Dissecting the Canon: Visual Subject Co-Popularity Networks in Art Research

author: Maximilian Schich, CCNR - BarabásiLab, Physics Department, Northeastern University
published: Oct. 21, 2008,   recorded: August 2008,   views: 4842


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In Art History and Archaeology scholars use documents to study objects together with their meaning, related people, locations, times and events. Within this effort Art History has been defined as the 'history of all man-made things' (Kubler, 1962), which implies a focus on the dynamics of interrelated objects – the growth of what can be seen as the 'coral reef of culture' (Gombrich, 1979).

An important question in this domain is the definition or emergence of canon, i.e. the set of most popular objects, which everybody knows or supposedly should know in a given area – such as Da Vinci’s 'Mona Lisa' and Botticelli‘s 'Venus' in painting or the 'Colosseum' and the 'Pantheon' in architecture.

In our talk we show that canons are identical with the most popular items over a distribution of popularity, which happens to be highly heterogeneous. As a consequence we can explore the meaning of canon by looking at the co-popularity of visual objects in general, no matter if the objects belong to the head or the tail of the popularity distribution.

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