Approaching Arts through Logo


Márta Turcsányi-Szabó
Eötvös Loránd University
Dept. Informatics Methodology
1088, Budapest Múzeum krt. 6-8, Hungary
tel/fax: (36-1) 266-5196


Producing pictures, music, animation as a result of programming activities does not necessarily mean the same as using programming tools to develop art products. The difference is in the approach taken, and in shifting the point of emphasis from programming to arts itself. Integrating Logo-like artistic microworlds into topics of visual studies can produce a special artistic tool that allows experimenting and provides a way to realise artistic intentions. Such integration is welcomed and supported by our National Curriculum.


Art, integration into subject areas, tools, National Curriculum


1 Introduction

An art teacher once asked me about my research field. When I told him that one of my favourite aims was to see Logo being integrated into subjects like art, he was astonished. He explained to me that he had seen a lecture about Logo, which included the typical introductory development of a house constructed by a square and a triangle. He continued with an unmerciful comment: "This is the greatest crime against anything to do with arts!" He summarised the essence of art in terms of form and fantasy mingled with a touch of creativity to produce an entity of self expression. But algorithmic simplification kills such initiations, he said, and added that if I have anything to say for myself I should be brave enough to do it at an art symposium facing an army of art teachers.

I couldn’t refuse the challenge, but my legs were trembling when I entered the auditorium. ... I survived the trial, and during the three years that have passed since, I’ve been collecting more and more convincing evidence for my arguments, like the ones I would like to present here, including the topics of integration and some possible tools.

2 Integration – the National Curriculum

How can arts and Logo be integrated? The following is a collection of extracted topics from the National Curriculum [1] that are suitable for integrated activities, described later on.

Points extracted from the compulsory requirements in the field of various subjects:

3.  To gain experience in the use of tools of informatics and transmission devices based both on traditional and modern technology.
4.  To be able to realise digital versions of the most important printed formats used in everyday life, requiring much attention on the aesthetic appearance of the message transmitting the main information.

Visual studies
1. To understand aspects of the visual language.
3. To be able to communicate visually. To understand the meaning of visual information and phenomena, and to be able to visualise understandably individual thoughts.

II. Developing a musical ear.
c. Expression of musical experience in verbal and visual form, and with the help of movement.

Topics extracted from the list of materials to be taught to master and develop at certain class levels:

Visual studies

"Visualising different themes, stories. Realising assorted visual information with proper technical solutions." (By end of K4.)

"Performing events with sequences of pictures and simple animation. Preparation of illustrations that represent change, development, or a phenomenon. Condensing contextualised thoughts, reduction of form and colour. Laws and conventions of visual representation and their analysis in illustrations, well known symbols, letter and word pictures, simple movie images. Construction of text and picture, layout techniques." (By end of K6.)

"Combination of text and picture into information with different characteristics." (By end of K8.)

"Aspects of visual language (their connection to other forms of expression - verbal, musical). Context. Experience with some rare techniques and methods of creation. Realising abstract, non-visual information with different effect elements." (By end of K10.)

Movie and media culture

"Practical introduction to the tools of expression in movies: composition in space and time. The evolution of picture development." (By end of K8.)

"How a movie develops a composition: tools for constructing meaning. Organising visual and sound elements in space and time. Fields of application of movies. ‘Information superhighway’ - interactive media." (By end of K10.)


I have developed a microworld for children that allows them to taste the fun of using computers constructively. This microworld was tested on elementary school children and several experiments were conducted with motor disabled children, and those having mental disabilities. Then, following an invitation from the university’s kindergarten the microworld was introduced to children 5-6 years of age [2,3]. Since then it is also in use at a school of hearing impaired children. The microworld(s) were designed to provide an ever increasing motivation for small kids to produce multimedia works with constantly deepening involvement and developing mental constructions, building on previously mastered knowledge [4].

