Digital skills as an approach to the past (October-December 2015)

Digital creative skills as a means of exploring the arts

Workshops at picture galleries now often take the form of digital workshops, where digital creative skills are used as a tool of discovery of the arts past and present.

Digital workshops

  • Studies of historical optical tools interact with present-day digital media, as in the National Gallery workshop ‘Looking machines: cameras before photography’, described with the advice ‘to get the most out of the practical briefs, please bring a mobile device (smart phone or tablet) with a camera and internet access. Images to accompany these sessions will be posted in advance on a dedicated page.’

Workshops by practising digital artists are run as a means of artistic discovery:    ‘finding out more about the Gallery’s great collection of paintings using your phone or tablet as a tool of discovery’

  • The National Gallery has produced a book combined with an app, Susie Hodge’s The Children’s Interactive Story of Art (London : Carlton Books, 2015) with the Art Gallery app which can be downloaded on a mobile device ; before you start each session on the mobile, you need to flash the last page of the book.

My art gallery, with two options : ‘I create my art gallery’ and ‘I visit my art gallery’ – in the first one, you see blank walls and on the side of the screen a column of thumbnails of paintings in the National Gallery , from which you may choose some to drag them on to the walls. You have several rooms and you are thus invited to reflect on the hang of the paintings you might choose: grouping by artist and period, by theme, or because they match in colour… ? you may choose appropriate floor, wall and ceiling colours as well. You may add other photos from your own gallery in your mobile device – photos of your own paintings, or from other museums, to create your ideal museum.

If afterwards you take the option ‘I visit my art gallery’, the 3D navigation will work conversely. In the ‘I create my art gallery’ screens just discussed, the navigation is the conventional one for desktop work: the screen remains motionless and you move the walls around you, seeing them turn in panoramic fashion as if you were turning – and you may position it flat on the table, you will still see the vertical wall; but in the ‘visit’ option, you really have to turn around holding your device vertically, as if you were in a room looking successively at the different walls, and if you place your device downwards you will see the floor. The editing process and the simulation process work in opposite ways and give two experiences of 3D space.

The multiple ways of experiencing art are made palpable with the help of games. The book itself invites initiative since each chapter contains a drawing lesson inspired by the Old Masters.

Educational digital workshops

Children’s digital skills are encouraged in the form of creating artwork out of historical works of art, in the tradition of ‘collage’; Tate has put up a webpage exercise

Digital artists in residence

At the V & A, two resident artists – positions which allow the public to see them at work and meet them – are digital practitioners: ‘digital resident’ and ‘digital art resident’

Computing history and projects

Computing pioneers

The Science Museum and the Bodleian Library hold exhibitions for the bicentenary of Ada Lovelace:   and

As shown in the Science Museum exhibition, when she was nineteen, her mother took her to visit the industrial regions of the Midlands and North of England, where she noticed the looms; in the same year she met Babbage and discussed his experiments with his machines. When on her tour, she wrote ‘This reminds me of Babbage’, which substantiates the frequently discussed connection between the Jacquard loom and the punched cards computers.

as a continuation of the exhibition on Ada Lovelace at the Bodleian Library, we can read a discussion of her work – especially of her mathematical studies with De Morgan and their link with the Babbage machines – in the form of a ‘conversation’ as practised on the research pages of the University of Oxford.

Crowdsourcing for the digital transcription of archives 

Tate is launching a crowdsourcing project for the transcription of the archives related to artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Duncan Grant, using the tool AnnoTate as part of the Zooniverse initiative led by the University of Oxford.


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