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Benezit: Letter from the Editor

Dear readers,

It’s hard to believe a year has passed since I wrote my first editor’s letter. Since the online launch of the Benezit Dictionary of Artists, we have added and revised hundreds of biographies and initiated some other exciting improvements.

One of these is the addition of thematic guides – brief essays on various art historical topics enriched with links and images that we hope will serve as useful introductions to specialized subjects. We are also adding new signature images to entries through a partnership with ArtistsSignatures.com, as well as archival photographs and other images of artists from the Frick Art Reference Library. Conscious that Benezit is now a web-based publication, we have been incorporating into entries’ biographies links to free external websites that are of research value. Each of these initiatives illustrates the possibilities available by publishing this resource online.

I am often asked by our users how we select which auction records to include. Normally we choose the highest sales in a given year and a selection of more typical prices for a range of objects in the artist’s body of work, as well as instances when a work previously listed comes up for sale again. It is interesting to note the more extensive media employed by post-war artists that goes way beyond the traditional ‘oil on canvas’.

Readers also want to know how we select new subjects for the dictionary. We have our own programme of updates and revisions, which is largely geography or medium driven. In addition we are often solicited by artists or their descendants, and sometimes researchers who have alerted us to a favorite that is missing from Benezit. In considering these suggestions, we look at whether the artist’s work is well represented in the auction record; whether there has been a retrospective exhibition at a major, reputable museum or gallery; the strength of the bibliographical profile; and whether the artist has won a major award. We realize that artists working in media other than painting, sculpture, drawing, and prints are likely to have a different profile and we make allowances for this. In each case, decisions are based on the aim of improving the comprehensiveness of coverage.

The monumental task of creating and maintaining an encyclopedic source of artists’ biographies brings to mind the recent launch of the website Art.sy. The product of the Art Genome Project, which attempts to categorize individual works of art with a number of taxonomic descriptors, or ‘genes’, Art.sy’s algorithm makes connections between artworks, concepts, and artists, with the aim of allowing both experts and amateurs to discover new works of art based on their stated tastes. Benezit has its own fairly traditional taxonomy (see ‘refine by category’); it is interesting to see Art.sy experiment with such idiosyncratic categories as ‘translucent layers’ or ‘political minimalism’. It is constrained, however, by the works made available by participating institutions, and therefore the source will require filling in gaps and constant maintenance in order to be comprehensive. I will be watching to see what changes come to Art.sy and how these types of freely available resources impact art research.

In its goals of inspiring and informing a broad audience and maintaining a comprehensive source, Art.sy faces challenges that, as an art librarian and Advisory Editor of Benezit, I can certainly sympathize with. Nonetheless, I look forward to tackling them in the coming months as we continue developing plans for Benezit Online.

Stephen Bury
Andrew W. Mellon Chief Librarian
Frick Art Reference Library
October 2012


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