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40NADFAS REVIEW / WINTER 2011www.nadfas.org.ukMake your markA new project allows art enthusiasts everywhere to highlight key components within Britain's public artcollection. Simon TaitreportsThousands of amateur art loversare helping to create the largestsearchable online catalogue of oilpaintings in the world by using acomputer 'tagging' process on over100,000 publicly-owned pictures.It is the latest initiative of the PublicCatalogue Foundation (PCF), the charityfounded by Fred Hohler in 2003. Sincethen, the charity has published 34volumes of catalogues covering oilpaintings in public collections in the UK,county by county - many of them instore or in unconventional venues suchas fire stations or town halls. In the summer, with the technical helpof the BBC, the PCF launched its newwebsite, Your Paintings(www.thepcf.org.uk/your_paintings/),which by the end of 2012 aims to bethe showcase for the entire collection ofgive us important keyword informationabout people, places and events shownin paintings. "Our challenge is that basic material -title, artist etc - is not sufficient to findone's way around 200,000 paintings.What the public search for may not beas simple as 'fashion between 1800 and1825', say, but the tagger might beteaching a class of primary school kidswho wants red, vibrant paintings thatare abstract. Or something specific -Alsation dogs, top hats. If we cancategorise the pictures in this way wecan make them more easily searchable."The technique of using the enthusiasmof the general public to solve problemsonline is called 'crowd-sourcing', andthe PCF was drawn to a system perfectedby Oxford astrophysicists Arfon Smithand Chris Lintott who, in trying to mapthe galaxies, had millions of pieces ofunconnected data. In 2007 they createdthe Citizen Science Alliance, acollaboration of scientists, softwaredevelopers and educators, to puttogether an Internet sweep that wouldglean the ordinary public's assessmentof some of the material, and encouragewider interest. Within 24 hours of thelaunch of Galaxy Zoo, 70,000 newclassifications an hour were beingregistered, and in a year there were 50million from 150,000 respondents. "Then we asked, could you gobeyond astrophysics?" Dr Smith said.They adapted the programme to makeAncient Lives, helping archaeologistssifting the myriad papyri found at the siteof the ancient Egyptian city ofOxyrhynchus in the early 20th century.Launched in July this year, that, too, hasbeen a phenomenon, with more than20,000 people examining 130,000unpublished papyri fragments. The PCF is hoping for the samesuccess in sourcing insights into theenormous national collection. In additionto the Citizen Science Alliance, it hasPCF TAGGING PROJECTpublicly-owned oil paintings (around20,000 works from 3,000 collections).Already, more than 100,000 works of arthave been uploaded. Added to the site now is a 'tagger'facility, launched this autumn to schoolsand universities after it was tested usingordinary members of the public, withvisible success. The programme takesvisitors through easy preliminary steps,with the process becoming progressivelymore sophisticated as the taggersbecome more adept. They are asked toadd their own impressions - perhaps onthe making of a piece of costume or abackground building."By looking at the paintings in detail,"says Andrew Ellis, Director of the PCF,"taggers can help generate usefulsubject classifications for each work thatwouldn't occur to art historians, andBelow: ThePCF's searchableonline cataloguealready has over100,000 works ofart uploaded

CASE STUDYPainting:TorquayArtists (Display name):Wootton, FrankExecution date:1950Artists (Display dates):1911-1998Collection (Name):National RailwayMuseumThings:Sea, Yacht, Hotels, Church,Cloud, Boat, House, TownTypes:Landscape, SeascapePlace:TorquaySubjects:Natural world > Seas andcoasts; Towns and buildings >TownscapesAlthough Frank Wootton (1911-1998)was born at the seaside, the son of amerchant seaman, he made hisreputation in aviation as the RAF's official war artist in the Second WorldWar. But he was also an accomplishedlandscape and equestrian artist, and hepainted this happy view of Torquay in1950 as the artwork for a BritishRailways poster. It belongs to the National RailwayMuseum in York and has been one of the most popular among earlytaggers, which show what viewers havepicked out to learn more about, andsometimes to add their ownobservations. Following the guidelineson the website, it shows the detailedelements in terms of things such as thesea, the house on the foreshore, theyacht in the foreground. In more generalterms, people asked about Torquay itselfand the natural world to be seen inWootton's portrayal. The responses arebeing analysed and the results will beadded to the site.joined forces with the art historydepartment at Glasgow University andUK museums, galleries and art scholarsto devise the tagger idea and compilethe reference material that is bringingnon-experts into the project. The process is based on a set ofalgorithms, or procedural rules, thatkeep errors to a minimum. Alison Watt,the artist who is a trustee of the PCF,even gives a video guide (filmed in theMcLean Museum and Art Gallery inGreenock) through the tagging process."It makes you look into the painting,delve deeper," she says, "and youbecome involved in a world you neverknew existed. If everyone startstagging we'll get more and moreinformation about the paintings."Starting at the primary level, thetagger is presented with a randompicture and asked to think about whatcan be seen in it, offering examplessuch as 'mother' or 'beauty', and youwill be given a general explanation of theword you use. You move on to namingany people in the painting, then anyplaces you're put in mind of, thenNADFAS REVIEW / WINTER 201141PCF TAGGING PROJECTevents, the type of painting (abstract,landscape, portrait etc), and finally whatsubjects you see, with suggestions suchas 'fashion and costume' and 'religionand belief' to help. You then move on toa different painting and the procedurestarts again. The process becomesgradually more refined, and tags areincorporated into the information oneach painting for others to find."The project has a dual purpose," Ellissays, "to encourage viewers to spendmore time absorbing pictures, and to fillin missing information. "What's so striking is that it doesencourage you to look at paintings forlonger, and that's a wonderful pleasureand greatly satisfying. While the range ofknowledge of the paintings is wide,there are gaps in the smaller collectionsand our guess is that 10 per cent don'teven have firm artists' attributions -that's 20,000 paintings." "Tagging will also allow people tomake suggestions like the missingnames of sitters, and I think we'll get alot of response." www.thepcf.org.uk/your_paintingsLeft: The easy-to-use taggerfacility is helpingto generateuseful subjectclassifications foreach work of artPhoto: National Railway Museum © the artist's estate