Technology in the Art Room

Paint cansConstantin Roman, Art Education

Most of the past posts on this blog have looked at the relationship between technology and education primarily through a STEM lens. This week, I want to take the opportunity to discuss how the changing technological climate has impacted the art classroom. My background is in art education, and I have constantly striven to incorporate technology and new media techniques in my practice. Here, I will discuss how access to new techniques and the rise of social media in an art context have changed the ways in which teachers teach, and how students learn.

New Techniques

One of the most significant impact technology has had on art education is the degree to which certain mediums are now available to students. Previously, techniques such as digital drawing and stop motion animation required high-end or specialized equipment, making it out of reach for most schools and students. Or, processes such as photography were far more complex, and required a greater investment in both time and available space. With programs such as  Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, and Illustrator, however, the same techniques can be taught in much more intuitive and accessible ways. Processing a photograph no longer requires developing trays, developing tanks, huge enlargers, potentially hazardous chemicals, careful temperature and time control, or any of the other thousand-and-one variables that go into processing a roll of film. This is not to say analog and manual methods are obsolete; artists and teachers still frequently employ analog techniques as an aesthetic choice. But digital techniques allow students to try these methods without the same type of investment previously required of them.

A great example of this simplification can be seen in one of the techniques mentioned above: stop motion animation. One of the first projects I taught students was how to make charcoal animations in the style of William Kentridge (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmvK7A84dlk). The act of making multiple frames by hand is still a labor-intensive process, since students are constantly drawing, wiping charcoal, drawing again, wiping charcoal off again, etc. However, using an analog photographic method adds a second layer of complexity, as the film needs to be processed, and the still frames need to be combined into a motion picture. With digital photography and a computer, however, this process was reduced to less than 30 minutes. The students loaded the frames they shot into iMovie, which was able to compile the frames into a complete film in a matter of minutes. From there, the students were able to easily add and sync audio to their films. The entire process was reduced to something that could be done in an afternoon, rather than an exceptionally long and exhaustive method. The process could have been further streamlined by using an animation program rather than charcoal. However, the charcoal was a deliberate aesthetic choice, and something I wanted the students to have experience with.

Social Media and Art

With the advent of social media, students can take on the roles of both promoter and curator to a much greater degree than previously available. Sites such as tumblr and Instagram allow students to post their work to an enormous, receptive audience. Recently, I student taught at a high school, and it was not uncommon to see students frequently posting their art to Instagram. This is something even more pronounced at the college level; msot of my peers are frequent users of tumblr as a form of self promotion. At the same time, though, these sites give students a much greater degree of access to contemporary art. Without much work, a student has access to an enormous catalog of contemporary art and artists, both well-known and obscure. This allows students to curate and cultivate their own taste, developing their own sense of what they find appealing. More so, it allows students to look beyond the often-criticized “dead white man” approach to learning about art, giving them access to works by marginalized groups that would not typically receive much coverage in a textbook or a classroom.

The Financial Aspect

Although the new digital methods are typically more financially accessible, there is still a significant financial investment required by both schools and students. It is naïve to assume all students and schools have ready access to equipment like digital SLR cameras, or powerful computers to run digital imaging software. This type of equipment is gradually becoming ubiquitous, but there is still a ways to go before everyone has ready access to it. Still, more and more schools are seeing the value of these methods, and teachers are using whatever resources are available to them to ensure their students have at least temporary access. Recently, a high school teacher in Urbana applied for a grant to purchase iPods for her classrooms, as this would give each student instant access to the Internet, and all the resources that come with this. Other methods, such as DonorsChoose.com, allow teachers to receive crowdfunding support to pursue their projects, regardless of medium.

The rise of technology in the art classroom has changed teaching in very significant ways. However, with the accessibility students now have in regards to mediums and resources, certain teaching methods are no longer adequate. Teaching from a textbook or relying on the same dated projects is no longer acceptable, as students know there is a greater art world beyond the classrooms. It is up to teachers to not only accept these changes, but to adapt and include them in their own teaching practice.

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