Art and Technology Art Education in the Digital Age

Artists often draw on digital technology in their works, such as Danae Valenza in her 2016 work Your Motion Says.
Artists often draw on digital technology in their works, such as Danae Valenza in her 2016 work 'Your Motion Says'. | © Constantia Chirnside

Even though museums have existed since the 19th century, art education in museums has only gained importance in the last 50 years. The growing digitalisation in particular offers a range of new possibilities. In Australia and Germany, the cultural sector is increasingly making use of digital media.

"For artists, digital technology is like a paintbrush these days," Alex White, programmer for digital learning at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, believes. "It makes sense that artists would use technology in their works because technology reflects the processes and power structures of our modern everyday lives." But it's not just contemporary artists who are aware of the digitalisation of everyday life it's art educators as well. The increasing digitalisation has opened up a new field for art educators in recent years: educating people about art with the aid of digital technologies.
These days, art education in museums has moved beyond the classical audio guide. Now, museums such as the Museum of Contemporary Art will often have a free app that people can download prior to their visit and then use via the publicly available Wi-Fi while they are at the museum. The museum app collates information about artworks, curators and artists for its visitors, using audio, video and textual material. "By linking creativity and technology, we aim to ensure that besides maths, engineering and science, there is enough room for creative thinking and working," Alex White explains.

Art and Technology

Dr Pablo Abend, project manager at Cologne University, explains just how important quick, digital access to information is these days, especially for young people. "Young audiences in particular have been socialised differently with regards to media and technology than even their parents were." Together with Prof Dr Marx and Junior Prof Dr Benjamin Beil of Cologne University, he teaches a seminar in which his students help create an app in cooperation with the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne. "The aim of the app is to enhance people's visit to the museum in a multisensory manner and educate them about individual works and their respective periods."
With the app, the Wallraf-Richartz Museum intends to playfully reach out to young audiences in particular and inspire them to visit the museum. "The app will be closely linked with the museum space," Dr Pablo Abend explains. The students settled on a location-based quiz app: The user travels through the various periods of art, solving puzzles and questions on several floors of the museum. To implement the app, the students worked closely with the museum's curators: Together, they defined "works and stations at which to deposit contents that will then provide a framework for guiding the user," Dr Pablo Abend explains. The app is set to be published in early 2017.
  The author in a self-experiment with Ruth McConchie's 2016 artwork Salines, Sirius, Obelisk. The author in a self-experiment with Ruth McConchie's 2016 artwork 'Salines, Sirius, Obelisk'. | © Constantia Chirnside
It’s nothing new that artists are drawing on digital technologies. In her 2016 work Salines, Sirius, Obelisk for example, Ruth McConchie made use of the emerging trend of the virtual reality headset, equipping users with VR headsets and headphones and sending them through realistic museum galleries, an underwater world and the partly imagined, partly historic suburb The Rocks. Surprisingly real, the work amazes users who move around wearing the headsets and immersing themselves in a completely different world.

The Städel Museum as a Trailblazer

In Germany, the Städel Museum in Frankfurt is considered a pioneer in digital art education. Using the new digital possibilities, the museum aims to offer an alternative option that can work in parallel with visiting the museum, thus fulfilling the educational mandate of cultural institutions in today's digital age. Using digital extensions, they intend to pursue a new direction in art education with a focus on a participatory and interactive access to art.
Apart from the app, the Städel Museum offers a blog that provides a glimpse behind the scenes. Readers receive information about exhibitions, artists, works, books, videos and events. Those who would like to discover even more artworks won't necessarily have to visit the museum, they can also browse the museum's Digital Collection. The Digital Collection is a cloud-based online platform featuring over 2000 works, audio tracks and video material with unrestricted access worldwide. A special feature of this platform is the semantic linking of the works using a range of categories. This enables the user to 'stroll' through the collection and encounter new works without being physically present in the museum.

Studying Art History Online

For those who would like to learn more about art history outside museums, online courses are the way to go. The Museum of Contemporary Art offers a four-week online course for students from year 8 to 11. During this time, they have the opportunity to work on a variety of art history topics with artist Lara Thoms, participate in online discussions and create their own arts projects among other things. The artist aims to inspire students to work creatively and look beyond their own noses. At the end of the course, the results are exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Reaching as many students from all over Australia and encouraging them to express themselves creatively is important to Alex White because "everything happens outside the museum's walls."
Compared to other fields, the use of digital tools in the German cultural sector gained attention at a relatively late stage. "The fact that there is still a backlog in this regard is not necessarily just due to museum directors being too conservative in their thinking and not daring to try anything new. It also has to do with tight budgets and a lack of qualified staff," Dr Pablo Abend explains. "Because of time and staff constraints, developing additional digital services in-house is not an option, and there's often no money to outsource that type of work to an agency."
Yet by now, more and more museums focus on the use of digital media to target young people and kindle their interest in the cultural sector. The Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, for example, hands out iPods to all its visitors, allowing them to receive information about artworks and artists and listen to interviews. In addition, users can rate the artworks on their iPods and receive an e-mail summary after their visit.
The continuous technical advances will make digital media an integral part of the cultural sector of the future: "The Internet has been around for some time and there's still potential; after all, it hasn't been researched as well as oil paintings yet," Alex White believes.