purpose your data with a plan

don’t let your data take control of you — give it a purpose, instead

According to some, the ideal catalogue raisonné is “just a dry list whose goal should be comprehensiveness, objectivity, and above all accuracy.”

“A catalogue raisonné is a systematic listing of all known works by an individual artist, usually presented in chronological order and accompanying details such as date, medium, dimensions, provenance, references, and sometimes exhibition history . . . most include a descriptive analysis of the work, with a discussion of relevant issues, such as attribution or condition. What distinguishes catalogues raisonnés from other studies is the inclusion of the work-by-work itemization.”[1]

One problem: dry lists are bound to be inaccurate—frequently—to contain errors and, even worse, false assumptions. And, errors and false assumptions live on, even gaining authority with time from repetition.

That’s why a digital catalogue is already an improvement over print. Most forms of research are linear by nature: a digital catalogue is non-linear—one can map information in more than three dimensions—can literally see evidence. Building sound narrative structures is a good way for the ‘weak links’ in data chains to reveal themselves. After painstaking revision of existing data and unearthing new information we are able to re-evaluate what no historian has been able to, until recently.

Take a large data set of exhibited works, for example. We might well discover

  • works that were unidentified until now; or
  • works that were misidentified; and
  • works, once misidentified, that can now have their provenances rewritten; and
  • works that were not in certain exhibitions as was once thought, etc., etc.

I have frequently recommended, for a variety reasons, that you use a narrative “morphology,” if you will, to shape your catalogue. Here are a few past posts that offer different suggestions:


[1] Michael Findlay. “The Catalogue Raisonné.” In, The Expert and the Object: Judging Fakes and False Attributions in the Visual Arts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 55.

Top of page: Fritz Lang. Metropolis, 1927, UFA, Paramount Pictures.


Roger Shepherd is the Creative Director of panOpticon.


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Roger Shepherd
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