William Drenttel | Essays

A Plea to The New York Times: Index Your Art

I'm in the middle of writing a post about the designer Stephen Doyle and his Word Art, most of which appeared in The New York Times — the Magazine, the op-ed page, Arts & Leisure, and other sections. None of this art can be found by doing a simple search on "Stephen Doyle." The same is true for the 52-designer submissions a year published in the William Safire column, "On Language." (One of these was credited to Fiona Drenttel, our daughter, who did the lettering one week. Search Fiona Drenttel: nothing.) Or, what about the endless Op-Ed art submissions by Chip Kidd, Michael Bierut, Paula Scher, to name other obvious contributors. Nothing. Why do almost none of these turn up in online searches of The New York Times archives?

The only exception are when the art is considered "editorial" and has an editorial byline. Even as I know this distinction is hughly meaningful at The New York Times, the difference between an op-ed page illustration and an "Op-Art" feature on the op-ed page is lost on readers.

As the The New York Times moves into the 21st Century, and desires to be the "paper-of-record" online, why will they not grapple with how to show and index for search the endless and incredible art — designs, illustration, artwork, photography — that they commission every day. I can't imagine how the numerous and outstanding illustrators used by Times feel. Felix Sockwell, Seymour Chwast, Marian Bantjes, John Maeda, Brian Cronin, where is your art? And the list of photographers, especially if one includes photojournalists, is so long as to almost make the question absurd, one we shouldn't have to ask.

Why does the art that adds so much to the texts published in The New York Times disappear? Why cannot Times simply index the art that it publishes, at least leaving the bibliographic tracings of the work in their newspaper? As they solve the rights problems and publish more art online, why not add "search images" as a option in advanced search? [I wonder if our foreign readers can provide advice for the Times on models that work well in other newspapers.]

What is required here is a cultural and editorial shift at the The New York Times, one that acknowledges the increasing important role of art, design and photography in a visual culture.

Posted in: Media

Comments [13]

It's a strong possibility that the reason these disappear has to do with the terms of the contract the Times has with its wire services and contributing artists and photographers. They may simply not be allowed to keep publishing it forever if they didn't create it themselves.

That said, I've been hoping they'd solve this and keep the photos and other artwork for years.

This is a terrific post - an extremely ripe topic for discussion that has at its core the very value of creative visual content. It should be noted that while the New York Times does not have a searchable index of the visual content it has utilized, they do, to their credit, commission more of this kind of content than many other news publications. That being said, perhaps this net could be cast more broadly to address how we index/search visual material digitally. While tagging images so they can be found by common search algorithms (Flickr, stock image houses, like.com) is a solution that the New York Times could, and should, currently adopt (its shameful that they don't) - it seems there are real opportunities to develop new methods of searching visual content in general. I can think of tools like Excavator as a step in the right direction, but this certainly has its limitations.
Christian Palino

Hear hear, William.

I was recently forced to throw out a large collection of these pieces that I had patiently clipped from the print editions of the paper... It would be great to have easy online access to all of this great work.
Ricardo Cordoba

This seems like a blatant Hire Me statement on your part, William. For your sake, and the sake of the NYT readers, I hope that they do.

The Times commisions and publishes far too many individual pieces of art to be considered for archival. I would imagine them having to devote an entire department devoted to shelving, filing and naming.

I would love to see this Doyle Word Art piece. He really is the master of that particular art/ craft- my favorite being the one he did of the dripping BP logo (my father has worked for BP or ARCO or one of it's affiliates for over 40 years. Right now he is in Caracas with two bodyguards on him at all times).
felix sockwell

I was going to correct the 'Stockwell' to 'Sockwell' but Felix has already chimed in, and graciously avoided pointing that out ;)

[Editor's Note: Spelling correction made. Apologies to Felix.]

The point is well taken, and already under consideration. This is a big challenge in both organizing and tagging the material, and finding the best way to display such a wide variety of sizes and orientations. Not to mention, what do you do with the beautiful art that has been commissioned to compliment the typographical layout of a piece.
Andrew Kueneman

Just asking. Do you index the comments on this site much like amazon does their commentors with "read other comments made by this poster or this IP address?"

I know it's been said before, but if Design Observer doesn't have a dedicated category for illustration, why exactly should the NYT or any other media outlet care enough to index illustration? Or photography? Or Design?

I would love to see it the Times do it though. I'm too lazy to do clip files anymore, and the paper is usually in the recycling bin when I think about clipping an intriguing image.
Mark Kaufman

ahh,so this categorizing could have something to do with something like that Seadragon and PHOTOSYNTH, which comes as a natural continuation of real life construction in a real life 3-d lab.

Apply the bump map to that object, boys, we're going for a ride in a virtual space.
N ancy M

"What is required here is a cultural and editorial shift at the The New York Times, one that acknowledges the increasing important role of art and design in a visual culture."

This is kinda grandiose, don't you think? Just because you're a graphic designer, you think that graphic design is THE most important part of any equation.

As an ecocaching nut, I think that each photo should include the GPS coordinates for the location of the photo. As a horticulturist, I think that each plant in each photo should be indexed. As a member of the Brick Appreciation Society, I think that every bit of building material appearing in every photo should be tagged.

If the art/design IS the editorial content, then it should be searchable. If it is illustration companion... That's why illustrators have portfolio sites.

And, as far as I know, the Times magazine doesn't entertain submissions for William Safire's "On Lanuage" [sic] column; they commission the illustrations and pay the illustrators well for their work. (But I DO wish they would publish what ink/paint the illustration was made with, as the president of the Ink/Paint Society of New York.)

Eric, thank you for highlighting the complexity of this issue.

I think I want to argue that the photos on the front page of The New York Times are "editorial" content. Why can one not search for photos by photographer, just as one searches by author? Or search for photos by subject, like Burma? (It was the photographs coming out of Burma which told that story, since few journalists could get in.) For The Times, it is the meta-data tagging that presents the ultimate hurdle, I suspect.

Certainly, a 1/4 page illustration on the Op-Ed page is part of the opinions being presented, or The Times wouldn't waste the ink and space. To suggest that these go uncredited in The Times database because illustrators have portfolios or have been well compensated is, well, not a very good reason. (Making comparisons to the Brick Appreciation Society is an equally specious argument and not really helpful.)

I have had many private conversations with folks at The Times since posting this, and none of them think my argument is "kinda grandiose." They want to agree, but the issue presents huge challenges (historical, legal and technical), as well as simply being something everyone would like to do against a long list of other priorities. The Times will get to this one day. I want to suggest that they should do it sooner than later.

[Thank you for the spelling correction, by the way.]
William Drenttel

ON related news...---...

What will come out of the papers presented on today at ICCV 2007 - the 11th IEEE International Conference on Computer Vision in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Shouldn't this already be noted in the observed notes?

"Using a little-known Google Labs widget, computer scientists from UC San Diego and UCLA have brought common sense to an automated image labeling system."

I am sure Microsoft will be watching. I forgot which side of the fence the NYTimes is on concerning google/micorsoft jousting.

For your sake, and the sake of the The New York Times readers, I hope that they do.
painting art

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