3.1 The Joystick drawer microworld

Building on the knowledge of joystick use in games and drawing programs, this drawer moved the turtle on the screen for scribbling purposes. The difference from other drawing programs was that the turtle (pen) had a position and a heading, which could be modified in a very Logo-like way. Moving the joystick straight ahead or back would move the turtle FORWARD 10 or BACK 10, moving the joystick to the right or left would turn the turtle RIGHT 30 or LEFT 30, respectively. This little modification produced a transition from the absolute movements in other games to the relative co-ordination in a turtle environment. A push on the button of the joystick resulted in PENDOWN and the release in a PENUP movement. The environment could be extended by the use of extra cards containing a Logo command (in Hungarian) and it’s function drawn on it (like: DRAW, BACKGROUND, PENCOLOUR, PENERASE, assigning another angle or forward step for the turtle as default). So if the children wished to e.g. change the background of the screen, then they had to search for the proper card, recognise its function, type in the command and enjoy the reaction. Drawings could be SAVED and LOADED later to be used for further work or as background for later microworlds, or printed on paper to take home.

3.2 The icon drawer microworld

It provided all functions of the previous microworld with an addition of functions and an enhanced way of commanding the turtle by icons. Small pictorial representations of actions were placed on specified keys of the keyboard, which when pressed, performed the requested function. Thus drawing was possible by the recognition of icons on the keyboard and the execution of commands in a more controlled way (press one button - perform one action).

to change the colour of the turtle   Furthermore, a new idea was introduced in the microworld: the turtle remembers the steps taken. Thus some more interes-

FORWARD 10   ting functions could be used:

BACK 10  

play sequences of steps pressed

LEFT 30  

give a name to the drawing so far done

RIGHT 30  

playing the sequence of steps assigned to a name


print all names that have been assigned to a drawing


delete last step as an undo or modification

write on the drawing screen  

delete whole drawing


Functions could be further used by the aid of cards as in the previous microworld, and the SAVEing and LOADing of background images enabled continuation at a later stage or future use with the following microworlds.

3.3 The music microworld

Musical notes were printed as icons onto a set of keys in the position of an octave of musical notes on the keyboard. Here the theme of construction was that of music, facilitating all functions related to the storage of sequences, and adding some further functions related to this specific microworld: names of different musical instruments producing an emulation of their sounds from then on, quickening the rhythm, and slowing down the rhythm. Storage and retrieval of created musical pieces, as well as pre-defined songs assigned to cards with drawings to help recognition, were further facilitated, together with the possibility to load a previously created background picture as illustration.


3.4 Animation microworld

Facilitates all functions of previous microworlds with an addition of functions related to animation:

choosing a shape for turtle;  


printing the shape of turtle;  


activate further turtles;     Increase and decrease the size of shapes.

Here the animation process is emphasised and not the drawings, but the same previous functions allow the recording, modification and control of the environment. Previous drawings, and music created could be loaded and used, while work created here could be stored. Some further built in movements like JUMP, RUSH, UP, DOWN, FLY can be activated or likewise reactivated for use.

3.5 Writer microworld

A simple word processor facilities saving and loading to create the stories related to the previous works.

3.6 A shape editor

An analogy of a well known kindergarten game of putting out pictures on a board of holes using coloured pins to assist the creation of new pictures by the shape editor.

4 Children’s use of the microworld

4.1 Scribbling

The joystick commanded drawing turtle facilitated the introduction of systematic drawing — the Logo way. This allowed at first a mess of a scribbling on the screen, which after mastering the function of the joystick, turned into a controlled drawing mechanism (fig 1.).

The difference in the way the pen could be controlled compared to other drawing tools introduced the idea of relative movement which could be associated very easily with the child’s own mechanism of movement. The more control the children had, the more they wanted even further control and possibilities.

4.2 Controlled actions through icons

Later children entered the icon driven drawing microworld where a more refined drawing process could be performed, this time using a higher command level by associating icons with actions to be taken. Changing a constant line of movement into separate steps associated with the symbolic representation of the steps taken allowed a refined thinking process to take place.

The difference between using a key to perform a function and using to type a letter were well separated within the microworld, so there were no mix-ups in this context.

The possibility of writing on the screen soon developed the urge to combine characters as graphic elements as well as informative objects. Practically all children insisted on their name appearing as a sign on the picture (fig 2.).

4.3 Representations of houses – realising artistic aims

Among the many products, throughout the years I couldn’t find only a single evidence of a house being represented by the over simplified and severely criticised Logo house. But even that was accompanied by another proof of "I can do better than that!" (fig 3.). And I couldn’t find two similar (not to mention identical) representations of houses. Every child composed the form that lived most vividly in his/her mind, using the microworld as another tool for expressing what and how he/she intended it to be: his/her "own house" (fig 4.). Later, some more details were developed to compose the whole idea of the home visualised, or any other type of building, i.e. church, castle, ...etc.

