University of Tennessee: Art History Springs to Life with Multimedia

Article excerpt

In the world of art history, image is everything. Or more precisely - acquiring, analyzing and presenting image is everything.

For art historian Dr. Fred Martinson at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. that's a job perfectly suited to multimedia. Today, Martinson teaches Asian art history almost entirely with the use of an IBM multimedia PS/2. Using this PS/2 and multimedia authoring software called IBM Audio Visual Connection[R] (AVC), Martinson has developed a reservoir of thousand of digitized image that he seamlessly integrates in multimedia presentation to students.

Like many art historians. Martinson take pride in "not going the book." Instead of relying solely on a textbook, he conducts his own original research that can include on-location photography. In July 1992, for example, Martinson traveled to China for the fourth time to visit ancient Chinese Buddhist temples. Equipped with a 35mm still camera and Hi8-format video camera, he filmed his own personal journey through scores of temples, capturing a unique firsthand perspective that simply could not be duplicated through generic art history source.

But capturing this footage was only the first step. As anyone who has toiled through hours of home videos can attest, raw video footage is a blunt instrument. To make his footage relevant to his art history classes, Martinson needed to break down the footage into meaningful video clips and still images that could be integrated with other artwork for class lectures. Just as important, these images needed to be catalogued and stored in a way that would allow flexible retrieval in the future.

Fortunately, Martinson had the solution in hand: IBM multimedia.

An |electronic museum'

Since early 1991, Martinson has been building what amounts to an "electronic museum" of Asian art. The "curator" of this museum is IBM AVC authoring software, which allows Martinson to organize images thematically and present these images in logical sequences, complete with explanatory text.

Martinson's entire library of thousands of images is accessible through a single interface. The main menu presents an overview of Asian art, composed of four major areas - Japan, China, India and the Islamic world. Within each area, there are subdivisions based on historical periods. Within each period, there can be subdivisions based on individual artists - and even subdivisions within the artist's body of work.

"With a few clicks of the mouse, you can quickly drill down to a particular area of interest, then launch a |story' that walks through a sequence of art," says Martinson. "This ability to navigate to any Asian culture and to any period in that culture's history of art is quite powerful."

Martinson has used his image library primarily for classroom teaching, using a Panasonic 27-inch large-screen monitor. But once computer laboratories are expanded, students will be able to review and work ahead using the same images and information as the instructor.

"This summer, I will be making two of our IBM Ultimedias[R] PS/2s available for public access," says Martinson. "Students will be able to explore not only artwork presented in class, but also a great wealth of Asian art that we simply can't cover in one course.

"By contrast, consider the situation today. Most art history textbooks contain only about 25-50 color plates, and the rest of the illustrations are in black and white. Clearly, having broad reservoir of color artwork online for students will be an advantage. Long term, I would like to have the artwork available on IBM touch-screen multimedia kiosks in the library and other public areas, which will promote even broader access to the images."

AVC makes in happen

"The image capabilities of the AVC program are outstanding," Martinson notes. "AVC has so many uses. It is very easy to use - it makes it so easy to organize a large amount of material into a coherent presentation. …