Aesthetic Inquiry – Technology or Handmade Art?


Digital wave

Artist of the Day videos have a daily presence in my art classroom; just after the bell rings, I flip the lights off and show my students a video before we start our other work in class.  The videos are short, 3 to 5 minutes, which makes them easy to fit into our busy schedule.  This activity is central to my teaching strategies for showing divergent thinking in art making, as well as seeing contemporary artists’ work.  More and more artists are utilizing technology in the production of their art, and the Artist of the Day videos I find are reflecting that trend.

This week I had an Artist of the Day video lineup that centered around the theme of “Light and Shadow”.  4 of the 5 videos used different forms of technology to create their effects, some of them stunningly so.  I wondered which of the videos the students would prefer, but I also wondered what they thought about the primary use of technology in the artists’ works.  Here is the lineup of my videos:

  • Monday – Night Stroll – 2:03 – an interesting use of strong, geometric lights that appear in a city setting
  • Tuesday – Apparition HD grand finale – Klaus Obermaier & Arts Electronica Futurelab, feat. Rob Tannion – 3:50 – a mesmerizing performance of dance and light
  • Wednesday – Art Created from Shadows – Out of Light & Dark Comes Beauty – 2:39 – silhouettes of dancers creating forms and sculptures of found objects that cast a shadow of a different object
  • Thursday – Mirror City – 4:30 – time lapse photography of cities manipulated into a kaleidoscope abstraction
  • Friday – Paris by Light (legal lights graffiti) MARKO93 – 5:27 – MARKO creates light graffiti through Paris at night

I like to have the students respond in writing to these aesthetic inquiries – I am able to get each student’s opinion this way.  When I try to conduct a class discussion, the majority of the students don’t offer up what they think, so the writing exercise allows me to hear what they think and feel about art.  It also let’s me get a sense of the group’s overall aesthetic preferences.  The world is changing rapidly, and I can see that trend also reflected in contemporary art!  I teach 14-16 year olds, and I am really curious about what they like and find interesting.  Giving them an informal “poll” helps me understand where their interests lie.  The questions and some of their answers for this week were as follows:

1.  Indicate which video was your favorite and tell me why.

I had a technology problem showing the videos – my brand new data projector has been occasionally not working, so the last 3 classes on Friday weren’t able to see the Paris by Light video.  I hate that!  This threw my numbers off, but Mirror City was liked by the majority of students in each class (and, it was my personal favorite of the week!).  It seems to be the most technologically manipulated and the spectacular visuals are just mesmerizing, so I wasn’t surprised that it came out on top.  Some of their responses about why they chose it were:

  • It looked very beautiful and the music really added emphasis to the variations.
  • It was nice to look at and and it made me think
  • I just loved it – it inspired me
  • I liked how it was always changing
  • I liked this because it showed a different perspective on everyday things

The surprising runner up was the Art Created from Shadows video, which did not use computer technology, but people and cast shadows to create new images.  Here is a sampling of their thoughts about this video:

  • It had a more traditional use of light, like shadows on paper
  • The figures created by the dancer’s shadows are very creative and surprising and show more effort and ideas
  • I didn’t hurt my eyes to look at and it was cool
  • The others seemed alike and this one was cool how people were making shadow puppets
  • Because out of simple trash it created cool art

2.  Why do you think artists like to experiment with light in their work?

This second question asked them to put themselves into the artists’ thinking and imagine themselves in the artists’ shoes.  Here’s what they thought about experimenting with light as an art medium:

  • Because light adds a glow to artwork.  Light isn’t something you can touch, but is something you can alter.
  • It’s kind of mysterious.
  • It flows kind of like paint.
  • Grabs the viewer’s attention and makes you look.
  • Artists feel that light makes things come to life.
  • They like to pop the art, illuminate.
  • Because it’s a fun thing to manipulate.
  • There are so many different and cool tricks you can do with it like bend it.
  • Because it’s very modern, non-permanent and experimental.

3.  What qualities does light have that other art materials or media don’t have?

I wanted to push their thinking a little bit farther after they thought about why an artist would use light and articulate what qualities light had as a medium.  They had some interesting ideas about this:

  • It is not a concrete material and can make many more images from one image – it also changes the way you look at things.
  • It’s less permanent.  It is something that is there, then you turn off the light or the computer and it’s gone.
  • Light is controlled by electricity, not by hands.
  • It has a perfect contrast between light and dark.
  • Light is natural and it has a different feel to it.
  • It can create different moods.
  • It is bright, magical and so alive!

4.  How do you feel about the use of technology (using computers and computer applications) in making art?  Do you like art made with a heavy use of technology?  Explain your viewpoint.

I was particularly interested in finding out their thoughts about this line of questions.  There is a general idea that young people, who we call digital natives, are more enamored with the use of technology than with creating things “by hand”.  In fact, the balance I found from their responses was very telling.  Around half of them enthusiastically embraced technology in art making, but the other half might acknowledge the positive use of technology in art, but preferred making art by hand in traditional ways as they felt it was more authentic and real.  They expressed these feelings in these ways:

  • If it’s original, why not?  Art can be created with anything.
  • It’s very creative and impressive – I think it can let you explore more to art than just pencil and paper.
  • Using technology for art is 21st century, so people like it in this century.
  • I like how detailed you can get with technology, I prefer art with technology.
  • Yes, because it’s new and fun.  Technology makes things different.
  • (I LOVE this next response…) Art is like an app – it gets updated when people make it better.
  • I feel like drawing something with your hands is more traditional, or more meaningful for me in making art.
  • It looks good, but doesn’t take as much skill as doing it the old fashioned way.
  • No, I do not like technology used with art because it’s like cheating.  You are taking out the effort of artwork.  (emphasis by author)
  • I don’t like computers besides my phone.  So I’m not good with art on computers.
  • I feel art should be your expression, without help from a computer.  It needs to be natural.
  • It’s OK, but what really amazes me is the classic kind of art and all the skill it takes to make such art.

How do I feel about the use of technology and art?  I suppose I lie somewhere in the middle myself.  I am amazed at the new ways artists are using technology to create innovative forms of art, I love technology and am drawn to it’s power and potential.  But at the end of the day, it’s my own little journal that I turn to when I want to be creative or express a thought or emotion.  Our feelings and thoughts about art always go back to the individual, to their ideas and their experiences that become lenses that they look at art through.  Art embraces all ideas, all viewpoints – there is no right or wrong approach, and I’m very happy to see that my students embrace their own ideas strongly and confidently, no matter what their viewpoint is.  We are all responding to the world around us in our own unique ways.  For me, I am…..

Blooming

which is somewhere between the old and the new.  What are your views on using technology in art?

One thought on “Aesthetic Inquiry – Technology or Handmade Art?

  1. How great that an “art class” can be used to spark an intellectual discussion the way it is sometimes done in core classes; the sad part is that this is what should happen in all of them. I was especially drawn to the last question and the responses. It’s rather like the comparison and arguments that arose between painting and photography. Conceptions about what makes art have moved into the digital age with a giant leap.

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