The fact that a computer driven tool can be as precise as needed did not divert any thought of being more messy and artistic in vein. The tool was not just used to create easy forms and their constructions, but as a special aid to express an image visualised.

Some children even compared their abilities and forms of expressions with other types of drawing programs, trying to get out the most using their individual characteristics, or developed variations on someone else’s theme.

Some children produced exceptional pieces of art, proving their talent and mastery of expression with this sort of medium (fig 5. and fig 6.).

4.4 After touches

The result of the hard work lit up the child’s face when the piece of art finally appeared from the printer, to be held in one’s hand, admired, taken home to show off and be proud of. But this was not the end of the process in most cases. Children often retouched their work with some other artistic tools to enrich it, or simply because it motivated them to explore further. Some just enjoyed colouring papers of printouts, some coloured their own pictures, and some enjoyed to play a game of what printed lines might resemble and attempted to continue the shape. A number of very creative works were developed by extending the printout further with drawings by hand, revealing unlimited imagination (fig 7 and fig 8.). And occasionally these computer works themselves served as ideas for handmade drawings.

4.6 Music

Musical notes played after each other, allowing combinations and variations of instruments and speed, facilitated a lot of experiments with music in the same way, but with a different medium. Some children just enjoyed listening to the pre-programmed songs, some chose songs in association with their drawings. And some children tried to recompose a tune heard and enjoyed using the play button to listen to their own product.

4.7 Animation

One of my greatest surprises was the thrill children had when deleting their last step of action. Pressing the icon for it, the turtle’s pen would clear their drawing and reproduce all the steps except for the very last one. The enjoyment of their own undecided turnings and movements all recorded and reproduced as it had been developed, seen again on screen was enjoyed over and over with screams and laughs at the sight of the whole process. I had to insert a special icon that had no other purpose than to play all actions, without deleting the last step. I guess it is not surprising that playing with the animation microworld was just a piece of cake. Now, concentrating on the moving objects and not the drawing itself, different movements could be developed and combined to form a story. Using the pre-defined words for different movements and creating new words, produced a language driven animation microworld that led to a better understanding of written words and their meaning via actions taken [5].




5 Other tools and their approach

5.1 Simple tools

It is not just sophisticated drawing tools that allow children to fully express their fantasies. Simply writing on the command line or a simple text editor of any computer can produce patters of forms found on the keyboard (fig 9.).

Or, typing in a name or pattern, then pressing the arrow key produces an animation effect greatly enjoyed and appreciated by children, yet never even thought of as any legitimate artistic tool by grownups.

5.2 Sophisticated tools

There are many art applications that allow the creation of sophisticated works at a very high level. But rarely does one find among these the possibility of direct interaction with the symbolic representation of the created graphical objects.

Drawing applications like Paintbrush provides a pixel oriented drawing pen, that concentrates on the end result, but modifications or undoing are not easily performed; Kidpix, possessing the taste of a child, gives way to a large repertoire of special effects, yet the tool itself remains the same; an even more playful playground emerges in case of Fine Artist, though the adventure of reaching the tools get a stronger emphasis.

Music tools, mainly developed for professionals, concentrate on high level music production, leaving little space for less professionals wishing to experiment with tunes and variations, or rather the modelling phenomenon in constructing musical themes and understanding the interaction of tunes [6].

Animation tools like Storybook Weaver give a different perspective as well as 3D Movie Maker, which shifts to the direction of approaching real life objects as close as possible, but probably allows less concentration on the animation process itself.

Logo provides a simple code for reproducing a defined object, which can be manipulated in many ways: direction, type of tool to use as pen, speed, colour, size, modifications, and all sorts of combinations. These interactions with the code itself, produce surprising structures that evoke divergent paths in the creation of random designs, interesting figures, further motivating creative explorations. This kind of microworld provides a different tool, with unique features, that can be fruitfully exploited for artistic expression.

5.3 Why the choice of Logo for building tools?

Using Logo, a single procedure of the program becomes a word to be used in the microworld. Thus careful construction results in a library of active words, like: FLY, JUMP, RUSH, ... etc. In this way, the Logo vocabulary can be expanded in any direction and extent. Furthermore, a series of microworlds can be built on top of one-another, using the building blocks of the previous ones, to keep former features and add new ones.

