you have shared an intimate coffee date with a friend- I will add this to my bookmark!

    • Hi Ren – So glad you liked this – I thought it was such a great concept as well – even just to see some new pieces you haven’t seen or see things in a new perspective.

  10. Hello & thanks for stopping by….WOW am I happy to have found your blog! I’m more of a Louvre gal than the Met, though I lived in NYC for 13 years. I will go check out the link you gave here; at the risk of grossly generalizing, I think Americans tend to think of Art History as very compartamentalized by period; I love the idea of rounding it all out, and that the Met is using technology to advantage. I’m off to check out your older posts! all best, A

    • Hi Andrea – I don’t think your generalization is completely off base at all – and I think it has something to do with the fact that we don’t live with history the same way the French or other cultures do – it’s much more ingrained in your every day life so the connections easier to forge. So glad you stopped by.

  11. I am speechless, the intimacy and beauty of the Mother’s Pearls necklace in the Small Things Collective is the most amazing piece of adornment I have ever seen.

    I just posted the other day, how I collected little animals when I was young, hey, guess I still do. I a trip to The Met is due.

    Thanks for a great post.

    • Hi Abby – I will have to check out your post about the animal collection – my sister also had a menagerie of small porcelain animals that she kept in a vitrine. Many others have seemed to respond especially favorably to the Small Things episode as well.

  12. That was beyond cool. What a wonderful idea! Bravo to the Met! I loved the small things collection. I think I would be drawn to those pieces as well. So much to explore! Since I moved from NY I’ve been missing the museums terribly, so thank you for sharing this!


    • HH – Isn’t it just such a fabulous idea? I give the museum great kudos for keeping up with the times in such an appropriate and effective way.

  13. My computer is doing some crazy pop up blocking so I can’t link over, will go over there manually after this. Ha, manually as if I have to really do any “manual” work to get there. I love maps, can’t wait to watch it. However do you find such new and interesting things? As I said, haven’t seen it yet but just from what I read, sounds like a good thing to show in schools.

    • Hi Jeanette – You’ll love it!! It’s so quick and fun – like a little breeze of antiquity sweeping by.

  14. when i lived in england, there was the most amazing BBC program called ‘the mapmakers’ and it had a contemporary cartographer talking about and walking the routes of old maps. it was just the most incredible show. too bad i can’t find it on youtube. :-(

    • PD – Sounds FABULOUS! I actually considered studying cartography. I’ll poke around as well. Thanks for stopping by.

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