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by Bob Mitchell

reviewed by Keith Farley

Bob Mitchell recently released the "1995 METAL ARTS SOURCE BOOK" CD-ROM, the culmination of a quite massive and ambitious interactive computer based project. The goal of his project was to gather participants who were willing to have up to five images of their work with appropriate descriptions and a resumé placed in a visual database that could be browsed by participants and galleries. The ultimate goal seemed to be aimed largely at releasing the resulting CD's to galleries. Each CD would, presumably, be an in-house resource from which to provide an overview of contemporary metalsmiths and their work. As an additional benefit, each participant would retain a copy of the CD for presentation of their work to clients, galleries, or even friends.

Mr. Mitchell made use of the software package, Adobe Acrobat. This permitted multiple platform use of the CD, opening up its possible use to most anyone with a reasonably powerful computer coupled with a CD-ROM drive. This software provides the presentation of multiple pages, allowing the viewer to scroll up and down or across the page and even from one page to the next. An index system makes known the general contents and establishes an effective means of general movement from within the application. One may magnify and de-magnify particular areas of the screen using different command modes. There is a search mechanism that may be activated to seek out particular types of works, coded by key words, i.e.-specific metals, processes, and so on.

The software installation was not difficult and provided easy access into the contents of the CD project. Following the introductory thoughts, licensing, etc., I made a bee line to the alphabetized index for the artists involved, curious to see what was awaiting. All visual information concerning each artist has been placed on a single page which provides a RESUME button. When activated, this takes the viewer to another page containing biographical information. Anxiously clicking on the first name, a page appeared containing three of that person's images. This is the point at which I began experiencing difficulties.

To begin with, the greater portion of each page is pre-determined by the software default to occupy the size of the monitor screen being used. The initial problem I encountered was the inability to read the text as presented on the page. Each letter appears very broken up and difficult to read, thereby making magnification necessary to cause the text to be either legible or easily read. By increasing the magnification to the level at which words might be easily read, little else of the page remains visible.

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Other issues which also bothered me was the relatively haphazard manner in which the images and their descriptions were placed on each page. The image quality also presented difficulties. Many appeared with multiple flecks of dust and/or fibers across them, even at screen size. Magnification very much intensified the problem, distracting from what was intended to be the focus of the page. In addition to the possibility of performing image cleaning processes, they might easily have been manipulated to achieve far better light/dark contrasts, color relationships, etc. The medium that these images are supposed to represent are, in reality, steeped in a tradition of "attention to detail" which the viewer cannot partake of, due to this problem. Had the images been scanned at and/or stored in a higher resolution, this problem might easily not have occurred to begin with.

There are additional resources that deal with other things. One features interview with Patricia Daunis-Dunning and Tim McCreight who talk about their lives as metalsmiths/artists and how they came to their present places in their field. There was an additional section devoted to experiments using the newly developed "metal clay" material that was developed by Mitsubishi in Japan. A few months ago there was some discussion concerning these materials in the ArtMetal Mail List. These articles are quite inspiring and informative. They present interesting and possibly important reading to anyone from the casual hobbyist to the die-hard purist metalsmith types and I highly recommend checking them out.

Still another section deals with educational resources, such as universities and metal related programs associated with each. I spent perhaps three minutes browsing this resource and I encountered what I felt were glaring errors. As only one of many erroneous instances, there was a reference to the metals program at "Colorado State University" at Boulder. In fact, Colorado State University exists in Fort Collins while the University of Colorado is in Boulder. There was once a metals program the University of Colorado, but it hasn't existed for nearly ten years. I wonder how or why it is referred to here? As I indicated before, this mis-information is but one problem I encountered. Wrong names, multiples of mis-spellings, etc., caused me to exit nearly as quickly as I entered this area.

Although I don't consider this a critical aspect with regard to the successful completion of some projects of this type, the search mechanism presents a most difficult problem in this case. Having the opportunity to conduct a search operation can, in a major way, enhance the usefulness of such an application. Key words were placed on each artist's page that are directly applicable to the person's work. As an example, we might initiate a search and input the word, "silver." One could choose any other word, a portion of a word, or even a person's name. The search is set into motion and it seeks out and stops at the first occurrence of the target word. Sequentially, the search may be continued in order to determine any or all other locations for the specified word. I tried it out a few times. My initial search took nearly two minutes before bringing me to rest at the defined target Not to be discouraged, I chose a particular person's name about mid-way through the alphabet and commenced another search. It took only a few seconds before it landed me on this person's name in the index page. Feeling much better that it had responded so quickly, I instructed it to search again for the same name. Being able to observe the page numbers as they were being examined, I established the progress at the end of four minutes. The search mechanism had not even made it half way to the target destination. This is, indeed, the slowest search engine I've ever encountered and find it to be virtually useless as a serious tool. Considering much of this project's intended use, namely as a device for galleries to locate artists whose work might meet their needs, I believe it to be of utmost importance that a more formidable search mechanism be implemented here.

What Mr. Mitchell has done here is, in my opinion, an important and necessary venture. Taking from today's technology, he has applied it toward the good of a large number of metalsmithing practitioners. In every way imaginable it stands as a massive undertaking and I commend him for his ability to bring this CD to fruition in the span of about one year. I am aware of no other instance in which someone has set out to market the goods made by metalsmiths using CD-ROM technology. Quite honestly, I don't believe the gallery situation existing in the "real world" is quite ready yet for this type of presentation. I applaud Mr. Mitchell for his pioneering spirit and feel that projects of this type will ultimately bring about these sort of changes, but only if presented in a highly sophisticated and professional manner. Without exception, interactive media projects, due simply to their very nature, must be able to immediately capture and hold the interest of the viewers or lose them. The visual languages of metalsmiths and graphic designers are quite distinct from one another. It is my considered opinion that, in creating further work of this type, a graphic designer or, preferably, a designer specializing in the development of interactive software be hired or heavily consulted. I have no question that Mr. Mitchell has established a broader understanding of the many technical and logistical problems involved with such a project while creating a foundation from which to carry on with it. And, indeed, this is his intent as the next wave of requests for participants has already landed. I feel certain that this hard-earned experience will, in the end, result in a superior product.

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© 1996 All Rights Reserved ArtMetal

Reviewer: Keith Farley
ArtMetal Editor: enrique
Last Updated: Tue, Sep 17, 1996