the Digital Picture
the 10 questions: notes

 

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The 10 questions can be filled in online. Alternatively a print version of the 10 questions is available, in both HTML and PDF format.

Please send the completed 10 questions to: the Digital Picture, AHDS Visual Arts, Surrey Institute of Art & Design, University College, Falkner Road, Farnham, Surrey GU9 7DS.

Thank you for taking part in the Digital Picture.

Question 1 of 10 - Increase in digital images

Digital images are on the increase in arts education. What overall impact does this have on you?

 

Untitled (typewriter covered with beads) 

Untitled (typewriter covered with beads), 2003, Brigitte Williams. Rights: Brigitte Williams.

Arts education, like everywhere else, has felt the rapid growth of computer-based, digital technologies in recent years. The benefits of these new technologies can usually be clearly seen; for example, we all recognise the increased opportunities for sharing information (including images). This applies not only within our teaching and learning environments, but also across other parts of the country, and even other continents. However, inevitably, there is another, less positive side to the steady advance of new technologies; one obvious effect being that many technologies that have been used successfully for years disappear as a result. In September 2003, well-known slide projector manufacturer, Kodak, announced that production and sales of their machines would end in June 2004, with service and support ceasing in 2011. Slides have been a mainstay of arts education for a very long time and a shift towards new image formats is clearly a significant occurrence.

“..in recent years, slide projectors have declined in usage, replaced by alternative projection technologies. ”

http://www.kodak.com/US/en/corp/pressReleases/pr20030926-01.shtml

Nonetheless, the rise of digital images will certainly continue (especially with constant improvements in digital cameras and projectors) and, for many in arts education, the fact that they are rapidly becoming a core part of the educational toolset is a clear demonstration of, and reason for embracing, the practical value of the digital revolution.

Question 2 of 10 - Fit for the purpose

Digital images can be used in a number of ways, but are they better at some things than they are at others?

 

A photographic negative of toy guns

A photographic negative of a toy
revolver and ray gun by J & L Randall
Ltd., 1957. Rights: Design Council and
the Design History Research Centre,
University of Brighton.

There is much debate within art and photographic communities about the quality of digital images, especially when compared to photography and traditional printing media. Although digital imaging technologies and projectors have improved immensely over recent years, there is still a perception that the image quality does not match that of traditional slides in terms of colour, contrast, clarity and depth of detail (resolution), especially where fine details need to be examined; for example, in the study of art history. It may well be true that the level of affordable digital media has not attained a high enough quality for certain purposes but this may not be the case throughout the arts education sector. It is quite feasible for a lecturer to simply want an image (perhaps a photograph of a particular building) for illustrating a point in a presentation. To him/her, the depth of detail or precise colour balances may not be important, as long as the educational point is made.

“Then there’s image quality. The images produced by most consumers are dire…
this will improve in time… but it still has a long way to go before it overtakes analogue photography. An average 35mm colour negative holds the equivalent of several gigabits of data.”

John Naughton, Sunday Observer
February 2nd 2003

Question 3 of 10 - Effect on traditional education

What effect do digital images have on more traditional aspects of art education?

 

Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh

Sunflowers, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh
(1853-90) National Gallery, London,
UK. Bridgeman Art Library.

As digital images and associated technologies become the norm, there are, naturally, elements of doubt and concern in some areas, particularly in relation to threatened changes in working practices and associated cultural shifts. Fear of change is often justified to some extent and any new media must be considered very carefully in terms of its broader impact. In 1936, Walter Benjamin discussed both the negative and the positive impact of mechanisation on art, in his book ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. In today’s digital revolution, people in arts education might want to know things like whether there will be a decline in those arts that require large working environments, as more space is devoted to the much smaller computer terminal. Also, will librarians and tutors be made redundant as their contribution is replaced by much cheaper digital resources?

“Technology is not a teacher: its use cannot and should not replace interactions with responsive adults.”

Digital images can play a useful role to support active learning, in
Learning & Leading with Technology, May 2004 v31 i8 p34(3)

Some of these things will happen but digital images do, of course, offer huge benefits such as increasing access to art in terms of volume and scope. They also create opportunities for interacting with art that is otherwise inaccessible; for example, the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux, which have been closed to the public since 1963. Furthermore, other advantages of digital imagery, like the increased capacity to manipulate images and to share them amongst art students and staff, both internally and across the wider community, are obviously extremely valuable assets to arts education.

Question 4 of 10 - Finding digital images

If you wanted a particular image in digital format, what would be the ideal way to obtain it?

