Jem Fraser reviews a comprehensive CD on the life and work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
After the record-breaking success both here and in America of the Glasgow exhibition on Charles Rennie Mackintosh, it was no great surprise that a CD-Rom devoted to his life and works should appear on the market.
The disc, produced by Wigwam Digital in association with the Glasgow School of Art, contains images from every major Mackintosh collection. The introduction is detailed for the new computer user, but is easily bypassed to the home page which takes the form of nine access routes laid out in a three-by-three square in tribute to the designer.
The nine topics are The Artist, The Designer, The Architect, Studying Mackintosh, Margaret Macdonald, Time Line, the Glasgow School of Art, A Modern Man and the City of Glasgow. Each one gives access to a linear narrative which is divided into subsections supported by lavish images. For example, the City of Glasgow is broken down into the City of Architecture, Glasgow Style, Glasgow Boys, Glasgow Girls and City of Art, while A Modern Man deals with his Children, the Student, A Modern Architect, The Immortals and the Four.
Accessing these sections can lead you into another topic, as the material is cross-referenced and at each page you have the opportunity to go into an A-Z, the explore icon, the home page or, where appropriate, the opinions and interpretations of expert witnesses. The latter are leading lights in the Mackintosh field and give the work credibility and authenticity. Their views are interesting and the remarkable visuals which accompany them make the language and information readily accessible.
The whole disc is easy to navigate and has variety and beauty. The graphics, while mostly black, white and muted tones, due to the liberal use of original photographs, documents and archive material, provide an excellent visual counterfoil to the contemporary colour images of individual works such as the guest bedroom designed for 78 Derngate, Northampton, the yellow settee for the Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow and the hauntingly beautiful shades of the pencil and water colours painted in France.
It was at this point that I became aware of a serious shortcoming - the lack of a print facility, which makes it impossible to print out any of the fabulous images. This dramatically limits the disc's use in schools, particularly in primary and early secondary. Few primary schools will have the appropriate hardware to run the CD-Rom, but for those which do, it is a wonderful resource that would support pupils' individual investigations in studying artists and designers within the 5-14 guidelines if they could present their opinions and findings alongside the images andor experts' opinions. The task of evaluating and appreciating Mackintosh work through a combination of images and text can still be done using other means, but the opportunities for this medium to be exploited for the younger age group have been lost.
It is, however, an outstanding resource for historical and critical studies at the post-14 level. All the necessary material for studying Mackintosh is here - his influences, the contexts for his work, his contemporaries and other original resources, including previously unpublished extracts from letters held by the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.
The Time Line is excellent for instant access to information. Students of art history, art education and women's history will find it invaluable. The Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh's masterpiece, is particularly well documented, as one would expect with experts like Tony Jones, Andy Macmillan and Peter Trowles involved in the production. Their credentials and those of the other experts, Pamela Robertson, Alan Crawford and Roger Billcliffe, are impeccable and impressive.
It has been given the imprimatur by Thomas Howarth, the man allegedly responsible for resurrecting the genius of Mackintosh and bringing it to our attention. This CD-Rom is a serious and substantial work, carefully researched and produced. Care and attention have been the priority in structuring the information as a study guide on the life of this "modern man". It is a mammoth work which will have a world-wide market and be influential in its time.
At pound;39.99, it is probably priced out of the lower school market, as is the hardware needed to run it. It is nevertheless an ideal resource as a study guide for most Standard grade and all Higher grade art and design students.
Jem Fraser is museum education officer, Glasgow Museums