Using an Art Museum’s Open Data

*Edits on original idea and original piece by C. Berman by Billy Tringali

As a former art history student, I’m incredibly interested in the how the study of art history can be aided by the digital humanities. More and more museums have started allowing the public to access a portion of their data. When it comes to open data, museums seem to be lagging a bit behind other cultural heritage institutions, but many are providing great open data for humanists.

For art museums, the range of data provided ranges. Some museums are going the extra mile to give a lot of their metadata to the public. Others are picking and choosing aspects of their collection, such as the Museum of Modern Art’s Exhibition and Staff Histories.

Many museums, especially those that collect modern and contemporary art, can have their hands tied by copyright laws when it comes to the data they present. A few of the data sets currently available from art museums are the Cooper Hewitt’s Collection Data, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts metadata, the Rijksmuseum API, the Tate Collection metadata, and the Getty Vocabularies.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has recently released all images of the museum’s public domain works under a Creative Commons Zero license.

More museum data can be found here!

Annotating Images with Thinglink

Thinglink is a web-based interface that allows users to annotate photos with words, links, and other media in order to create interactive experiences. It can be used in a variety of ways, but here we’ll showcase how you can use Thinglink to make static images come alive. These techniques can be used for classes or assignments, and can help students and participants contextualize images with links and information provided by their teacher. Including everything from fun facts to links to academic articles can make an image come alive, and brighten up your lesson plans.

For Thinglink’s basic package, you don’t have to pay, but you do have to create an account. Once you do, you can either go through their tutorials, or get started with your own image. I’ve chosen Diego Velázquez‘s 1656 painting Las Meninas to use as my example. Adding content is simple — just click on the area you’d like to tag and adding your content in the left side bar.


The initial set-up with no tags.


Adding my caption for the Infant Margaret Theresa of Spain.

Unfortunately, the free package doesn’t allow you much customization as far as styling goes, so you will have the big white dots as tags. That being said, in the final image, the dots will not appear unless the user has their cursor on the actual image. However, you still want to be careful not to entirely cover up the important part of your image that you’re talking about, because you won’t be able to see them when the tag appears.

These tags can include links, text — even videos and videos! In my photo, I’m including the link to an influential article about Las Meninas, and explaining why a certain part of the picture corresponds to that article.

Including links to articles with ideas from their authors allows the user to showcase a number of different views in one image.

Including links to articles with ideas from their authors allows the user to showcase a number of different views in one image.

In this section, I’m adding a YouTube video that can be played through the annotation, simply by adding the URL to the video. If you’re having trouble finding multimedia that you’d like to share, you can search in the upper right search box and Thinglink will provide you with suggestions ranging from YouTube Videos to Amazon books and everything in between.

Adding multimedia can add depth to your analysis.

Adding multimedia can add depth to your analysis.

My search for Las Meninas content.

My search for Las Meninas content.

When you’re done, simply press ‘Save Image’ and it will direct you to a permalink for your new, tagged image!

Have questions about images and how you can incorporate them into your work? Email Visual Resources and Outreach Specialist Sarah Christensen or visit the Scholarly Commons, open Monday through Friday, 9am-6pm.