the Digital Picture
Peyumbra, Mary Farmer, 1980s Spotlight on Top Class Tailoring, Henry Poole, 1961 Aldershot Searchlight Tattoo, A.E. Halliwell, 1928 Jug, Patrick Caulfield
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the background

The inexorable rise of digital technologies, led by Parliamentary initiatives such as Modernising Government is, as promised, 'revolutionising our lives, including the way we work, the way we communicate and the way we learn.' Sadly, as with all revolutions, there are many silent, innocent victims.

In UK arts education, many of the traditional modes of creativity that have kept Britain at the forefront of the international art scene are at risk from the small grey boxes that are increasingly dominating art students' workspaces. If you held the purse strings for a major arts institute which would sound more appealing: a room set aside for two sculptors or the same space set up for twenty students in front of PCs? Perhaps more importantly, there are fears within the community that the essential qualities of arts teaching and learning are also at risk. With an ever growing digital environment comes the potential for loss of cultural absorption for students: that invisible but fundamental air that exists in an environment where face to face contact - student to student and student to lecturer - is the predominant learning tool, not an impersonal screen and keyboard where every image is simply a collage of pixels and bytes.

In response, AHDS Visual Arts established the Digital Picture: a JISC-funded initiative to produce an overview of issues, and potential solutions, relating to the effects of the digital image revolution on the UK arts education community. However, the project was not intended to be an arbiter of doom. Whilst there are inevitably fears connected to change, there are, obviously, huge benefits in the digital development of the UK arts education sector. What is certain, is that the rise of digital images and their supporting technologies within arts education brings, without doubt, one of the biggest and most profound changes that the sector has ever seen. Everything, from teaching in the classroom to finding images in the library, is having to adapt to the new model. the Digital Picture was designed to explore this brave new world.

Through a coordinated, open consultation with representatives of all art colleges, schools and university departments across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, plus other associated or interested organisations, the Digital Picture identified problems and offered arenas for discussion and possible routes towards practical solutions. The project kicked off in early April at the Association of Art Historians’ Conference in Bristol, with the launch of a simple, 10 question consultation document available as both a beautifully illustrated brochure and a simple-to-use online version. Each of the ten questions was presented with brief discussion notes and a number of quotations, all carefully created to help contributors to come to their own conclusions about crucial issues such as the ownership of images, technological problems, and availability of training or appropriate funding. Contemporary artists Boyd and Evans, on hearing about the project, commented: “The Digital Picture is a very interesting development and we think the findings should prove to be essential reading for anyone involved in arts education.”

If you have any interest in the use of digital images, please read our final report or get in touch via the contacts page.


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