Students who would never spend time in a regular "hands-off" museum can now examine the world's masterpieces electronically. Engaging interactive presentations make it easy, with a range of features that let them zoom in to study brush strokes, hear narrated commentary, create their own slide shows, and more.
Microsoft's 1994 release of Art Gallery created quite a stir. Through the magic of multimedia, users were introduced to hundreds of paintings on exhibit at London's National Gallery. Kids who would never spend time in a regular museum, because of the difficulty of taking a trip or the "hands-off" approach to the art on display, found themselves examining great works of art in depth through point and click maneuvers and interactive presentations enhanced with music, voiced narration, animations, and video clips. Since 1994, several software developers have followed Microsoft's lead, bringing artwork of world renown to the classroom thanks to multimedia computers. Here's a brief look at some of the best recently released products.
Le Louvre: The Palace & Its Paintings (BMG Interactive Entertainment)
This well-organized multimedia reference takes visitors on a virtual tour where they learn about both the art and architecture of France's magnificent national museum. Users can interactively examine 100 of the Louvre's most famous paintings, learn about the artists, and also trace the evolution of the Palace, originally built as a medieval fortress. The program is divided into Palace and Collections sections. In the Palace section, students can tour the various wings to study the hallways, rooms, and other areas. Along the way, models and blueprints document museum architecture and how it has changed over time. Visitors can easily find information by clicking on a particular time segment for architectural highlights and biographies of people who influenced the Louvre's design. Tours of special sections--such as the new Pyramid reception space--are also featured.
In Collections, users can view paintings from several European art traditions, including the Flemish, French, and other schools. They can get to know such masterpieces as da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Ingres's The Turkish Baths via voiced commentaries, text descriptions, and a zoom tool which lets them study details close up. Additional information, such as size and location in the museum, is also offered. Users can also learn about the artists.
Several well-designed navigation and organizational options make Le Louvre a very good reference tool. Included are a timeline to view paintings by European school or period, and an index which organizes the CD by alphabetized lists of paintings, museum rooms, or biographies. Users can also click on icons to see thumbnail representations of paintings from particular periods and schools, or jump straight to any location. Highlighted words within text definitions also let them easily bring up definitions or view related paintings.
Masterpiece Mansion (Philips New Media)
Unlike the other titles in this roundup, Masterpiece Mansion uses a range of entertaining puzzles and games to introduce users to great works of art and their creators. The program also presents an in-depth look at five distinct periods in the history of art.
The basic challenge of the games is for visitors to solve artwork-related puzzles in order to move from one mansion room to another. Players may be required to reassemble a picture's pieces, conduct a word search, distinguish one painting from another, or answer questions about featured artists and their time periods. Challengers who score high enough uncover valuable passwords, which they can use if they find themselves trapped in a room from which they've already escaped.
A positive design aspect of the games is that there's no penalty for research. Students can access the information database as often as necessary to locate answers to puzzles. …