TOUCHING ART: Apps for children and fine art

Nina Alonso has recently become Dr. Alonso after successfully defending her PhD on poetry for teens in France and Spain.

Aline Frederico is a PhD candidate researching children reading literary apps.

As many of you might know, Aline Frederico is curating the website Literacy Apps for the National Literacy Trust (literacyapps.literacytrust.org.uk), which reviews apps for preschoolers. I, Nina Alonso, collaborate reviewing story apps and this time I had promised I was going to review an app called ExplorArtKlee (and poor Aline needed to remind me more than once to do it).

When I finally put hands at work I was positively surprised with the quality of ExplorArtKlee. The problem was that this story app did not really fit in the scope of the Literacy Apps, which is focused on pre-schoolers. I made a bunch of domestic experiences with kids around me (family and kids of friends) and as Aline and I suspected the kids that enjoyed the story app the most were older than 6.

Since we took the time (and pleasure) to review a very creative and well-crafted story app, Aline and I felt that it was worth sharing it here. The app makes good creative use of the added value and possibilities of tablets and smartphones to provide a very pleasurable interactive experience.

ExplorArtKlee (Apple) invites the reader to explore an imaginary planet made of Klee’s works. The story starts with a fictional young boy, Cicero, and Ku, the cat, who guide the reader through a special journey to explore PK (planet Klee). It gives access to a planetary map, allowing the reader to navigate the artworks in their own rhythm, respecting the individuality of each reader’s experience. The order of the exploration can be changed and one can stop to explore this or that in more detail.  We liked the fact that the planet works as a metaphor of Klee’s creative universe. Rather than visiting a gallery of artworks, Klee’s universe seems to envelop the reader who can freely interact with several aspects of his work in a playful way.

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Cicero presents ‘Senecio’, a famous work by Klee

The illustrations and design are beautiful, attractive and in tune with Klee’s painting style. Ku, the cat, is the story’s “page turner”, or the element that, when tapped, guides the reader to the next scene. The sound and narration are well recorded and engaging and the app allows listening (or muting) the narrator’s voice in several languages (English, Spanish, Italian, French and German).

The reader can navigate and deconstruct the works of Paul Klee by sliding their finger through the images

ExplorArtKlee contextualizes the work of Klee explaining several aspects of Klee’s life, painting style and techniques as the journey goes on. It also makes appropriate reference to the original works (materials used, year, place of exhibition) it shows. The app couples the exploration of Klee’s artwork with music but first explains Klee’s relationship with music, making this resource an added meaningful dimension to the experience of Klee’s world. Yet, the app allows the reader to decide whether they want to engage with the story with or without music, allowing for great customization of the reading experience. Several games and forms of ludic, tactile exploration are presented during the journey to allow the child to play with forms, colours and textures, engaging actively with various aspects of Klee’s art.

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Tapping the starts in this Andy Warhol’s app produces fireworks on the screen

We believe the multimedia and interactive possibilities of touchscreen devices have a great potential to promote new and innovative relationships between children and fine art, and ExplorArtKlee is a great example of that. Another interesting case is So Many Starts (Apple), where Andy Warhol’s concept book So was made into an interactive exploration, expanding the representation of the concepts presented through reader’s participation and sound. For instance, “so happy” is represented by a cat that purrs when tapped by the reader.

Zooming into famous works of art allow children to see the details of the brushstroke in Google Arts and Culture

The experience of an art gallery with young children can seem nightmarish for some parents: Do not touch! Do not get too close to the works! So most simply, apps like Google Arts and Culture  (Apple or Google Play) include a great collection of digitalized important works of art. These are available in very high resolution and can be zoomed in and “touched” through the iPad screen, creating a detailed, rich and tactile experience of art for children (too bad so far the tablet screens are flat, but we hope soon it will be able to reproduce texture as well!). This app is not specifically targeted at children, but a great opportunity for shared iPad time.

 

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