- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 21, 2005

The National Gallery of Art has spent the past 64 years displaying some of the best examples of creative inspiration people have produced.

Starting with the pieces accumulated by financier and art collector Andrew W. Mellon, the gallery’s collection has grown to more than 100,000 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and sculptures that trace the development of Western art from the Middle Ages to the present.

In addition to its main Web presence (www.nga.gov), which does a fantastic job of giving visitors an online view of the museum, since 2000 site developers have offered an area to help children understand the importance of appreciating, creating and learning about art.

NGA Kids

Site address: www.nga.gov/kids/kids.htm

Creator: NGAkids was developed by the Education Division of the National Gallery of Art in the District.

Creator quotable: “We created NGAkids as an online space where children can learn about the gallery’s permanent collection and special exhibitions, and experiment with interactives that teach by example,” says Donna Mann, senior publications manager in the National Gallery’s department of education publications.

“By presenting complex information in an accessible way, we’ve tried to make the Web experience entertaining as well as educational, so site visitors will become more familiar with art and perhaps be inspired to create some of their own.”

Word from the Webwise: The site combines plenty of multimedia fun with the works of masters such as George Catlin, Paul Gauguin and Jacques-Louis David, which act as springboards to a brief education in art history.

The top of the colorful opening page begins as a structured entrance to some of the pages but quickly turns into a frenetic collage of links and icons that lead to information on exhibits at the gallery and numerous creative opportunities for younger artists.

Visitors will find two major sections that mix teaching with games and hands-on design among the organized chaos, Adventures With Art and the Art Zone.

First, Adventures With Art features eight pieces from the gallery’s collection and gives a tutorial on their origins and intricacies while forcing admirers to use observation and logic skills in their investigations.

For example, in examining Wassily Kandinsky’s 1913 painting “Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle),” junior art critics click through multiple impressions of the painting and are asked to identify colors, shapes, lines and hidden objects contained in the classic abstract. An away-from-the-computer activity concludes the exploration as children try to draw their emotions.

Many of the adventures also contain an excellent zoom option that allows for the meticulous study of the artwork.

Next, the Art Zone does a fantastic job of allowing youngsters to express themselves through nine art program simulations that explore such topics as geometry, symmetry, collages, dimensional designs and diamond patterns, with an option to print the final piece.

I really enjoyed Pixel Face, which uses 49 colors and 24 brushes for freestyle drawing or to reveal famous portraits of Vincent van Gogh and George Washington. The robust Collage Machine also was a favorite; it enables artists to select from 105 images and develop an overlapping, multiple-medium masterpiece.

Ease of use: The site is compatible with all current browsers and requires the Shockwave, Flash and Quicktime plug-ins. Art Zone users also will benefit from a broadband connection and color printer.

Don’t miss: One of the most stunning parts of the National Gallery is the Sculpture Garden. With the slightly animated help of Lizzy (who is looking for her mother and brother, Gordon, among the sculptures), children get to take a virtual walk around the area. Visitors can read along to a narrated story peppered with multiple types of illustrative styles to get some basic views of the pieces (which occasionally have something to say) as the multiscreen adventure unfolds.

Those looking for a bit more information will find an informative, clickable overview on the 16 sculptures positioned on a map of the garden to get some simple background on the artists and the origins of their work.

Family activity: Besides planning a trip to the National Gallery of Art, visitors to the site will find plenty to do away from the computer under the Adventures in Art section.

At the end of each art deconstruction, creators will find directions on face painting, making a necklace, using material scraps to create textured artwork and developing an animated flip book.

Also, the main gallery Web site has the NGAClassroom (www.nga.gov/education/classroom) section loaded with activities for educators on topics such as Art and Origin Myths, New Angles on Art, and Art and 19th Century America.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: Although designed for the 6- to 11-year-old crowd, NGAkids excels in giving art lovers of any age an educational and entertaining multimedia experience.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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