Presented @ “Rethinking Foundations: Ideals, Purposes, Needs” @ the 2012 Middle America College Art Association Conference Wayne State University, Detroit MI, Thursday October 4.
Prologue: init NewMedia = “There are no words for what we do”.
As always, when defining the boundaries between chaos and order, we are limited by language. Is any dynamic artist, designer or scholar ever comfortable or satisfied with a label for their research, beyond the most general? Post-structuralism and post-modernism are replete with those who reject even being included in these categories. This is also true of new media/interactive art/media art/technology art/digital art/.../transmedia. Already, some reading this are making notes for a rebuttal that denies that these fields are even remotely related. We ask your indulgence because as artists&&designers working across many fields of research and practice, we feel that there are no words for what we do. We have no specific field but we must speak. We ask that you allow us the use of “new media” as a variable, a phrase that will hold different data (and may even contain the wrong data at times).
We will begin by using “new media” with a common, loose definition that encompasses practices that start with the introduction of video and is primarily traced by practices using technology both from outside the art world (television, personal computers, 3d modeling, augmented reality, consumer devices) and from within (sound, virtual reality, creative coding). By the time we are done we hope to have (re/un)defined “new media” as an array that can be loaded with a multiplicity of practices whose boundaries (types) as defined by the practices used for contemporary communication and interaction. New media, for us, is a practice that occurs at the intersection of code-based art, social practices and design and we will address all three, none of which can be well-defined. We do not mind the lack of intersubjectivity. Our interest in contemporary art “foundations” has been exploring the interdependent art and design worlds and sensibilities that are open and based on the interaction between people who are all engaged in the struggle of living, loving, exploring, building, communicating, designing, and inventing in the zones between chaos and community.
part 1: $ ls
// Foundation Mythologies
- // There are well-defined, established, universal foundations for art and design practice.
- // New media “techniques” should be folded into existing foundations.
- // Some Photoshop, video and blogging constitute an education.
- // New media “techniques” are no more relevant than studio techniques.
- // Students do not want to learn new media...
- // ...and they already know everything about new media anyway.
part 2: 404 error
// New Media Approaches and Foundations Curriculum, or No Room No Room!
“The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: 'No room! No room!' they cried out when they saw Alice coming. 'There's plenty of room!' said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.”1
The question of how to integrate, add or fold new media into foundations programs has been addressed in multiple papers and panels at various conferences for a few years. Often this leads to a question of time and an acknowledgement that there is not enough time in a first year curriculum for everything that everyone wants to cover. Unfortunately this question also neglects to acknowledge the power dynamic inherent in its asking. The question could more honestly be phrased as “How can new media possibly fit into the existing curriculum, one that we presume must remain?” Instead, we propose considering why new media would be added to or used to augment approaches often rooted in the early 1900s.
part 3: alert(“Hello Worlds”)
// New Media Approaches and Foundations in a Contemporary World
There were 245,203,319 internet users in the US (representing 78.3% of the population) (2012)2
About 23 percent of all adults visited an art museum or gallery. The percentage of adults attending at least one benchmark arts activity declined from 39 percent in 2002 to less than 35 percent (2008)3
New media is not a set of techniques aimed toward a specific art practice. Nor is it simply a parallel tool set invented to translate established creative and aesthetic concerns. Instead, it encompasses the contemporary media environment that much of the world encounters every day. While fine art paintings or sculptures are objects that one enters a privileged space in order to encounter, screen-based culture and designed experiences are incidents one cannot help but encounter while pumping gas or waiting for the train. From birth4, our students enter into a relationship with new media as branding and marketing, billions of dollars are spent competing for their attention and memory. They grow up increasingly surrounded by screens by which they interact with their school, community and world. Why would we begin their college art education with curriculum based in physical, studio processes, often via approaches developed to educate soldiers returning from World War I?. New Media is instantaneously global in scope/scale.
part 4: low battery warning
// New Media Approaches and The Double Negative
In Foundations Mythologies, students often exist in an imagined quantum superposition, at the same time using digital media constantly and knowing all they need to know about “computer skills,” yet having no interest in them and no interest in learning them. This gives those who would defend the traditional studio curriculum a circular, self-affirming defense against even discussing the lack of contemporary approaches.
