While the current situation with COVID-19 weighs heavy on the global population, sometimes what’s most needed is a bit of lightheartedness. This was the idea behind the latest project in the Bachelor in Communication & Digital Media at HST, in which students had to recreate classic paintings with a modern twist. With the pandemic on everyone’s minds, it’s no surprise that many students took that theme and ran.
Vincent Doyle is an academic director and professor of the Master in Visual & Digital Media at HST. He’s also a lover of art—and the interactions it spurs in the modern world. That’s why, after his students’ virtual visit to the Prado Museum in Madrid, he decided to task them with recreating classic paintings, making them into something modern that reflects how they’re feeling in the current situation.
We had the chance to talk to Vincent to get some insight into this unique project. Here’s what he had to say.
Tell us a bit about the project. What exactly were students asked to do?
The first-year students of the Bachelor in Communication & Digital Media were scheduled to visit the Prado museum on March 20th as part of their Visual & Digital Media course. Since the museum was closed due to the state of emergency in Spain, we needed to get creative and find a way for students to visit virtually and apply key concepts from the course.
We started from something we learn in this course: that today’s media consumers are increasingly called upon to be producers of meaning, not just passive recipients of images and information. We are more active than ever before in sharing and responding to the media we encounter in the course of our everyday lives. Technology facilitates all this, of course, but it doesn’t explain why we enjoy doing it. We share and create content on the basis of existing content because it allows us to express our thoughts and feelings and feel connected to one another. Why shouldn’t our experiences of the museum be just as interactive?
After watching some introductory videos about the Prado and exploring its collections on its website, students were asked to create an image to be shared with the rest of the class. The assignment was to find an image that spoke to them and transform it or recreate it. They could re-contextualize the image by adding a caption or make a new image using anything at their disposal: their phone, a camera, apps, or the Adobe Creative Suite that is provided to them as part of their studies. The idea was that the image they made should say something to the rest of the class about how they were feeling or what they were thinking about at that moment, so it’s not surprising that COVID-19 emerged as a common theme.
Many students are studying remotely due to COVID-19. What challenges has this presented? What resources were available to students for the project?
Many students are still in Segovia, but a large number of them have returned to their home countries, which are spread out over many continents. Moving classes online has presented us with some challenges, but also some opportunities to make fuller use of the new learning and cooperative possibilities offered by digital technologies and online platforms. Some students are in incompatible time zones, so we have begun to record the interactive sessions so that students in far-flung places can still follow the course. It hasn’t always been easy, but everyone is learning to adapt quickly.
Why introduce the pandemic as a theme in the project?
There was no requirement to refer to the pandemic, but it emerged spontaneously as a topic that almost every student was thinking about as they made their way virtually through the Prado’s collections. This project became a way for students to learn about one of the world’s great museums, apply concepts from their course on visual and digital media culture, and creatively express something about their lived experiences of the pandemic.
A few days after our virtual visit to the Prado, we became aware that museums like the Tussen Kunst in Amsterdam and the Getty Museum in California were encouraging people in lockdown to recreate classic paintings at home. We’re not saying we started the trend, but it was nice to see other people getting in on the fun of re-creating art and sharing it digitally to relieve some of the stress and anxiety of living under lockdown.
Digital and visual media students at HST continue to impress with their creativity and passion. Below are just a few of the classic paintings that were given a little facelift for the project.
Vincent Doyle is Professor of Media & Cultural Studies and the Academic Director of the Master in Visual & Digital Media at IE University (Spain). Originally from Ottawa, Canada, he holds a PhD in Communication from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (USA), and an MA in Communication from McGill University, Montreal (Canada). He is a Fellow of the Sexuality Research Fellowship Program of the US Social Science Research Council (2000) and has received two top paper awards from the International Communication Association.