February 23, 2019

Hacking art at the museum with playful coding: Picasso

In this article we continue the series where we explore how to hack and play with famous works of art by using programming. In this specific case we will play with two paintings by Picasso, from the MoMA collection. For the coding part we will continue using Scratch.

A fun activity to increase children's (and adults') love for art is to create stories from paintings and sculptures. It is a way to immerse ourselves in the works of an artist and express our creativity with storytelling.

The example I present here is very simple. From a photo where you can see two paintings side by side, we bring to life two characters, one in each painting, making them talk, move, and even exchange the canvases. 

This activity is perfect for an art hackathon. Imagine that you visit a museum with your class or with your family, you walk around the exhibition halls, alone or accompanied by a guide, and while you enjoy the works and learn about the artist, you also take photos already thinking about the stories you are going to create.

After that, in the museum as well (or at school or at home), divided into teams, you start to imagine and create stories, hacking and playing with the pictures you have taken.

We need mobile phones to make the photos and computers (or tablets) connected to the Internet. Apart from this, we only need Scratch, although sometimes a graphics editor can be very useful to play with the photos. Paper and pencil to create storyboards are also highly recommended.

To cut out characters we can use free and open source software like Gimp. There are also online editors like Pixlr. Gimp has different selection tools and has a plugin called "Resynthesizer" that allows you to select something you want to remove from an image, and with the push of a key, it's gone without a trace. If you think these tasks are complicated, you can search for tutorials on the Internet. In Youtube you will find many videos that teach you how to do these things using Gimp or Pixlr. Or if not, you can simply use the Scratch paint editor, which is very simple but still powerful enough to play with your photos.

As I always say, and although these activities are for educational purposes, it is very important that when we play with works of art we always cite the artists and the works. If you want to do it with works of contemporary art by living artists, unless the art is public, it would be a good idea to inform the artist.

In my example I have turned a character from the painting "Harlequin" and a character from the painting "The studio" into two Scratch sprites.

Below you can see the two paintings and the Scratch project. If you look at the project on the Scratch website you can see how it is programmed by clicking on "see inside". You will see that the programming is very simple. I encourage you to remix it.

"The studio" (1927-28) and "Harlequin" (1915) by Pablo Picasso (MoMA collection).


Like all the activities I propose, this one can also be re-imagined in many ways. What if you create a story where characters jump from painting to painting? Or what if each team creates a part of the story and then they put them together? What if you mix characters from different artists? And what about doing it with sculptures?


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