Vassar Today

Enhancing the Teaching of Art

By Kate Conlow ’09

One of Vassar’s most revered and time-honored courses is moving into the 21st century. Art 105-106 still opens with Ancient art, but gone now is the gentle hum of the slide projectors and the click as each slide advances to the next slot. Instead, two digital projectors are installed in Taylor Hall, a move that is part of the art department’s transition from slide to digital presentation format. The images are much more detailed and refined, and digital projection provides the option of incorporating Internet resources, virtual reality, and video clips to better teach the subject at hand.

The ability to begin the transition to digital and purchase the necessary technology has been made possible through a grant from the William Stamps Farish Fund on behalf of Martha Farish Gerry ’40 and Libbie F. Gerry ’63. In addition, the Office of the Dean of the Faculty will support this project on an ongoing basis from the Virginia Herrick Deknatel ’29 Fund.

Associate Professor of Art Jacqueline Musacchio, who has used some form of digital technology in her art history courses since she began teaching at Vassar in 2000, points out that digital presentation gives professors the ability to switch back and forth between a variety of technologies according to the needs of the students and the flow of the discussion. This was difficult, if not impossible, to do with slide technology. Digital projection can be dynamic and more interesting for both professor and students; the department can now use one image across the entire screen (as Musacchio does with Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, which is proportioned to fit almost perfectly across Taylor Hall’s projection screen) or can show seven different images at once. Faculty can use arrows to point out the location of particular altarpieces in the plan of a church, or they can recreate a painted chamber that is now empty, its paintings dispersed to 12 different museums. They can even bring students virtually to the location of a particular work of art by accessing Google Earth.

While digitizing has been a great boon for the art department, the process of converting from slides is time-consuming. Visual Resources Library Curator Sarah Goldstein notes that they are converting slides on a course-by-course basis, but the entire project will take several years to complete. Together, the art department and the visual resources staff decide which representations of the work of art are best; sometimes they scan a pre-existing slide, but they also weigh the quality of the image and research better alternatives available in books or from digital image vendors. After a selection is made, the visual resources staff edits the scan and adds it to the digital database, which the department then uses to create presentations for their classes. Other scans are made by the professors themselves or acquired from various Internet resources. According to Goldstein, “From a pedagogical standpoint, the move to digitization is important because the technology is limitless.”