October 2, 2002
COLLEGE'S NEW FINE ARTS
CENTER MAXIMIZES POTENTIAL OF A TECHNOLOGY THAT IS REVOLUTIONIZING
THE TEACHING OF ART
With Digital Imaging, Flexible
Access Spurs Student-Driven Inquiry
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Editor's note: An online press
kit about the Brown Fine Arts Center, including images and fact
sheets, can be found at www.smith.edu/bfac. To
arrange interviews or tours, contact Laurie Fenlason at (413)
585-2190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
NORTHAMPTON, Mass.-Five years ago,
when art historian Dana Leibsohn was preparing a class lecture,
she'd go to the slide collection, spending time selecting slides
and deciding which ones to compare side-by-side. She'd then insert
the slides by hand into carousels and carry these to class.
During class, she'd move sequentially through the carousel's
presentation, showing the details that she wanted to highlight
and comparing images of art that she wanted to discuss. Her Smith
College students would peer at the projected images, gleaning
as much detail as the reproductions would allow. When studying
after class, the students would rely on their handwritten notes
to recall the painting or sculpture. Although photographs were
posted in the department's visual resources collection, most
students would only revisit the images, refreshing their memories
and their notes with further detail, just before exams.
It's a different picture today, with a new world of open-ended
exploration and sophisticated comparisons now available to students.
Digital imaging, the extremely high-resolution reproduction of
an image on a screen, is revolutionizing the fields of art history
and studio art, enhancing not only how faculty members teach
but, more importantly, how students learn.
"Because of the dramatically enhanced flexible access that
my students have for comparing and studying objects in detail,
they are exploring and asking questions of art and architecture
like never before," explains Leibsohn, one of Smith College's
first faculty members to transition to an entirely digital platform.
"With the move from slides to digital technology, students
actively examine images in more sophisticated ways."
Leibsohn, along with a dozen or so colleagues from around the
campus, is taking advantage of a technology so promising that
it has driven, in significant ways, the design of the college's
Fine Arts Center. When the academic portion of the building
opened in early September, its top floor featured a 7,000-gross-square-foot
imaging center, arguably one of the crown jewels of the newly
renovated $35-million facility that incorporates the department
of art, art library and Smith College Museum of Art.
When paired with software such as Luna's Insight database, digital
imaging creates the ability to zoom in on details without the
loss of resolution, creating, in effect, a virtual gallery or
museum. While Leibsohn concedes that computers sometimes crash,
she's convinced that the advantages of digital imaging far outweigh
the occasional glitch.
"I've found that my students engage more deeply in classroom
discussions," she says. "I made the move to digital
technology primarily because of the positive response I saw in
"Every image is catalogued and tagged in the college's database
with the artist's name, the work's title and its date. Instead
of worrying about scribbling down these facts, students contribute
more to class, knowing that they can see the image and its information
again-at any time, at any level of detail and as often as they
want. They can pull it up in their rooms, in the middle of the
night, if that's when-and where-they want to study."
Other benefits of new technologies include the ability to click
through to a museum's Web site, enabling students to see a particular
piece of art in the context of a larger collection. In addition,
professors can supplement Smith's image collections with works
found in other online databases in order to answer student questions
or to illustrate a point that has arisen out of the class' discussion.
Digital imaging also breaks the traditional "two-images-at-a-time"
barrier, allowing simultaneous comparisons of multiple projected
Very large online collections of high-resolution images are being
created around the country-and Smith is a leading site of that
activity. Image Collections Director Elisa Lanzi notes that the
college's digital image database now numbers more than 107,000
works of art, making it one of the largest collections among
liberal arts colleges. In addition to art, the college's online
collection also houses images for other disciplines, including
"The scope of the college's digital image collections has
increased dramatically," Lanzi points out, a fact largely
made possible by recent grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
and the Davis Educational Foundation.
"We've brought together our own collections with large-scale
licensed image libraries, in recognition of the fact that digital
images are a critical part of the total information resource
package for the campus," she says.
With art (encompassing art history, studio art and architecture)
consistently ranking among the top three most popular majors
at Smith, John Davis, Alice Pratt Brown Professor of Art and
chair of the art department, expects that Smith students and
faculty will dramatically test the capacities of digital imaging
in the coming months and years.
"Digital imaging is in the beginning stages of revolutionizing
the teaching of art," Davis believes. "The leap to
digital images, with the spontaneity and presentation options
that it makes possible, is as significant as the breakthrough
from black-and-white to color slides."
The renovation of the college's former art facilities began in
the fall of 2000, under the direction of the Polshek Partnership
Architects. The art department and library opened in early September;
the Smith College Museum of Art will re-open to the public in
April 2003. More background about the new Brown Fine Arts Center
is available at www.smith.edu/bfac.
Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's foremost
liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state
and 55 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's
college in the country.