The majority of first year students think of their computers as they have increasingly been trained to think of them: as devices for ubiquitous consumption of media, places to shop, and occasionally tools for preparing tired, regurgitated papers and presentations. It is not surprising that students trained to sit passively in front of Netflix while selecting Instagram photos to upload to Facebook (with the potential for instant, positive critique) might show little interest in learning to build collages in Photoshop, or add complexity to a traditional analog process for the sake of using new tools - especially if the approach and process is contextually tied into exclusive/privileged/dominant/normal art paradigms.
During our first week of our Freshmen Web Media course at SAIC, students were asked to evaluate Rhizome’s Artbase Categories, including: Formalism and Glitch, Code, Digital Archivalism, Tactical Media, Net.art and Hypertext, and Rendered Reality - responding to the area that most intrigued and interested them. Repeatedly, students revealed that they didn’t know the constructs represented in the Rhizome’s Artbase even existed as creative practices.
“After reading these six categories, I thought about things and came to the conclusion that I had never heard of these art forms before. Using the internet and the web as your actual artwork was something so new to me. The only thing was that since these were so new to me, I felt like I could not really relate to them, but when choosing the one that most interests me, I would have to chose Tactical Media. This one was so interesting to me because I am not one of the most aggressive people you will meet, and when I read about these creative forms for standing up for what you believe were considered an art for, that amazed me. I mean you always hear about people expressing themselves in their artwork, but this is a whole new thing.” - First year student
“With the arrival of the computer and the ability to render reality (photos and videos of reality), Surrealism is totally taken to the next level. I also really identified with this category and these works due to pop culture in the nineties. Even though I was mostly attracted to Rendered Reality, I still greatly appreciated the other categories. I never realized how much the computer had impact on the art world, I look forward seeing more art inspired by the computer/ internet.” - First year student
“This assignment left me a bit intimidated because the subject is completely unfamiliar to me. At the same time, I also enjoyed it very much because I got to explore a form of art that I had never really looked into before. Maybe one of the reasons why I enjoyed this collection so much was because I really didn't understand a lot of it.” - First year student
part 4: copy and paste
// New Media Approaches and The Media Is The Message
Those at all familiar with educational computing are already familiar with the arc of Apple, from a struggling company focused on devices that could be used for creative exploration to a company that has invented the contemporary paradigm for locked-down consumption devices. It is because so many art programs bought into the previous locked-down system (teaching the Adobe Suite and video editing on Apple computers) as “new media” that some are panicking about how to continue when Apple (inevitably, in our opinion) drops all support for their devices as creative platforms.
There is a message behind “training” students on “industry standard” software: it is possible for tools to be neutral. Nothing could be further from the truth. Photoshop, as a single example, is a corporate paradigm, a source of memes, a long set of interface histories, a political tool that attacks women’s bodies and undermined any popular sense of photo as reality, intellectual property, an expensive privilege —Photoshop is a site on which to begin only one small part of a new media foundation. Without considering code, pixels, memetics, data, copyright, semiotics, and visual literacy in a complex, hands-on, new media approach, teaching Photoshop becomes another form of teaching locked-down consumption.
part 5: while loop
// New Media Approaches and Transient Curriculum
Before we discuss a contemporary curriculum for art and design in the first year of college, traditionally and now perhaps questionably called “foundations,” we should plan for the day when our curriculum becomes less relevant. In designing the Vorkurs, the Bauhaus preliminary course introduced in 1919, Johannes Itten could not have imagined that he was designing a curriculum for 2012, and yet much of foundations art and design education is still based on his approach (or more dated approaches). Although he had already been pushed out of the Bauhaus by the time Gropius made clear that the school was concerned about the “dominant spirit of our epoch”,5 Itten’s writing makes clear that his teaching was radical and responded to the contemporary art and design worlds in his time, in which he participated.6 Foundations programs have adopted, rather randomly, Bauhaus curriculum components since the end of the Berlin Bauhaus in 1933 while seemingly ignoring that the conditions that lead to their development had shifted, and continue to change, radically.
