22 June, 2008
Since many of us art bloggers utilize Wikipedia for our references, I thought this article would provide fair warning. The Scotsman article doesn't provide a casual link between the falling test scores of students, and the Wikipedia usage of the students, but the link seems plausible. Maybe reporters aren't what they used to be either, eh?
Catherine C. Marshall has this well written defense of the Wikipedia concept versus the dust collector style of old school encyclopedias. Some parents won't let their little redheaded girls wear red dresses. Her parents wouldn't let her use encyclopedias at the library. She reminds us to go to primary sources - you'll be the better for it.
One of the tests that I place on my own Wikipedia research is to avoid factual statements based on a Wikipedia article. I get other resources involved. Usually the beginning of further research is found in the links section at the bottom of Wiki articles.
Can you tell by the way an article in Wikipedia is written whether it bears value or not? I am more impressed with articles written with thorough content (more data) and with attributions. As a matter of fact, a grammatically well written article , with interesting content, tends to get my seal of approval.
Does the gist of the Wikipedia article agree with other articles about the subject, both in factual content and in opinion? That can reveal a big red flag if the Wikipedia is too far from the norm of broader scholarship.
Take this article on Picasso, for instance. What I notice is that it uses many links, and that the sections are very brief. Links are not attributions. The overall article is longish, but I'm not sure that I'm getting anything really meaty. Maybe it provides a starting point for those who know absolute zero about the 20th century master, but I'd be quick to find other sources here.
Now, compare the article on Leonardo da Vinci. Granted, da Vinci is the subject of more scholarship by virtue of the times he lived in and the fact that his work is a half a millenium old, rather than a half a century for Picasso. But, the point is the da Vinci article does a thorough job of covering many facets of the great master's life. After the biography comes painting, then non-painting legacy, and then it reflects upon his legendary status. Included is a list of paintings, a worthy list of footnotes and a bibliography and links round it out. There is even a pronunciation .ogg file for his name offered at the top. Looks like they missed this really nice link, though: universalleonardo.org.
Do use references in your art studies, but keep it accurate to the best of your abilities. The blogger world is reading.