You are here


Is There an App for that Brushstroke?

In deference to the safety of the museum’s collection, painting in the Art Institute has traditionally been restricted to a limited number of students and professionals. But thanks to creative uses of mobile devices, the museum has been able to extend that artistic experience to a wider audience without spilling a drop of paint. In a recent Teen Studio Workshop on Experimental Painting, museum education staff—using an iPad app that simulates painting techniques—provided teens with a digital canvas and virtual brushes and paints.  Inspired by artworks like Gerhard Richter’s Ice (1-4) shown below, participants “squeezed” virtual paint onto their simulated canvases, blended and smudged colors with a palette knife, and built up layers and textures, all through touching or dragging their fingers over iPad screens.


Museum lecturers also use iPads as virtual portfolios to show images that supplement understanding of artworks discussed on public gallery talks. Digital images on the iPads permit the audience to view sculpture from different angles, and to explore related works from the collection not on display, or comparative artworks from other museums or collections. The speaker below, for instance, shows the image of an ancient coffin to help convey the original purpose of the Egyptian funerary objects in the cases behind him. Lecturers use them to zoom in on minute details, some not detectable to the naked eye, and the highly visible backlit screen gives iPads an advantage over their paper analogues.

Lecturers have even begun to incorporate audio and video into their tours. During a gallery talk, for example, visitors might listen to the atonal music of Arnold Schoenberg and compare it to the abstract compositions of Vasily Kandinsky; or they might compare movement, rhythm, mood, or repetition in an artwork to that found in an example of jazz or classical music. A lecturer might invite visitors to explore Richmond Barthé’s bronze sculpture The Boxer and watch an archival video showing the artists process and sculptural techniques in his studio. Most recently, children were introduced to the illustration exhibition Animals around the World: Picture Books by Steve Jenkins in the Ryan Education Center both literally and virtually. First, students looked closely at the dynamic paper collages combined with amazing facts about inhabitants of the animal kingdom. Then an educator showed videos on an iPad of the animals in their habitats, enabling some of our youngest audiences to see examples of where an artist drew inspiration for his work.

Mobile technology is increasingly demonstrating its potential to connect museum audiences of all ages with the artists and their works and to provide opportunities for creative experiences through dynamic interaction with the collection. Stay tuned for more ways in which the Art Institute of Chicago will engage 21st century visitors with mobile and touch-screen technology, bringing them closer to the collection in new and exciting ways.

—Carolina K., Education Technology Manager, Digital Information and Access