For your eyes and your ears
Martin Child finds CD-i offers excellent use of sound and vision to teach about art.
The power of Van Gogh's paintings is legendary. But in a Year 8 lesson looking at the Dutch artist and his self-portraits it proved difficult, using books and postcards, to indicate the power of the images from these small, flat, dog-eared representations. If only the Van Gogh museum were around the corner.
In an ideal world we could whisk pupils away, at the drop of a hat, to visit galleries around the world. Unfortunately this is not possible: and anyway, no gallery on earth contains all relevant work by an artist.
So, what are we left with? Books, postcards and posters - all invaluable teaching aids, but with limitations when showing art work to whole classes. Slides are good but require a darkened room, and suitable images are often difficult to obtain. Video, given the right film, can be excellent, but to freeze-frame or search for an image is not satisfactory. This leaves computerised images.
Philips' CD-i system has many of the advantages of CD-Rom easy and instantaneous access to hundreds of paintings, text, graphics and moving images but it doesn't require any computer.
CD-i plays dedicated video discs. Not just playing, mind you; the "i" bit stands for interactive, allowing specific information to be gleaned. Think of a video as a straight line from start to finish - CD-i is a much more complicated road system, where, at every junction you can divert to reach your own destination.
What advantages has CD-i over CD-Roms? It is much simpler to use than a video recorder: plug it in and you are away. The quality of illustrated work is excellent, often with close-ups which show details and texture. The TV screen display is easier for whole groups to see than a computer monitor. And there is sound. Not just a computerised voice real voices narrating and commenting upon the work in view. Accompanying music of the same period is often played.
CD-i is more akin to video, as it will tell a story on its own, but it can also be paused, parts skipped or replayed almost instantaneously. Individual students can also use this system on their own to learn or consolidate ideas about a particular artist or movement. PC users can now buy a CD-i playback board which allows CD-i discs to be played alongside CD-Rom discs.
The Great Art series is of pleasing quality. The information is sound and mostly well thought out, although a little shallow at times. Present titles include, rather predictably, three on Impressionism and one on Van Gogh as well as Renaissance, Dutch Masters and Rembrandt. The Impressionist discs are particularly informative and well planned.
My favourite is Harvest of the Sun, about Van Gogh, which covers his life and works comprehensively. The group working on Van Gogh has now seen this disc and found the display gripping, learning much about the artist in a short time.
Students enjoyed working on their own. The remote controller is good fun for zapping from screen to screen. Some frustration was indicated because pupils would have liked more interaction than the discs permitted. Possibly new discs will allow this.
Discs could surely be programmed to ask questions, to make students think more about what they are experiencing.The only other quibble is that, with the discs seen, it is not possible to compare any two images for discussion purposes. If you had a system, a whole library of discs would need to be acquired to make full use of the facility.
As part of Philips' School 2000 project, these discs are available in two sets, with useful teacher's notes, at a bargain price. More titles are on the way.
I am certain that the titles and format currently available are just a beginning. CD-i will not be a passing fad but a desirable tool helping in a vital area of art education.
Philips' CD-i can be seen on the EY stand, number 615