 

Digital camera

Some institutes will doubtlessly find the resources necessary for making available many digital images to their staff and students, even if this takes place over a long time. Such images could be made available via an intranet or Virtual Learning Environment or, if political and financial restraints allow, made accessible to the wider community through a co-ordinated, joining-up of resources from different places on the Internet. But this sort of approach wouldn’t prevent people from scanning in or creating their own images, though quality and copyright issues might have to be explored in these cases, and would not negate the use of other ways to access images. Already, there are a number of commercial or subscription companies who offer images to educational users (Bridgeman Art Library, ARTstor and Saskia) and several other services specifically set up for education (AHDS Visual Arts, EDINA and Artifact). It is also important to remember that a huge majority of people prefer to discover resources through commonly used Internet search engines (such as Google) and, although this brings many potential pitfalls, this approach will no doubt grow as the search engine companies mature and further recognise the needs of communities like arts education.

WIN A DIGITAL CAMERA! Because we value your thoughts and appreciate the time and effort you are giving up to fill in this consultation paper, AHDS Visual Arts is giving away a couple of digital cameras – so, if your name comes up, you can create your own digital images! At the end of the project we will select two contributors who will each receive a high quality, pocket-sized digital camera.

N.B. To be eligible for the camera giveaway you will need to supply an email address - a form follows the questions.. Cameras may differ from the one shown in the picture.

Question 5 of 10 - Technological resources

The successful use of digital images depends on technology. What issues does this raise?

 

Digital projector Whilst most arts lecturers and tutors will acknowledge the fact that tools such as Microsoft’s PowerPoint are commonly used, there can be a mismatch between the apparent functionality of such tools and their own needs. One example of this is the common arts practice of using dual projectors to illustrate differences/comparisons between two or more images, something that would be difficult to achieve with many current digital tools. However, it should be acknowledged that new tools and advanced versions of current software are coming onto the market all the time.

“In the seemingly inexorable rise of technology in schools, the data projector has recently been demonstrated to be the piece of equipment whose popularity is growing fastest.”

The Guardian, Tuesday September 23rd 2003

Many arts institutes now have sophisticated display hardware, advanced computer suites and fully integrated networks and associated facilities. However, in some users’ minds there can still be uncertainty about plugging one machine into another, or about things working at all. Also, new equipment does cost money, and needs constant support and upgrading, and this can have a major impact on the availability of digital images or the tools to make the most of them. But, prices are constantly dropping and continuity and availability of technological resources should improve, especially as institutes improve their basic infrastructure. All that aside, to those who have already discovered tangible uses of such technology, the issues relating to a slow adaptation process are far outweighed by the positive benefits.

Question 6 of 10 - Usefulness

Are there particular aspects of digital images that improve or reduce their usefulness?

 

’2903’ and ‘2904’ computer systems

’2903’ and ‘2904’ computer systems,
circa 1976. Manufacturer: International
Computers Ltd., Consultant Industrial
Designer: London & Upjohn (Firm).
Rights: The Design Council/The
Manchester Metropolitan University.

A MORI survey published in February 2005 looked at issues relating to the Internet (www.common-info.org.uk/audienceresearch.shtml). It discovered that 92% of users believe that reliability of information is an important factor in accessing websites. This fact comes as no surprise to the education sector where students or lecturers using any image resource, digital or not, need to be sure that what they are using has a sufficient degree of integrity. Also, whilst it may not matter to some users if colours are not calibrated to a very specific standard, it is likely that poor searching or browsing facilities will directly impact on their usage of resources on web, intranet or Virtual Learning Environment. Ignoring the needs of those for whom a resource is developed can be an expensive mistake: in the House of Commons’ 3rd report on the recent £50m failure of the UK e-University (published 21st Feb 2005) it was noted that:

‘the UK e-University failed largely because it took a supply-driven rather than demand led approach’.

Focusing on user demands is particularly important for the many users who have difficulties with badly thought out websites; for example, those with learning or physical impairments. In this respect, images pose a number of problems since, often, their information value cannot necessarily be accessed by those with visual impairments or less sophisticated technology. It may be that good descriptions or structured metadata can help with this sort of problem, and with searching for digital images in general, but the creation of such extra information can be quite a burden for those creating resources.

Question 7 of 10 - Ownership

Digital images can be shared and re-used very easily. Should we worry about ownership?

 

Scanner - crossed out One of the strengths of digital images lies in the fact that they can be shared, re-used and manipulated in ways that were impossible before the advent of computers. However, this also means that they can be mistreated with the same ease, i.e. it is now straightforward to produce perfect copies of digital images without regard to copyright or intellectual property rights (IPR), and broadcast or publish them without due reward, or credit, to the rightful owner of the material. However, such issues, which are often ignored or misunderstood can be extremely complex, and the ramifications of misuse are wide-reaching and potentially disastrous in both terms of legality and image usage. Nonetheless, many people in education, especially within libraries and legal departments, are very aware of the problems of ownership rights.

“Take away from English authors their copyrights, and you would very soon take away from England her authors.”

Anthony Trollope, 1815-82, taken from his autobiography (1883), ch 6.

