Viewing Texts: An Art-Centered Representation of Picasso's Writings

  1. 1. Neal Audenaert

    Texas A&M University

  2. 2. Unmil Karadkar

    Texas A&M University

  3. 3. Enrique Mallen

    Texas A&M University

  4. 4. Richard Furuta

    Texas A&M University

  5. 5. Sarah Tonner

    Texas A&M University

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The Picasso Project is a web-based, dynamic catalogue
raisonné currently containing digital images and
descriptive metadata for more than 11,000 of Picasso’s works
(Mallen, 2006). The catalogue includes commentary for many
artworks, along with notes detailing sales of the item,
exhibitions in which it has been displayed, and scholarly
literature in which it has been cited. In addition to these works,
the catalogue also provides extensive biographical information
including nearly 7,500 entries. The biography is linked to
artworks, photographs of key people, maps of the various places
Picasso lived and worked, and related documents (for example,
Picasso’s birth certificate). Tools are provided to support
side-by-side comparisons of two artworks and to build custom
subcollections from which an illustrated, color catalogue can
be automatically generated for printing. Within this context,
we have become increasingly interested in exploring Picasso’s
writings which have, until recently, been largely neglected in
favor of his more well known work in painting, sculpture, and
Picasso, first and foremost an artist, wrote texts that are
strikingly visual, both in terms of the design of the texts
themselves, as well as the decorative elements that adorn the
pages on which these texts are found. These intensely visual
writings present his editor with significant
challenges—challenges that exemplify the TEI consortium's
guidelines for when TEI should not be used (Lavagnino, 2006).
As Lavagnino points out, "to make the [TEI] edition work as
intended it is generally necessary to interpret features and not
merely reproduce their appearance." Picasso's writings do not
readily yield to a single fixed interpretation that can be
understood by an editor and transcribed in some definitive form.
Indeed, their interest stems, in part, from their complex and
indeterminate nature. Furthermore, transcription involves the
selection of relevant features of a work and production of a
digital (text plus encoding) description of them. In cases where
this digital description has little value for analysis, alternative
forms of presentation must be pursued. The two examples of
this cited by Lavagnino, "works intended as mixtures of words
and images, and very complex draft manuscripts in which the
sequence of text or inscription is difficult to make out," are both
characteristic of Picasso's writings.
Despite these difficulties, there have been a number of efforts
to produce transcriptions of Picasso’s writings as published
books (Bernadac, 1998; Michaël, 2005). This approach gives
primacy to the textual content of these works, at the expense
of losing almost all of the visual elements. To remedy this, most
editions include facsimile reproductions of illustrative samples
of his writings alongside the transcriptions. While this is helpful
in conveying a sense of the original context of these works, it
remains inadequate for many purposes. Beyond limitations of
scale (it is only feasible to include a limited number of
facsimiles), this approach treats the literal textual elements of
Picasso’s writings as
Figure 1: Two of Picasso's intensely visual texts.
primary, bringing in the images of the original, visually
constructed pages in order to illustrate and elaborate. This
approach to remediate the writings of Picasso divorces Picasso
the writer from Picasso the artist, limiting the productive
interchange of ideas that might result from a blending of literary
and art history-based approaches.
While Picasso’s writings provide a compelling example of the
limitations of a purely textual approach to representing
manuscripts and other documents, this problem is not unique. Within the digital textual studies community there is an
increasing recognition of the need to pair robust text encoding
with access to images of the original source material (Dicks,
1997; McGann, 2001). Over the past decade, a number of
projects have focused on presenting documents as images while
providing additional support via transcriptions (McGann, 1996;
Viscomi, 2002). Others have supplemented textually-oriented
systems by providing access to digitized images of the original
documents in a variety of formats (Furuta, 2001; Robinson,
1996). Image based representations of documents have placed
particular strain on hierarchical methods for representing and
encoding the features of a text and alternative formal models
have been proposed (Dekhtyar, 2006; Renear, Durand, and
Mylonas, 1993).
Within the Picasso Project, we have encountered the
problem of developing digital representations of texts
from a different perspective than that found in either print based
transcriptions or in digital textual projects—namely, we have
treated Picasso’s writings, first as works of art, and secondarily
as art that contains text. By conceiving of and contextualizing
the writings of Picasso in a form common to traditional
approaches to art (that is, the catalogue raisonné) we are able
to reap immediate benefits for understanding these texts in ways
not readily supported by the tools grounded in a textual
approach to these works. This approach to visualizing Picasso's
