CD Roms get to the art of the matter

3rd January 1997 at 00:00
English Architecture CD-Rom for IBM and compatibles and Acorn computers, #163;81.08 + VAT,AVP. Tel 01291 625439

A Stroll in 20th Century Art; Picasso CD-Roms for IBM and compatibles and Apple Mac, #163;39.99 each + VAT,Grolier Interactive, PO Box 700, Wellingborough NN8 1SL

Escher Interactive CD-Rom for IBM and compatibles, #163;49.95 + VAT, Thames and Hudson,Tel 0171 636 5488

The book is dead? Well, not quite, but even stalwart book publishers such as Thames and Hudson are producing work on CD-Rom. The potential for first-class art CD-Roms has always been there, but it is only now that we are seeing products that cannot be presented in any other way and that reflect what is possible with this new medium.

A database of high-quality images is worthwhile in itself. Images with words are useful, but the book has been doing this well for centuries. The CD-Rom should offer more. Best are those with many layers to explore, with sound, video and animation.

From Stonehenge to the Waterloo International Terminal, AVP's new CD-Rom in its Picturebase series, English Architecture, covers a vast amount of material. This is a no-nonsense disc with a simple format. Each image has text that can be spoken at the click of a mouse. One nice touch is that each page has space for teachers' notes for students. This is a useful image bank that augments AVP's previous art titles - Impressionism to the Twentieth Century and Art in the National Curriculum.

For some 18th-century landscapes, how about a walk through a sculpture park in Provence? A Stroll in 20th Century Art is a breath of fresh air. The Maeght Foundation gallery has had three million visitors. A private collection, this is a magical place of sculpture gardens: a Giacometti courtyard; a labyrinth by Miro; and a chapel with a Braque stained glass window.

There are also challenging works by less well-known modern artists. The disc, published by Grolier, is based on a video walk around the gardens and gallery so it is possible to sense the true 3D quality of the sculptures. Diverting from the walk, you can look at work or artists in depth - nearly 1,000 works are represented. This unusual approach is endearing. You feel that you are visiting the collection.

"I must admit no work ever succeeds - they all miss." Most of us would disagree with Escher. His graphical work still looks fresh, and the complexity is awe-inspiring. Escher Interactive, from Thames and Hudson, is an exciting product.

There are hundreds of images in a gallery, commentary, animations of some of his work, 3D images, a game and a puzzle - all are thought out and relate well to the body of the artist's work. Some of this may sound shallow, in the academic sense, but there is no doubt that students will love using this program. If their attention is held, they are sure to develop an understanding of the artist.

If a CD-Rom could be described as un-put-downable, Picasso, from Grolier, is it. The most innovative artist of the century deserves the most innovative presentation of his work, a challenge this disc rises to. Made with many galleries around the world and editorial advice and support from his son, Claude Picasso, this disc presents a delightful way of getting to know the artist and his work.

More than 600 of his images are represented, and there is a gallery showing a work from each phase of his life. Click on a picture and a body of the work from this period is shown, with details of Picasso's life. There is sound and music to create atmosphere, and the size of the works can be represented by being scaled to a picture of the artist himself - a clever touch.

Another way of approaching this disc is to look at Picasso's work thematically. There is so much in this CD-Rom. It is lively, but above all it is of superb quality - the best art disc I have seen and a must for any art department.

OK, the book may not be dead, but there are good reasons for augmenting your art work with CD-Roms. The best are fast and fun, with high-quality information and image. The art CD-Rom has come of age.

Martin Child

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