For all to see

6th December 2002 at 00:00
Tate Modern is making some of its most important art accessible online to people with visual impairments. Valerie Hall explains

Picasso once claimed: "No one has ever looked at Matisse's painting more carefully than I, and no one has looked at mine more carefully than he"; while Matisse responded: "Only one person has the right to criticise me - Picasso". Now, thanks to Tate Modern's new permanent i-Map online resource, visually impaired students can compare and contrast the two artists' work and discover how they drew inspiration from each other, from their surroundings, and from the art of different cultures.

Complementing the Tate's recent exhibition, "Matisse Picasso" the site is designed to work alongside three sets of raised line drawings. If your school does not have the equipment to produce raised prints the Royal National Institute for the Blind can produce them for you from ordinary printouts, or you can borrow them from the Tate. The raised images are used alongside text that deconstructs the works, and line graphics which students build up in layers on screen.

Blind students will use the site with screen reading (voice) software, and partially sighted users can use it with screen enlarging software.

The teacher with a mixed class of sighted and sight-impaired students can teach the same lesson to all, by providing the level of guidance required by the groups' particular needs depending on the sight ability and computer literacy of the group.

At the touch of a button students can zoom in on a line image of a small area of a painting and start to add in the details in stages.

The raised images illustrate each artist's interpretations of the female nude, the primitive and spaces; additional text describes the concepts of cubism, primitivism and perspective.

In the female nude section, for example, students can explore Matisse's Draped Nude and Picasso's Nude Woman in a Red Armchair.

There is a description of Matisse's ability to establish a mood of sensuousness and languor and to "distil an image to its essential elements" at the cost of biological accuracy.

Meanwhile, students can home in on "the strongly defined stomach" next to which the "right thigh is just an amorphous blur".

Picasso's painting is shown to be equally intimate and vibrant, with descriptions of the woman's gaze, her undulating curves and wing-like hands, and the simultaneous representation of her full face and profile by "using colour to divide her face in half - the violet profile with its green hair can also be read as a second face, leaning over the chair to kiss her."

Students are directed to the scrolled arms of the "hot red" chair, which "encircle her in an embrace and mirror the shape of her arms". They can click to add beads and chair studs one by one.

A sighted teacher of visually impaired students comments: "The presentations offer something for those who are and those who are not attuned to tactile diagrams. Users can find a method of accessing the material which suits them individually."

Marcus Weisen, disability development officer at Resource, The Council of Museums, Archives and Libraries, says i-Map "represents a quantum leap in the tiny universe of online collections for visually impaired people" as well as a "masterclass in visual seeing for everyone". Email:

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