Dada to digital

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Digital Art. By Christiane Paul. Thames and Hudson pound;8.95.

Begin Sculpture. By Ronald Unger. Rightway Plus pound;9.99

Tom Hartney clicks on guides to art forms

As the use of software packages such as Photoshop become more widespread in schools, Digital Art by Christiane Paul addresses the need for an accessible and comprehensive book on key practitioners in the field.

She traces the origins of contemporary digital art back to Dada, conceptual art and the "happenings" of the Fluxus artists, as well as the work of those who pioneered art-technology crossovers during the 1970s and 1980s.

The development of "multiple strands of practice" in digital art are clearly analysed through the work of a great many artists. Christiane Paul concentrates on three sections: artists who use digital technology to create otherwise traditional art objects, such as photos; those whose work exists purely in a digital format, such as "software art"; and key themes explored by digital artists, such "body and identity", the appropriation of mainstream "gaming" software and "activism".

Analysis is balanced by superb colour illustrations, which make the book accessible for pupils seeking inspiration as well as critical information.

For teachers and pupils using digital technology in art and design, this book is essential.

Ronald Unger has set himself a tough brief with Begin Sculpture - to replicate the experience of attending an adult education sculpture class in book form. Aimed at novices working at home with few specialist resources, Ronald Unger makes use of kitchen tables and LEGO bricks in his DIY approach.

The book aims to provide a step-by-step guide to working with clay and plaster. Simple pinch and coil pots lead to more complex moulding and casting. He stops short of describing more advanced work with wood, stone or metal. As a teaching resource Begin Sculpture may be of limited use.

Small black-and-white photos of the author's work lack impact and clear diagrams are outweighed by detailed, sometimes rambling, descriptive passages. Also, health and safety considerations are not given a high enough profile. However, the book may be of particular interest to those planning figurative work, modelling small figures, the human figure and faces in relief.

Tom Hartney is community art co-ordinator at Vyners School, London borough of Hillingdon

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