First thoughts on arts, technology and education

You’re likely to read a lot on this site about an arts entrepreneurship symposium that the program I work with, p.a.v.e., is hosting April 1-2.  But before that event happens, I’ve accepted an invitation from Southwestern University to participate in its annual Brown Symposium.  One of the “salons” I’m contributing to is on the subject of arts, technology and education.  I have barely begun to prepare for that salon (I’m much further along with my thoughts on “ethics, arts, and public policy,” which I’ll post here soon) but thought I’d share some first thoughts here:

Artists have historically been early adopters of new technology and new technologies have fed artistic creativity and innovation.  Portable paint technology enabled Monet to paint from nature, for example.  New technology opens new art forms.  Emerging technology today enables artists to “paint from nature” as well, only now we call it “locative art” or “augmented reality” art.  Art that allows the viewer to interact in a real place and in real time with other viewers can support community building.  The question is, do we continue to teach older technologies (the charcoal pencil) when new technologies (the iPhone app) are available?

Many of the technologies that support art are cumulative.  Artmaking technology of yesterday is not like the Phlogiston of the eighteenth century compared to the Oxygen of today, borrowing Thomas Kuhn’s example. While science, according to Kuhn, may be characterized by revolutions in which one paradigm for understanding the world is replaced by another, the technologies employed by artists evolve and accumulate so that the world can be understood in different ways simultaneously and expressed by artists using a charcoal pencil, oil paint, or interactive digital media. Art education, then, would need to address the full panoply of art-making technologies in order to support creativity.  Arguably, educators need not teach students to make casein paint medium (and doing so would really stink up the studio), but the public art practitioner would do well to study the fresco technology employed in the Renaissance.

On the other hand, there are technology-dependent disciplines that tend to throw out the old when the new arrives.  My own field of lighting design is one example.  One would not create a lighting design today on a backbone of gaslight or a thyratron tube dimming system.  Yet, the student of lighting design should understand these outdated technologies and their implications, for they effected not only the visual aesthetic of the theatre but also the very structure of drama and it’s staging.

In the end, I believe more knowledge is better than less.  Educators have a responsibility to teach their students the newest and most innovative art-making technologies while providing the important historical and critical contexts in which the technology and the aesthetic it supports developed so that that knowledge – and that technology – can be used responsibly in the service of creativity.

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
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