Unique Features of ARAS Online: www.aras.org
ARAS contains information that is designed to be used by people from all walks of life, who are interested in art, symbolism and mythology: painters, sculptors, filmmakers, theatre set designers, book cover designers, book and magazine illustrators, students from art or design schools or from university departments of psychology, classics, humanities, philosophy, history, art history, anthropology or literature, writers, lecturers, analytical psychologists and psychotherapists and people interested in symbolism and mythology in general.
Where for many years the archive was accessible only by personal visit to one of the three locations: New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the digitization of the archive has made it accessible to anyone with a computer connected through a web browser to the Internet. ARAS online is built over a powerful search engine accessible through an intuitive user interface, and aided by reference features such as the ARAS cultural timeline. This timeline shows the selected images placed in historical time, and a click on the "live" marker for a particular image opens that image and its descriptive content.
ARAS is one of several online annotated art image databases such as ARTstor Charter Collection with nearly 500,000 images;48 Grove Art Online with 130,000 images,49 including 100,000 images from the Bridgeman Art Library50 (also distributed by Getty Images51); and the Index of Christian Art at Princeton University, with over 60,000 images.52 Google Images while free to all contains well over 2 billion images,53 but it lacks organization, documentation and quality assurance-features that justify the costs of subscription-based resources. In addition, ARAS, unlike other subscription or gratis databases, provides focused selection and classification according to archetypal content and psychological meaning on a given subject.
This does not mean, however, that an ARAS user should not be interested in other image databases. A Google Image Search results in 1,750,000 images of dragons54 and 17,400 images of black horses,55 where the similar number for ARAS is 529 and 10, respectively. None of the Google hits are filtered, however, so a search on dragons or horses includes anything where that word is connected to the image name or description regardless of the representation. Nevertheless, the researcher interested in a wide selection of images for graphic illustration of an archetypal symbol may well combine a Google Image search or search of other image archive with an ARAS search once the archetypal content or psychological meaning has been discovered in ARAS.
Sometimes, a particular image has such rich detail that a user will want to see more visual detail. ARAS includes a zoom-in feature and also allows the user to print out images, copy them into presentation software such as PowerPoint and order 35mm slides (all subject to copyright law regulations for non-commercial personal or educational use).
In 1995 the then-Director of the Index of Christian Art at Princeton University, Brendan Cassidy, commented in this journal on the College Art Association's Art Information Task Force (AITF) project of establishing standards for describing objects and images in art databases. Stating that the AITF Categories for the Description of Works of Art will prove an invaluable guide for those whose responsibility it is to systematize information about works of art, he also warned that each institution, each project will need to decide what it is it wants to achieve with its database and the kinds of query to which it is likely to be called upon to respond. He stated that if the database is to comprise an iconographic component and if it is to include descriptions of works of art and the varying interpretations they have attracted, the problems of controlled language and nomenclature [italics added] are likely to prove particularly intractable.56
The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism has been fortunate in having had a foundation for a controlled language and nomenclature created by some of the best thinkers in symbolic meaning and myth, their work embracing all epochs, cultures and civilizations, across the diverse disciplines of history of religions, history of art, anthropology, psychology, sociology, and archaeology. This is a most gratifying result from the unusual initiative of Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn, a visionary woman who more than eighty years ago by her inner spirit and perseverance provided the opportunity for outstanding scholars to share ideas "on the edge" each year at the Eranos conferences and to expand our collective understanding of mind, myths and symbols.