"In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
-- George Orwell
"Art is the lie that tells the truth."
-- Pablo Picasso
"And what is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good...
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?"
-- Robert M. Persig,
Epigraph to Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance,
How does one prepare a student for a future that is likely to be unlike our present? For many years besides producing my own personal art, I worked for technology companies designing and coding for the web. Many of these technology jobs were not even invented at the time I was obtaining my higher education. I was able to obtain these jobs because I had studied the fine arts and had a strong foundation in drawing and design, I had also continued to teach myself as I developed new technology skills long after I graduated. One of the lessons I learned which I try to pass on to my students is the important skill of learning how to learn, to be ambitious, and to not just stop with new techniques, but to develop independent critical thinking, as well as a thought process that allows you to solve problems both in and outside the classroom. Each student is at a unique stage of their development. It is my goal and expectation that students work hard to enrich their knowledge of history and theory, strive to improve their craft, and continue to investigate what it means to be a working artist. An important part of the learning process is for students to develop the ability to clearly express and share ideas verbally, and to realize that they are not just sitting in a room of peers, but are active participants in an ongoing historical tradition of making images and telling stories that is over 40,000 years old.
In 2009, I was hired as an assistant professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale to teach 'New Media' within the Department of Cinema and Photography. I created four completely new co-convened courses: CP 440/MCMA 511 (New Media Production), CP 470D / MCMA 543 (Experimental Strategies: Live Art), CP 361 / MCMA 552 (History of New Media), CP 470 / MCMA 543 (Generative Art), as well as two completely new graduate courses: MCMA 512 (Web & Interaction Design), MCMA 516 (Net.Art). I have also taught the introduction production course CP102 (Sound and Image) and the graduate studio course MCMA 557 (MFA Studio Arts Practice). One of the exciting and challenging aspects of these co-convened courses, is the variety of students who are interested in art and technology, ranging from undergraduates majoring in photography, cinema, radio, television and journalism, to MS students interested in traditional web production to MFA and PhD students wanting to use the network as an artistic medium. The history, theory, and technical aspects are the same for all students, but the intent and final output changes depending on the student and their projects. This range of students with differing degrees of technical skills has forced me to improve my teaching by breaking the technical challenges down into discreet and simple units that then build in complexity. It has also helped me to better develop the ability to talk to the students about their own interests and projects and connecting them to the larger big picture of change taking place in the world, and in reverse forcing me to break down the global change into discreet parts that relate directly to the local effects within the students lives.
The basis of my teaching is made up of traditional and new ideas about how best to become an artist and critical thinker. I emphasize to my students the importance of observation and good design. New technologies are simply tools to be learned and used in ways similar to traditional media. But there is a paradigm shift, as outlined by Lev Manovich in his book Language of New Media, that is a very important idea that affects all media making today. It can be stated simply that once media is digital, it is also computer data. The implications of such a simple statement can not be underestimated. Once information is digital, 1) it's represented numerically, 2) it's modular, 3) it can be automated, 4) it's variable and 5) it can be transcoded into many formats. These five principles of new media is what makes digital media different from all other traditional media by the very fact it is also computer data. I work hard to help my students see the potential of this seemingly simple statement. When a student manipulates an image in Photoshop, they are changing the media, as well as changing computer data.
One of the objectives in my new courses, such as CP440/MCMA 511 (New Media Production) is to have students understand that technology is the means to the creation of the art, design and story telling. Learning technical skills can be very deceptive, as it is easy to want to know the latest technologies without understanding the history and theory behind the development of those very same technologies. I encourage my students in thinking of themselves as artists and to not just be good technicians. I focus on the art and design issues, letting the requirements of the creative process lead to the technological solutions. The use of technology that encourages freedom, rather than control, is important to me in my own research, and is expressed in my teaching as I have students use free and open source software as much as possible. The philosophy of free software is a good model for learning about the empowering potential of art and technology through collaboration. Free software means free as in freedom, not free as in no cost. To have the freedom to look at the code and understand how it works, to have the ability to make changes, and to share those changes with others is exactly how successful education works. Students learn that if you do not have the knowledge and freedom to control the software, the result will be that the software controls you.
Another objective in my courses is to show that art and technology are not in opposition, and that often artists and computer scientists have similar approaches and interests. For example in CP 361 / MCMA 552 (History of New Media), I try to bring an interdisciplinary approach to the history of art and technology, looking at primary sources that brought about change from both artists and computer scientists. The class then considers the resulting economic and social effects of such change. I encourage students to consider how images, ideas and technologies can and often do change the world, and that they have a responsibility as did those in the past, to always consider the effects of what they make and do.
I have long been committed to diversity and recognize the challenges faced by women and other minorities. I have consistently worked to give these students a positive and welcoming experience both inside and outside the classroom. I make great efforts to include diversity within my classes by consciously including examples of both women and minority artists and scholars in my lectures and presentations. Building upon this diversity of content. I encourage students to develop curiosity, experimentation, and invention as well as to reinforce that they must always be flexible, adaptable and learning long after they leave their formal educations behind. It is imperative that students develop the critical thinking skills necessary for them to become responsible media makers, so they can go out and make the world better.
We live in an amazing moment in time, where people carry smart devices that we usually call phones. Twenty years ago, you needed to be a newspaper publisher, or a film or tv studio to do what this pocket device can do with an Internet connection. One of the challenges of our time is that these technologies promise free expression, and yet ironically they seem to only produce the tightening of already existing corporate and government control. It is through the understanding of the history and theory which has led to this present moment in time that our students will become fully prepared as creative media makers for our rapidly changing future.