Digital painting, what’s possible?

MoMA’s Material lab is an interactive space for visitors young (and old) to make, play, create and respond to MoMA’s collection.

In the lab children can learn about materials and textures through looking, touching, reading and making. Alongside a range of physical materials the lab has a number of computers with a new piece of software by Microsoft that allows users to use a real paint brush as a stylus to select colours, paint and draw on the screen.

I really liked the mix of traditional, tangible arts and crafts materials and the digital painting option in the lab. The digital painting software has real potential to be developed for educational use  in gallery, were normal painting is for obvious reasons not permitted.

The much talked about David Hockney Exhibition at Royal Academy in early 2012 really raised the profile of digital painting. Whilst MoMA has specially created Microsoft software, the painting app used by David Hockney costs a mere £5.49 and is a perhaps a more accessible and immediate tool for smaller museum institutions to experiment with during school visits and in adult workshops.

Translating  the lab into an app

The painting app used by Hockney is essentially just a digital canvas and some paints, it doesn’t provide inspiration or education activities. Last week MoMA released Art Lab an iPad app that blends the traditional arts and crafts activities of collage, cutting and painting into a series of artist inspired activities. Whilst primarily aimed at children the app has a number of features that make it appealing to all ages.

David Gauntlett talks about ‘the social nature of creativity‘ , and the Art Lab seems to both acknowledge and respond to our desire to be creative, in a socially rewarding and meaningful way. The app embeds a number of social elements including group drawings. For children, making and creating is a dialogue between materials and adults, they learn by observing, and playing. Unlike some apps aimed at small children, the Art Lab app contains information for parents that they can use to form discussion while using the app, such as art historical context, and artist biographies.

Grown up users can tweet or email an image of the work that they create to friends and, or to MoMA. The app also lets users save any work they create to use as the home or lock screen on their iPad. Adult colouring in and doodle books have over the last couple of years become increasingly popular, and the Art Lab app fills a nice gap in the iPad market; allowing adults to doodle, paint make and create in response to MoMA’s collection.

Digital painting: What’s next?

Children with scissors, glue and crayons never mix well with expensive and delicate pieces of art. On the other hand children with ipads, painting on specially created apps could lead to some really exciting, and engaged responses to museum collections. Digital painting is fast becoming both an accessible and respected medium, it will be exciting to see how MoMA and other museums, both big and small adopt and develop this technology as a means to engage audiences in art history education, and creative practice.

My Jim Lambie inspired piece, created using the Art Lab App

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