Wikimedia Blog/Drafts/A new initiative is using WikiCommons as a tool for art students to create and exhibit art

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  • Unchain My Art: The first virtual art exhibition on Wikimedia Commons.

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Art students from Beit Berl College in Israel are using Wikimedia Commons as a resource for their study and as a platform to exhibit their work.

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Creating content on Wikimedia Commons usually involves developing new and creative ways to increase the number of public domain and freely-licensed high-quality images available for use in Wikipedia articles. However, Wikimedia Commons can also be a great educational resource for art students.

Einat Amir, a video and performance artist and lecturer at the Postgraduate Fine Arts Program at Hamidrasha – The Faculty of Arts Beit Berl College Israel – worked with her students on a special exhibition based on materials from Wikimedia Commons – Unchain My Art.

“I learned about Wikimedia Commons when I started editing the Hebrew Wikipedia,” says Amir. “I was overwhelmed by the richness of the website! You can find historical images, documents and files from all over the world. What makes it even more fascinating is the diverse categorization of images. One can look for one thing and stumble upon another of equal interest.”

This free media file repository is a tool that many professors and students have yet to become familiar with. The loads of images, videos, and sound files in this repository could provide the reference materials that inspire new artwork. As an added benefit, art students inherently learn about the principles of free knowledge and freely-licensed materials.

These concepts challenge the common perception in the art world that copyrights are mandatory. Art students are educated about fair use and copyright infringement law with cases of historical precedent, such as the Cariou v. Prince copyright infringement case regarding appropriation art.

Amir’s course had two sections: the theoretical part where her students learned about different uses of digital archives in contemporary art, and the practical part where their created their own artworks.

Amir collaborated with other Wikimedia Israel volunteers and taught the students about the Wikimedia movement, Wikimedia Commons, and copyright issues. The students created their own accounts on the website and learned how to download photos, give proper credit, and how to upload and categorize new media files.

They have also explored creative ways of using media files: each of them was asked to choose 10 images that they like for any reason. Then they were asked to do a 15-minute presentation to discuss possible relationships between the their selected files.

On the next phase the class combined all the images that were chosen by all the students, shuffled them and then divided them into new, invented categories (for the class use only). Each of these new categories was assigned to a different group which was instructed to create a new artwork that conjoins all the different items in their category. Each group of students created their own unique artwork using creativity, inventiveness, and their unique combination of talents.

Amir has also encouraged her students to gain experience in verbally articulating their creative decisions. She explains, "As an artist, you always need to explain your work – to teachers, colleagues, curators, to your audience. The process of selecting and using media from Wikimedia Commons was a good practice for the students because they had to explain every stage of their creative process to their peers.”

By the end of the semester a physical exhibition was held at the art school’s gallery while a virtual one was held on Wikimedia Commons, available for worldwide public viewing. As far as we know, this is the first art exhibition for Wikimedia Commons to showcase.

“Curating Unchain My Art as a virtual exhibition was a very special experience. Each artwork is presented next to its sources of inspiration with a description of the artistic process that brought it to life.” says Amir, “It was important to me that the students not only use the images they found on Wikimedia Commons, but also contribute to it by uploading the art works they created back to the Commons, where they drew their inspiration from, with the hope that other people will be inspired by their work and the creative cycle continues,” says Amir.

Students that participated in the exhibition: Alina Deckel, Gad Kozitz, Hadar Reuven, Hani Khatib, Navah Uzan, Gilat Elkaslasi and Moran Victoria Sabag, Ronit Citri, Shulamit Bialy, Sima Kirshner and Vardit Goldner.

We hope that this exhibition will be the first of many educational art initiatives to gain inspiration from and use the media files available on Wikimedia Commons.

Unchain My Art exhibition on Wikimedia Commons

 
Ronit Citri worked with a group of Commons images that she merged into a single, new fictional landscape.[1].
 
Documentation from the physical exhibition at HaMidrasha – The faculty of Arts Beit Berl College. Photo by Sasha Yupatov White.[2].


 
Sima Kirshner worked with a group of Commons images that she printed then tore them into pieces from which she made a collage. Then she scanned the hand made work and continued to manipulate it digitally.[3].

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Einat Amir, HaMidrasha – The faculty of Arts Beit Berl College

Michal Lester, Wikimedia Israel