- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 28, 2003

A child’s first visit to an art museum can be quite a daunting field trip. Among cavernous rooms drenched in silence reside untouchable moments in time barely explained by plaques and being pondered pensively by admirers. It’s not exactly Chuck E. Cheese.

Hoping to give younger audiences a bit of background and enthusiasm before entering the worlds of creativity, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y., has set up a colorful cyber-stop offering multimedia pages that delve into the works of renowned artists and the toil involved in bringing a masterpiece to life.

Art Games

Site address: www.albrightknox.org/artgames/index.html

Creator: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, a museum of modern and contemporary art, maintains the site.

Creator quotable: “Artgames was conceived as a vehicle for teaching about the artworks in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in an interactive Web environment. By combining the best of museum-based instruction and opportunities for creative art making with the ‘bells and whistles’ possible with computer technology, we hoped to create a computer-based educational environment that could both enhance museum learning and entice young visitors to the gallery itself,” says Jennifer Bayles, creative director, writer and producer of Artgames.

Word from the Webwise: With the help of a fellow named Artie, who looks like Gumby’s skinnier red brother, children 4 to 12 years old will enjoy rummaging around as they play games, create and interact with sculptures, paintings and drawings, all the while being pummeled with facts and receiving a well-rounded art history lesson.

Much like an educational CD-ROM game, the site has the child clicking around in a cartoon environment, watching for reactions, such as a candle being lit or a monkey eating a banana, to stumble upon some entertaining activities.

For example, visitors who click on the sign “Your Own Studio” are taken into a room where they can create a Jackson Pollack-type painting using four colors and a brush to splatter a canvas and bust apart a piece of marble to form three sculptures. They also will learn about Alberto Giacometti’s “Man Walking” or Jacques Lipchitz’s “Sailor With a Guitar” and get a lesson in color theory.

The hue tutorial pops up in its own box and walks the student through concepts such as primary and secondary colors, a color wheel and complementary colors using animated illustrations and “mouse-on” demonstrations. An activity at the end of the lesson has the visitor mix red, yellow and blue liquid in a laboratory beaker to watch the shocking results.

Nine games can be found between both rooms that touch upon historical use of portraiture, landscapes (featuring Niagara Falls), perspective, still life and abstractionism while incorporating the museum’s works of Georges Seurat, Winslow Homer, Andy Warhol and Horace Pippin.

An art cards area also is available to send a special e-mail to a friend, and every time a game loads, facts such as, “The Louvre in Paris takes up 40 acres of space and 8 miles of galleries to house its collection,” appear at the bottom of the page.

Ease of use: My Macintosh was very finicky while playing around in the site, but a PC was much happier. Visitors must have the Flash 6 plug-in installed and a broadband connection to really enjoy the experience, or use the low-bandwidth version of the site, which is not nearly as much fun.

Don’t miss: Let’s Make Faces, found at the end of the Mysterious Portraits challenge, gives visitors a chance to watch Artie paint their answers to six questions into a personalized masterpiece. After queries such as favorite color, eventual occupation and name are filled in, the artist goes to work and delivers a portrait suitable for printing.

Family activity: Getting to an art museum is the best off-line adventure. However, the site offers a robust Art Index area featuring more historical background on 20 items from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s collection as well as teaching modules to interpret a collage, explore Gustave Courbet’s cave using four medium-size boxes, and the instructions for building a piece of art using images from newspapers and magazines containing items celebrating the modern world.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: This is an impressive Web site that will suck children into appreciating art, making them want to be part of the process.

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 DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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