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Exploring Functional Variation of Online Art Museum Texts Using Cluster Analysis


"Exploring Functional Variation of Online Art Museum Texts Using Cluster Analysis"
September 17, 2016, Iowa State University, Ames, IA

Abstract:

Writing about art in the confines of a wall label or didactic is, according to curators, one of the most critical and difficult skills to master for museum professionals. However, despite recognition that there are an array of ways to write even a simple wall text, these have not been documented or explored from a linguistic perspective. Indeed, our linguistic understanding of art museum texts overall is minimal.  Furthering our understanding of such art texts can help inform the practice and teaching of art writing.

In an effort to expand linguistic research on and understanding of such art writing, this study examines a corpus of 180 online explanatory art museum texts gathered from the online collections of nine US art museums to identify functional variation between the texts. Cluster analysis is used to group the 180 texts into functional groupings of texts, or profiles, based on their use of 21 linguistic features. The cluster analysis resulted in 5 clusters that are interpreted functionally: Cluster 1 (n=56), descriptive informational; Cluster 2 (n=30), expanded form- adding interpretation and process; Cluster 3 (n=40), contextualizing; Cluster 4 (n=8), process and interpretation with agency; and Cluster 5 (n-46), narrative focus. It is posited that this understanding of the multiple functional profiles of online explanatory art museum texts can begin to form part of the foundational knowledge necessary to develop linguistically-informed curriculum and instructional materials for training future museum professionals.



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