Paint petals on a Van Gogh and romp with a Reubens

7th April 1995 at 01:00
One of John Constable's landscapes would no doubt make an arresting sight hanging in the hallway of many a home, but without access to thousands of pounds, such hankerings are only dreams to most of us. But with a new CD-Rom, art fanatics can now own several Constables, Renoirs and even indulge in a frolic with Rubens's ladies or Seurat's "Bathers at Asni res". And amateur artists who feel they can improve on Turner's choice of colour or make Van Gogh's sunflowers look more like those found in local garden centres can have fun with Great Artists from the National Gallery.

The disc, which has been produced by Attica Cybernetics in conjunction with Marshall Cavendish (the part-works specialists), features an exhibition of 40 "main" paintings from the gallery's collection. And, like Microsoft's Art Gallery and Attica's Tate Gallery, it combines an electronic library of colour images with data on art history and artists' lives.

Great Artists introduces a "workshop" section that encourages a certain irreverence for the art world by allowing computer users to meddle with the paintings on show. But it does so in a way that, according to Mike Lloyd, managing director of Attica, "lifts art down from the pedestal and uses Multimedia PC technology to break down the barriers to make art accessible to all". With a click of the mouse the colour can be drained out of a Turner, or using a sketchpad add a few more petals to Van Gogh's painting.

David Lucas from Marshall Cavendish insists these features are not only of novelty value but allow art students to experiment with colour and composition in a new way. Hypertext links are used to educate and inform by making it possible to move quickly from an artist's creation to a section that puts the work into historical context with information on the politics, culture, fashion and technology of the time, set to a relevant, ear-piercing musical accompaniment.

Great Artists tries to involve you with each piece of work by using accessible articles pitched at two levels hard and easy. Twelve-year-old Kelly Peebles, from Islington Green School in north London, confirmed the manageability of the "easy" version by expertly moving from feature to feature while scanning narrative she claimed she "did not find dominant".

She and her classmates had been studying the Puritans at school and were able to use the paintings on the disc to look closely at their style of dress. And because the zoom feature on the disc allows close-up views of such high quality that individual brushstrokes can be seen the children became mini art critics as they were able to detect what they thought were mistakes made by the artists.

Apart from the 40 principal paintings, the CD-Rom includes 2,000 other images to be browsed through on this history tour of Europe. And it features about 20 minutes of video clips, including one on restoration work and another explaining how the toothpaste tube changed the history of oil painting.

Great Artists is aimed at 11-16 year olds and costs Pounds 49.95, but as usual for CD-Rom, the videos are not broadcast quality. However, as Graham Allen, Labour's front- bench spokesperson on the information superhighway, said: "It turns two of the most intimidating parts of our culture high art and high technology into a joyful and accessible experience."

Attica Cybernetics, Unit 2, Kings Meadow, Ferry Hinksey Road, Oxford OX2 0DP. Tel: 01865 791346. Marshall Cavendish Multimedia, 119 Wardour Street, London W1V 3TD. Tel: 0171- 734 6710.

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