Exploring Rembrandt

You Got Your Chocolate in My Peanut Butter

Exploring Rembrandt

When Artstor and ITHAKA announced earlier this year that they were joining forces, James Shulman sent this tweet:

@artstor to become part of the ITHAKA/@jstor team. Will be like chocolate & peanut butter. https://t.co/KaN3BPFpNj
— jamesshulman (@jamesshulman) January 28, 2016

If you’re a child of the seventies and eighties like me, this calls to mind a series of ads for peanut butter cups. I could describe the basic plot, but it’s much more fun to watch one. Here, enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/embed/O7oD_oX-Gio.

Pretty glorious, right?

The thing is, think a bit about the gap between the a-ha moment shown in the ad – you got your chocolate in my peanut butter! – and the actual product being advertised. That gap – why a “cup?” why that particular shape and size? etc. – is the gap faced by ITHAKA and Artstor right now. We believe strongly that combining these two organizations will lead to great things, and we have any number of ideas to consider, but how do we figure out which ones will be best for the us and the community? Well, you’re on the JSTOR Labs blog, so you’ve probably guessed the answer already: by talking to users. By experimenting. By partnering. By doing.

I’m pleased to introduce Exploring Rembrandt, a proof of concept brought to you by JSTOR Labs and Artstor Labs. With it, students can start at five canonical Rembrandt paintings and discover the scholarship in JSTOR about that painting in way that’s easier and more powerful than just typing in “Rembrandt AND ‘Night Watch’” into a JSTOR or Google search.

When we interviewed art history teachers at the start of this project, they described the challenges in going from the works of art to scholarship about that art: it can be overwhelming, especially for undergrads. It can be difficult to move across disciplines, or to excite non-majors, despite the multidisciplinary aspect of art history. When we designed and developed the site together during a one-week flash-build with the Artstor Labs team, we tried to address these challenges.

Exploring Rembrandt, I’m sure, isn’t perfect – I’d wager that peanut butter cups weren’t designed perfectly the first time around either. It’s the first in a series of experiments exploring how to combine the forces and flavors of Artstor and ITHAKA. We’re eager to hear from you – #artstorjstormashup – whether we were successful, and what experiments you’d like to see next!

If there’s ever a data science project to quantify how “Eighties” something is, which is a completely great idea and someone should do it if they haven’t already, this ad -- with the hair and the outfits, and, yes, the Walkmen -- would peg the needle. Also, I kinda love that someone’s just walking down the street jamming to their tunes carrying an open jar of peanut butter. That is totally something that people do. Just like if my food accidentally gets smothered by your food, my first reaction is to eat it.