An Old Artist in a New Way: Van Gogh on the iPad

An Old Artist in a New Way: Van Gogh on the iPad April 23, 2012

In the future, maybe all learning will look like this.

With the announcement that my children’s school district is transitioning to online textbooks, I’ve wondered what the brave new frontier of learning may look like.

If it looks anything like two fantastic iPad apps I’ve seen about the art of Vincent Van Gogh, the future is an exciting place.

Flowers for Van Gogh, free from the app store until March 30, 2013, includes reproductions of Van Gogh’s most famous flower paintings arranged around and through an interactive map allowing the user to follow Van Gogh’s geographic and artistic journey. It also features an article putting it all together by Van Gogh specialist Wouter van der Veen and a video by film-maker Fouzi Louahem.

From the same producers, the more extensive Van Gogh’s Dream ($9.99) focuses in great depth on Van Gogh’s time in the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise, where he painted his final works and ultimately died of what most believe was a self-inflicted gunshot wound on July 28, 1890.

What I love about these apps is how they use the new technology of the iPad. They are so intuitive. It’s easy to get lost in them, swiping from painting to painting or watching video clips of Van Gogh represented in cinema.

Screenshot of Van Gogh's Last Letters

For instance, in the chapter “Van Gogh’s Last Letter” of Van Gogh’s Dream, you can look at screenshots of the actual final letter Van Gogh wrote to his brother and read a translation. Sure, you can do that in a book. But in the app, you can swipe back and forth between a sketch included in the letter and the cooresponding painting, zoom in on either, and dive into his artistic process. Additionally, you can listen to it being read or watch a short video with Hans Luijten of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam explain its significance.

It brings it to life.

Your fingers hop from topic to topic, with in depth material there to be delved into or skimmed over, depending on what rabbit hole your brain is skipping down.

It’s a fun and rich way of learning from a rich and fun pair of apps. If only all textbooks were so engaging.

There’s a bonus to these particular apps as well. Proceeds from them go to the Institut Van Gogh, which works to turn Van Gogh’s final attic room in an inn known as Auberge Ravoux in Auvers into a little, beautiful museum.

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