Constant debates and discussions, to try to find ways of resolving some of the ownership issues, take place within arts education and also with organisations like the Copyright Licensing Authority (CLA) and the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS).

Question 8 of 10 - Support in using digital images

What considerations need to be made to help you get the most out of digital images in art education?

 

Personal Computer Many of those concerned with preserving or promoting the use of images do not have the time and/or appropriate training to achieve all that they would like to achieve in respect of digital images, nor to instigate such work by others. The lengthy time commitments, skills, knowledge, hardware and resources necessary for digitization on any significant scale are usually found in the ICT departments of colleges or universities, rather than in arts faculties. Also, although many arts education institutes now have substantial systems set up, the whole language and procedural side of utilising digital resources can be confusing or daunting to someone who is not used to them. However, as the new technology matures and its place in our environment is better understood, there is a natural increase in our knowledge about it. This soon filters out to more and more people, either through new skills being taught, an increase in understanding through regular usage or through improved access to those people with the appropriate knowledge. Gradually, many of the problems will get smoothed out and, as a consequence, budgets, procedures and training programmes will begin to evolve in much more positive directions.

“It is obvious that the art school must come to terms with the new environment. In order to digest the unfamiliar codes and relationships created by our new electronic faculties, they must be normalised as a part of the working environment.”

Stroud Cornock, from ‘Media Handling’ report to Fine Art
Board of Ipswich Civic College, 1965-66 session

Question 9 of 10 - Digital images in research

Digital images have a role in research, but are there issues surrounding their use in this area?

 

Two Russian paintings - reproduced 1907

(L) Avtoportret by Martiros Sergeevich
Sar’ian (1880-1972) &
(R) Tualet by
Aleksei Gavrilovich Venetsianov
(1780-1847) as reproduced by Zolotoe
Runo, 1907. Rights: Russian Visual
Arts Project, Universities of Sheffield
& Exeter.

For many people in education, digital image research will mean finding pictures to illustrate presentations, lectures or essays. For these purposes, digital images, if made accessible in the right numbers, formats and subjects, obviously serve a very useful purpose. However, research relating to digital images obviously does not stop there. As well as the dissemination of high-quality image collections for researchers to make use of, there is also plenty of scope in the development of new ways of using images, and, of course, research into advanced imaging systems; for example, virtual reality or content based image retrieval.

As technologies and processes are understood and exploited further, digital images may also have a significant role to play in research that focuses on the creation of the image itself: practice-based research. What is certain is that the use of digital images in the arts will be an increasingly important part of research across the UK.

“At the heart of research across all disciplines is the determination to understand the world which we make and inhabit. The arts and humanities bring to that search approaches and understandings that are unique to our disciplines, and it is on these that we must build the heart of our case.”

Geoffrey Crossick, The Guardian, 2003

The two images on the left were digitised as part of a research project called Russian Visual Arts: Art Criticism in Context, 1814-1909 established jointly by the universities of Exeter and Sheffield.

Question 10 of 10 – How important?

10. Of the nine subjects outlined in the previous questions, which are the most important for you?

 

the Digital Picture logo


To many people, all of the topics covered in the consultation are important and, to a great extent, this is true. Nonetheless, in this question, what we are trying to achieve is some sort of ranking so that we can create a picture of what people in the UK arts education community believe is most important to them. To this end, you are feel to tick as many boxes as you like but it might give us a clearer picture if you restrict your selections to a smaller number.

Thank you.

the Image Credits

 

The image credits, for the images in the top right hand corner, are as follows:

Red Car, Paul Butler, circa 2003. © Paul Butler
Mantis, Simon Markwell, circa 2003. © Simon Markwell
Yellow-glazed porcelain bowl with a manganese rim, Lucie Rie, 1950s. © Mrs. Yvonne Mayer/Crafts Study Centre 2004
Modus Operandi VII, Paul Huxley (b. 1938). © Paul Huxley

The image credits for the other images on this page are:

Untitled (typewriter covered with beads), 2003, Brigitte Williams. Rights: Brigitte Williams.

A photographic negative of a toy revolver and ray gun by J & L Randall Ltd., 1957. Rights: Design Council and the Design History Research Centre, University of Brighton.

Sunflowers, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90) National Gallery, London, UK. Bridgeman Art Library.

’2903’ and ‘2904’ computer systems, circa 1976. Manufacturer: International Computers Ltd., Consultant Industrial Designer: London & Upjohn (Firm). Rights: The Design Council/The Manchester Metropolitan University.

Avtoportret by Martiros Sergeevich Sar’ian (1880-1972) Rights: Russian Visual Arts Project, Universities of Sheffield & Exeter.

Tualet by Aleksei Gavrilovich Venetsianov (1780-1847) as reproduced by Zolotoe Runo, 1907. Rights: Russian Visual Arts Project, Universities of Sheffield & Exeter.

Other images supplied by AHDS Visual Arts.