Archives & Museum Informatics








last updated:
November 30, 2017 12:56 PM

folksonomy and the art museum: an example

The Octopus

The Museum

A standard museum caption would read:

Alvin Langdon Coburn
(British, born America, 1882–1966)
The Octopus, 1912
Platinum print; 41.8 x 31.8 cm (16 7/16 x 12 1/2 in.)
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987 (1987.1100.13)

The Curator

The art historian’s approach would be to characterize the work physically and stylistically:

Couched in the soft velvety nap of the platinum paper, composed in the languid lines of Art Nouveau, and softly focused, this photograph of New York's Madison Square employs many elements of Pictorialism at its best. However, the dizzying effect of Coburn's aerial view and his fascination with the skyscraper are distinctly and precociously modern. The blend of Pictorialist technique and fresh vision was characteristic of the transitional moment when Alfred Stieglitz, Coburn, Karl Struss, and Paul Strand began to celebrate contemporary urban experience. []

The General Public?

This is very different from what someone might say when prompted for “terms you would enter if you were trying to find this image:”

Table 1 shows the results from a pre-test at The Metropolitan Museum of Art .

  1. 20th century
  2. abstract
  3. abstraction
  4. aerial
  5. aerial topography
  6. areal perspective
  7. black and white
  8. black and white contrast
  9. cities
  10. city
  11. cityscape
  12. cityscape in winter
  13. Coldness
  14. contrasts
  15. empty park
  16. Flat Iron Building
  17. geography as art
  18. geography in art
  19. landscapes
  20. Late 19th/early 20th century
  21. Madison Square
  22. Madison Square (New York)
  23. New York
  24. New York City
  25. New York City in winter
  26. New York City winter
  27. New Yorkers
  28. NY
  29. octopus
  1. outdoors
  2. park
  3. park in winter
  4. park-goers
  5. parks
  6. paths
  7. pedestrians
  8. photography (b/w)
  9. public spaces
  10. roads
  11. shadow
  12. shadow (tower)
  13. shadows
  14. sledders
  15. Sledding
  16. sleighs
  17. snow
  18. snowscape
  19. street scene
  20. street scenes
  21. tower (shadow)
  22. trees
  23. urban
  24. urban landscapes
  25. view from a window
  26. walking
  27. Winter
  28. winter

Table 1: Fifty-seven unique terms describing Figure 1 supplied by volunteers in a pre-test at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, December 2004.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image Cataloguing Test, December 7, 2004. [2005 August 25];


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