texts places them squarely within the context of the other works
that he was painting and thinking about at the same time. This
helps inform our understanding of both the artworks that Picasso
produced as well as his writings. For example, Figure 2 shows
a typical thumbnail view of the last fifteen items in the catalogue
for the year 1935. In the poem in the center of the last line
(OPP.35:004), Picasso refers to a small girl. In the context of
drawings made by Picasso around the same time we see
connections with Picasso’s daughter, Maya, at three and three
and a half months old (OPP.35:031 and OPP.35:032), followed
by Marie-Thérèse, Maya’s mother (OPP.35:034). Similarly,
using the comparison tool to compare a text dated 28 November
1935 with a painting made earlier that year highlights possible
connections between verbal imagery of the text and the visual
imagery of the painting. References in the text to "tongue of
fire," "stabbing," and "the eye of the bull" take on new meanings
when seen in this context.
In addition to visually contextualizing writings in relationship
to Picasso’s other works, the digital catalogue raisonné (unlike
a corresponding print version) allows us to make accessible
images of Picasso’s writings suitable for reading and analysis.
Closer examinations of the text enables scholars to consider
multiple states of a text, to see annotations, deletions, and
additions to a text, to explore Picasso’s use of color to provide
structural divisions or graphical bars rather than traditional
punctuation to divide conceptual segments of the text. These
tasks, which are difficult or impossible to perform
Figure 2: la petite fille" with drawings of Maya and Marie-Thérèse
Figure 3: Courses de taureaux and "lengua de fuego"
using transcriptions alone, are encouraged by the online
presentation. To further enable access to the textual component
of these works, we are initially adding transcriptions of these
texts to the biographical section of the catalogue. Since the
online catalogue presents the biographical text in parallel with
the artworks, this technique permits easy cross-referencing
between the transcriptions and images while we investigate
more sophisticated means for encoding and presenting the
content of these writings.
Implications and Future Work
Framing our approach to Picasso’s writings in terms of
artworks that contain text, encourages us to look for text
in artworks in general. Like many other artists of his day,
Picasso began incorporating words into his artworks in a variety
of ways and forms, notably in the newspaper clippings pasted into his papiers-collés. These works reinforce our conviction
that we need develop tools for working with text in art grounded
to the needs of the artistic disciplines rather than those of the
traditional textual studies community.
Picasso's unique works offer fertile ground for exploring the
techniques and tools that can be applied to visually constructed
texts but much work is needed—both in terms of understanding
the needs of the scholars and other readers interested in
Picasso’s writings as well as formulating new models for
representing and working with these texts in a digital
environment. We are currently investigating the potential for
techniques based in spatial hypertext research for interpreting
and presenting these texts. In spatial hypertext, Figure 3:
Courses de taureaux and "lengua de fuego" nodes of information
that are connected by visual elements (for example, text style,
2-D position, color) rather than by explicit links (Shipman,
1999). Our current efforts are focused in understanding how
the texts might be sub-divided into their constituent parts and
manipulated in a 2-D space in ways that enhance understanding.
We are also looking at how formal relationships between these
parts can be incrementally added as an expression of an
editor/reader's evolving understanding. In addition to purely
image based approaches, we are interested in studying methods
of encoding the textual content of Picasso's works to support
content based retrieval, enable automatic processing, and
facilitate reading.
By translating a traditional print-based approach for working
with a large corpus of artworks, the catalogue raisonné, into a
digital format, we increase the level of support provided for
three scholarly primitives (Unsworth, 2000): comparing (either
two works side by side, or many works in a thumbnail view),
sampling select artworks from the collection as a whole, and
representing the artworks not merely as thumbnails, but also
with higher resolution images. With these enhancements, the
digital catalogue raisonné, though not its printed counter-part,
provides a natural medium for presenting the writings of
Picasso. In this context, his writings are presented against the
backdrop of other artworks while enabling the textual elements
of these artworks to be read and carefully studied as texts. In
addition to the immediate benefits that this approach brings in
terms of accessing Picasso’s writings, it also offers a new
paradigm for working with these texts that suggests several
promising directions for further work.
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Conference Info


ADHO - 2007

Hosted at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, United States

June 2, 2007 - June 8, 2007

106 works by 213 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (2)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None