February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Art and Artifice: Museum Adventures on the iPad | Touch and Go

From the Louvre to the Hermitage, most major museums have produced apps highlighting important items in their collections. Some institutions have also created reference tools, such as the Tate Modern Art Terms. Recently a number of museums have begun to produce apps for exhibits. Here are two that will be of interest to students of history and art. Both are reviewed by Dan Greene.

Created in conjunction with the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY, NY) exhibit of the same name, Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop  (Metropolitan Museum of Art; Gr 8 Up) is a free iPad app. Noting that “photographs have been manipulated since the invention of the medium,” the curator introduces viewers to photo “doctoring” from negative retouching to photomontage, with a bit of art history along the way.

The easy-to-navigate app is divided into three parts. A short introductory video with a lively instrumental soundtrack poses questions to viewers as it spotlights images they’ll examine closely later on. Next comes a quiz (hints included), challenging users to consider which photos have been manipulated, and how or why they were changed. If stumped, viewers have the option of zooming in for a closer look.

The doctored “Sherman and His Generals, 1865” by George N. Barnard

The gallery of 16 before-and-after photos with explanatory information and citations is the centerpiece of the app. The text is well written and the black-and-white pictures cover a range of subjects from portraits to landscapes. In the first of the two photos of Sherman and His Generals, 1865, General Francis Preston Blair, Jr. isn’t present, but there he is, seated to the right in the second.

Blair missed the photo session scheduled at Matthew Brady’s Washington, D.C., studio. The well-known Civil War photographer is quoted as saying, “Later in the day, however, he [Blair] came in, was photographed and I set his portrait in on the group negative.” The photo was later retouched by another photographer, who added background curtains and other details. Also included in the gallery is The Other Series (After Brassaï), 1993, by Kathy Grove, a contemporary artist who takes images by male modernist artists and changes them, often by removing the female figure, a commentary on the fact that “women were largely absent from the canon of Western art history.”

Faking It would be particularly appropriate for history, photography, and art classes. It would be a natural tie-in to using an app such as Adobe Photoshop Express, before students try their hand at editing images. A lavish companion book to the exhibit by Mia Fineman is also available.


Map from “Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum” (The British Museum)

Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum (The British Museum; Gr 9 Up) is a companion piece to the British Museum’s exhibit by the same name, on view in London from March 28th-September 29th, 2013. The app, which is available for both iOS and Android devices, splendidly incorporates sound effects, animation, video, and interactivity.

A short, but dramatic, film sequence on the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, narrated by Paul Roberts, the exhibition curator, opens the production and leads to a map that serves as a table of contents. Pins mark Mt. Vesuvius, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other sites on the Bay of Naples. Tapping on one of these locations will bring viewers to a street map of the chosen area and a list, including such topics as “Urban context,” “Commerce,” “Wealth and status,” “Entertaining,” and “Religion and beliefs.” Each list leads to narrated images; video commentary by Roberts and other scholars; photographs; and informative text. Listeners will hear Pliny the Younger’s eyewitness recollections of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79 (narrated by Royce Cronin), learn that a significant number of Herculaneum’s residents were prosperous freedmen, and view more than 250 colorful photos of artwork and artifacts.

The images are clear and sharp. The ability to zoom in on the pictures is a valuable feature, as it allows for close-up views of jewelry, frescoes, mosaics, graffiti, carbonized furniture, marble statues, and more. Also provided is a further reading list with some live links. Be aware that Life and Death is a large app and takes time to load.

This is a rich and rewarding production for students of history and art, and anyone interested in archeology. For teachers looking for multimodal resources to support the Common Core State Standards, this app fits the bill.—Daniel Greene U32 Middle/High School, Montpelier, VT

For additional app reviews, visit our Touch and Go webpage.

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.