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to compute or not to compute









in general, as far as choosing to use or not use the computer in my teaching i am in a unique position, my entire curriculum of computer graphics is based on exploring electronic technology as expressive art tools and therefore my classes focus mainly on using the computer in as many ways as possible to create art. within that context the smaller decisions about what students do as part of the curriculum varies as i learn more about what is possible, what students are interested in, how much the students are able to master on the computer in 12 weeks, how to combine the computer technology with other mediums, and whether or not the computer is being viewed as a enjoyable tool and not a frustration. the more i teach in this area and understand what works and what doesn't, the less my students are getting frustrated with the technology and the more they are experiencing success. also the concept that the computer will do the work for you is less present. the students and i are learning the advantages and disadvantages of using the computer. as a result choices are made based on trial and error, for example if someone has a drawing that they wish to put into the computer they have the choice of photographing it, scanning it, tracing it or redrawing it on the computer. depending on their method of working and success some choose to scan it and then manipulate it, others choose to redraw it with the mouse. it is common for a student to try both methods and then decide which they prefer.

the current project, cd packaging design, required a scanned element, an internet element, a photographed element, original artwork and their logo design. i did not define which parts were to be scanned, drawn etc. therefore they had the freedom to make decisions about which method would work best for each piece of their project. because of our disappointing color printer, some students in fact chose to print their project in black and white and then hand color the pages with colored pencils. i try to emphasize the word tool by making the computer not the only medium we use. we combine the work from other classes into the work with this class - we scan and photograph other mediums, other projects created in art classes, we continue ideas started in other classes. logos designed and embroidered in clothing as art were scanned and animated in computer graphics. also we take our work out of the computer and combine it with other mediums - we use printouts to draw on, to collage, to make story-books. i want to help my students see the computer as tool that is good for certain tasks, not every task - combine it with other classes and do joint projects. laurie and i are planning a pop-up book project where the content is generated on the computer, printed out on various papers and then folded into sculptural books.

when i have collaborated with the other art teachers at my school on art projects done with computers, there are issues that arise in terms of this question. i asked the question of myself replacing clay for computers - list three criteria that you use to determine if you will use or not use clay in the art class (assuming that it is not a ceramics class). if it were a drawing class we would use clay for modeling gestures in a figure to then draw, or perhaps to understand the volume or texture of an object students would model the shape with their hands and then draw it on paper. this helps me to define what it is about the computer that is advantageous, when it is an appropriate tool. the first advantage is that it can be a very practical tool. when we have taken drawing classes to the computer lab to do animation for example, the advantage of the computer is that it allows students to get more animated in a shorter amount of time than they would by hand drawing each frame. the process we have tried that seems to work: students create rough sketches of the plan for the animation, then draw one of the basic frames on transparency film, then place that film on the screen (it magnetically sticks), trace that image with the mouse, then by using a function on the computer called layers, they are able to easily make the minor changes of the motion and save each as its own frame - in a few hours they have completed fairly complex animations in full color and smooth motion without any prior computer instruction.

another advantage in this type of situation is that of flexibility. an art student who is unable or unwilling to try new approaches or take risks in their art-making is perhaps not going to learn what it is to make mistakes that then lead to other more successful work - happy accidents. i try to encourage my painting students to build up layers of paint and if you don't like it wipe down or cover up. this process, i tell them will begin to build in possibilities that you might otherwise miss. however much i reassure them of this method some of the more timid painters find the most comfortable way of working is to map out a painting, and then fill it in carefully, for the most part just as they have planned. by taking them to the computer lab, however, they are able to see how easy it is to try a method and undo if they don't prefer it, or save multiple versions of a work and try many different approaches in a relatively short period of time (compared to repainting the images on canvas). even though the physical results of painting on a computer are quite different and for many, unsatisfying, the change that results in the mode of working for some students, can be great - the flexibility of the computer opens up the flexibility of the artist. they are able to try new approaches in their mode of working on canvas.

a third advantage and this takes us back to my computer graphics course is that by choosing to use the computer in an art class such as drawing or ceramics, exposes students to yet another mode of expression - and perhaps the one that suits one of them best. i have encountered students who would be quite happy using the same media - pencil and eraser for all of their work - it is comfortable and reliable. however, they limit themselves by not being versed in as many modes of expression. by introducing them to the electronic media realm of art-making they are increasing their options of what they can choose from to create meaningful artwork. the interest raised in this way is why we have the classes computer graphics, advanced c.g. , video and advanced v. just as we have ceramics as a class devoted to examining clay as a creative tool, the computer classes allow students to explore the possibilities related to art-making.

as i define the criteria i use to determine when i use the computer or not in my own work i find that there are certain tasks that the computer is appropriate for and others that it is simply not and that the question becomes when do i set aside time to do the tasks that i need to do on the computer. and the answer many times is later, the computer will always be there waiting for me to do my projects. it also doesn't become irritated if i ignore it. this is why i have many yellow sticky notes on the front of the monitor reminding me of various tasks i need to do on the computer when time permits. i have art projects waiting - the 400 photos i took over break with the digital camera that i want to transfer to videotape for my family members, making a flip book of some film of fred astaire playing with a flip book of ginger rogers dancing, working on the city high art dept. web page, making a morphing animation of all of the faces of the women in my family - for fun, putting myself in a photo with cary grant, animating my nieces, designing text to use for my letterpressing class projects, working on the scanning, recording and editing of family photos and stories.

the list goes on and on the more i learn and want to try. and these projects wait because other tasks take priority - even the art-making that i do at home - perhaps they would get done if i had a computer at home but i'm not ready to make that commitment. another task i do on the computer is hunting for information and here is where i choose not to use the computer much of the time. based on experience, finding information on the internet is many times frustrating and results in a waste of time dead-end. therefore i usually choose to call and talk to my brother rick first and he gives me the direction i need to know where to go from there - sometimes websites, stores, people or simply the data i need to make a decision. he is my selective filter of information.

does it simplify the task and save me time? do i enjoy doing it on the computer? is it "better" if done on the computer?

related text: technopoly by neil postman

back then

later on

in response to the book close to the machine by ellen ullman i did a lesson with my high school students in which they were to use the computer to make the art but the challenge was to display the work outside of the computer:

"these computer graphics students were given the challenge of using the computer to create art that in its final form, as you see it here today, did not require a computer in order to be viewed. and that pushed what we normally thing of as computer related artwork. there were no restrictions on size, materials or format."

some of the art that was created: 3d model of a room, portrait of inventor ohm made of transistors, fantasy celebrity photo album, children's storybook, laminated stick puppets, clothing, posters, money, wooden figure, flip book, puzzle, 3d papermache sculpture of a computer painting, evolution vs creation artist's book.


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