It is very much advised to leave the microworld open, meaning, to allow the application of all of Logo’s features while using the program. This provides for the expandability of programs and a smooth transition from applications with built-in characteristics to the full use of Logo.

The rather unique feature of Logo which allows the creation of procedures along the way, makes it possible to associate words with a series of steps taken (define the word), by the children themselves. With this, the expandability of the microworld takes a unique path in design, and in understanding a building structure.

5.4 Logo tools for artistic expression

Several other workshops done with children of different age groups and abilities proved that such simple tools allow artistic expression. The microworlds and activities developed for the workshops were e.g.:

5.5 Approach through art and not programming tricks

It is not the programming tricks that should be emphasised when tackling a topic in relation to arts, e.g. animation. But the basic animation techniques have to be reconsidered and implemented in a programming environment to be used concentrating on the animation process itself. If this requires certain procedures being too technical to be pre-written, then they should be pre-programmed to allow their use as a part of the microworld itself. Developing actions can thus be done by concentrating on animation techniques and not on programming. This type of approach through context would make integration into subject areas like visual studies possible, while concentrating on artistic aspects [11].

6 Conclusion

What happened at the art symposium? By the end of the presentation practically everyone offered to help me sort and put away the products of computer tools, to be able to fiddle some more time with the evidence of this type of "art work". It proved to them, that such computer microworlds can also be used as artistic tools, in a very different way.

This type of computer tool does not want to substitute any other tools of art, but means to add another different type of instrument to choose from and get acquainted with. This special instrument allows the proceduralisation of an artistic object, providing ground for further experimentation in that respect. At the same time an enriched conceptualisation takes place as well.

Since the appearance of the new National Curriculum, teachers of all levels and types of schooling are more and more interested in computer tools, among others, in the ones described above. The Ministry of Education, realising the pressure from every side, has contributed to the purchase of a national licence, and the localisation and teacher education of the Hungarian Comenius Logo [12] which would help approach the topics of the National Curriculum from various directions. Thus the rebirth of such microworlds and other implementations is very much awaited.

Our new National Curriculum facilitates the use of such tools to better understand and develop artistic context. Art teachers should be introduced to these possibilities to integrate them in their class-work, allowing them to be much better mediators of creative artistic work. While the form of integration depends on open minded experimenting: "Certainly I am more convinced than ever that in this business, artist, teacher and technologist have much to learn from one another."[13]


[1] 130/1995 Government Regulation The National Curriculum, in Hungarian Gazette, Official paper of the Republic of Hungary 1995. No.91.
[2] Turcsányi-Szabó, M., KISLOGO (KIDLOGO), ELTE 1985.
[3] Turcsányi-Szabó, M., Evaluation on a kindergarden project, ELTE tanulmány 1985.
[4] Turcsányi-Szabó. M., Designing Logo pedagogy for elementary education, Proceedings of the Sixth European Logo Conference, Budapest, Hungary, 1997.
[5] Turcsányi-Szabó, M., Where to place LOGO in teacher training. Proceedings of the Fourth European Logo Conference, University of Athens, Department of Informatics, 1993. Athens, Greece.
[6] Bamberger, Jeanne, Logo Music Projects: Experiments in Musical Perception and Design. MIT Logo Memo 52, May 1979.
[7] Józan-Sipos, E., LogoWriter in Visual Studies, Dissertation, Eötvös Loránd University 1994.
[8] Turcsányi-Szabó, M., From SQUARE to a Thousand Cranes. Proceedings of the Fourth European Logo Conference, University of Athens, Department of Informatics, 1993. Athens, Greece.
[9] Kis, G., VIZUAL a Programmable Visual Modeling Environment. Dissertation, Eötvös Loránd University 1997.
[10] Fehér, D., The 3D Extention of Comenius Logo - Explorations. Dissertation, Eötvös Loránd University 1997.
[11] Clayson, James, Visual Modelling with Logo: A Structured Approach to Seeing, MIT Press,1988.
[12] Comenius Logo 3.0 (© localisation M. Turcsányi-Szabó & Kossuth Ltd), from (© Andrej Blaho, Ivan Kalas, Peter Tomcsányi) Kossuth Ltd. 1997.
[13] Beckwith, R. Sterling, Hunting Musical Knowledge in Darkest Medialand, NATO Series Multimedia Interface Design in Education, Springer-Velrag, 1992.