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Environmental Art and Technology


From: Diane Gregory (dianegregory_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sun Jun 09 2002 - 08:10:29 PDT

Hi All again,

Continuing the dialogue about how best to use technology.
At Southwest Texas State University, where I teach, several
years ago Peter London came to speak to our art education
majors. What still sticks in my mind about what he had to
say I am now relating back to our discussion about Reality
and Abstraction and Technology.

He was proposing that children of all ages encounter the
natural and human made environment and this would be our art
tools. I am also thinking about the ecology and art

Since then I have conceived of several Peter London, Art and
Ecology and Andy Goldsworthy-like art lessons for my art
education majors in my Learning and Digital Media course.
(This is a required course in our art teacher preparation
program. Technology is integrated throughout our five art
education methods courses, as well.) We are fortunate to
have a very high end Macintosh computer lab for our art
education majors with the latest in software and hardware.

 One in particular involved having them go into the untamed
country and using sticks, rocks, leaves, cactus, etc,
indigenous to the local countryside, I had them create a six
foot natural mosaic. I asked them to record the process
using digital cameras (some used conventional cameras and
then later scanned the images) and to keep an audio tape of
their thoughts while they made the work. I was asking them
to document their own process. They returned two weeks
later with images of wonderful work and fascinating audio

I also had them take those images and put them in their
computers and do additional work with them. What resulted
in my opinion was less than wonderful when compared with
what they had done with the natural objects alone. Perhaps,
by that time, they had exhausted their artistic souls and
had come to a completion before they had started the work on
the computer. If doing this environmental/technology
experiment again, I would have them get on the computer with
their environmental images much sooner and to use the
computer to help them generate new directions for the
physical environmental work and vice versa.

As part two, after they had completed the natural mosaic, I
then had them do an assignment that totally existed within
the computer using photoshop, clarisworks and KipPix. This
was a digital surrealistic metaphorical self-portrait. They
were restricted to using only the computer. The work was
interesting but to me less satisfying. However, this may
just be my own bias talking. The students reported they
enjoyed the first project better. In all fairness, these
students have mostly been raised with 'real' art materials
and only recently have been introduced to the computer to
make art.

We held online discussions about the two approaches and
debated the issue of Reality and Abstraction. As I said in
an earlier post, the atmosphere in the class was quite
stimulating and invigorating. The topic really touched a
cord in these art teachers to-be. We had more questions than
answers. Too me this is the type of critical dialogue I
always want in my classrooms.

Going back to the question at hand, using technology vs
"traditional" materials. There is no doubt the computer is
here to stay. That is not to say we go blindly into that
good night. Perhaps when introducing technology to students
in the art classroom, it should be introduced in a manner
that allows and generates conscious-raising about the
process and the efficacy of using the computer to make art.
(This finally is the main point of my long last.
what do you expect from a university professor? :-)) I
believe we may want to help our K-12 students think about
all of these issues of Reality and Abstraction as they
engage in computer technology or any technology generated
experience. Not because we don't support it, but because we
can learn so much about aesthetics and criticism by doing
so. We can help them become very critical thinkers, while
helping them make art. We can help them look at the
consequences of artistic choices and to help them ponder
what they think about the choices and trade-offs that happen
when using technology alone, when using technology with
traditional tools or using traditional tools alone.

I realize this is the ideal and in the day to day reality of
the K-12 classroom there is scant time to spend on such
metaphysical issues. However, once in a while, an
opportunity might present itself.

For me as an art teacher educator, the unit on Reality and
Abstraction took a lot of time away from other art education
and technology concepts that I had hoped to teach that
semester. It also shortened the amount of time they had to
work on creating their web sites. On the other hand, I
don't regret the time invigorated the class and
I think when students have more questions than answers that
is a big indication that learning is actually going on. I
still revel in the after-glow of that experience and this is
what helps me continue to keep continuing teaching this
thing we call Art Education.

I would be interested in any more thoughts you guys have. I
too am alone, since I am the only full time art educator on
staff at my university and I cherish the opportunity to
dialogue with people like yourselves that care passionately
about art and art education.