We propose abandoning the results of Itten’s process and instead considering the process itself. He was responding to the events of the First World War and the resulting “scientific-technical” civilization.7 In contrast to his resulting pedagogical approach, we can no longer responsibly imagine an art and design approach that is ordered, singular or universal. We instead begin by constructing limited, contemporary scenarios. We are only jumping ahead twenty-four years after the Bauhaus, to the Situationist International’s “Preliminary Problems in Constructing a Situation”. Yet we are light years closer to our contemporary issue of creating an open system of examples rather than principles and laws:
“That's why the Situationists don't confront the world with: ‘Here's your ideal organization, on your knees!’ They simply show by fighting for themselves and with the clearest awareness of this fight, why people really fight each other and why they must acquire an awareness of the battle.”8
Which battles, which struggles - can we prepare students for? Which situations can we construct within the structure of a formal institution? How can we break from our own limited models, and refrain from indoctrinating students into our own art and design worlds and instead support them in formation of their own?
We cannot presume that any specific skills are a foundation for inventing art and design, much less the traditional studio skills related to painting, sculpture and life drawing. In the last few decades, art has refocused on daily life yet also expanded further into science and technology. In the expansion, space has become available for broad experimentation, but the situation is unstable. Art, design and community were intertwined before art was cut out and placed in a white cube. Design, art and technology intersections have moved far beyond the pairing of artists and engineers in "9 Evening: Theatre & Engineering" (despite its recent resurrection as AOL’s “Seven on Seven”). Art and design students must make sense of materials, substances, systems, knowledge, process, generation, and simulation. Code is art practice is procedure is design is research is community.
The unstable present must be addressed but we question whether “change” should be so readily embraced. We return to the myth that new media education is software training. Deleuze noted that in our contemporary societies of control “perpetual training” would tend to replace formal education.9 Constantly changing contemporary art and design worlds should not lead to constant tech mobilization, as described by The Invisible Committee:
“Mobility brings about a fusion of the two contradictory poles of work: here we participate in our own exploitation, and all participation is exploited. Ideally, you are yourself a little business, your own boss, your own product. Whether one is working or not, it’s a question of generating contacts, abilities, networking, in short: ‘human capital.’ The planetary injunction to mobilize at the slightest pretext – cancer, ‘terrorism,’ an earthquake, the homeless – sums up the reigning powers’ determination to maintain the reign of work beyond its physical disappearance.”10
part 6: array[0,1,2,3...]
// New Media Approaches, Flexibility, and Agency
This summer we were awarded a 2012 Rhizome Commission to develop a free and open source “textbook/toolkit" that addresses the need to teach, contextualize, and share a wide array of contemporary media (art + design + social practice) skills in the first year of college (or earlier) using project scenarios that integrate technology and studio practice(s) in contemporary meaningful ways.11 The textbook/toolkit will address and include both technical topics (e.g. what are vectors, how can you set up an ad hoc mobile network, etc) and conceptual approaches (e.g. social networking sites as control structures, media literacy, history of the internets, new forms and materials, etc) as well as language and resources for going further with skills and ideas. This textbook can be used as a reliable point of reference for those of us who need to develop and design scalable responsive curriculum for beginners. Our goal is to design for artists and teachers, in a format that is accessible to a very wide demographic, and friendly to all levels of learning.
We are working with new media artists, activists and thinkers to develop approaches and learning outcomes relevant to these goals.
part 7: something electronic, like light coming on
// (in)Conclusions, Radical Togetherness, DIT not DIY
We are living in a curious time. Taking cues from free and open source content providers, online peer-to-peer edu environments, radical filesharing platforms, and networked projects/cultures - corporations have capitalized on the wwweb and our human desires to learn and grow. We fear that we will witness the closing of this same channel to anyone except corporation$ and government. It is something we are conscious of and we share this with our students when they ask, “why can’t we torrent from the dorms?” We hope this question translates into a bigger questions about the current state of things - why can’t we torrent from everywhere? Why is the transfer of information and knowledge so controlled? The internet, and the electronic frontier are under pressure. Education is under pressure as well. Branded charter schools, open courseware initiatives with certificates and badges, Ted Talks, trending code academies, MakerFaires move to recuperate, top-down, non-institutional learning in line with “perpetual training,” - a mirage during economic crisis. We have to stay focused. Let’s use all this pressure as an opportunity to seriously evaluate what we teach, why we teach, how we teach, what exactly can happen when we get together in a shared space, and how we can work, with our students, to write our own (timely) instructions, starting now and looking forward.
New media approaches to foundation art+design education are studio based. They are not, cannot be, a set of online tutorials stripped of concept and art/design inquiry. Current and future art students can no more learn new media approaches to foundations and the substance of media practice from Lynda tutorials than previous generations of painting students could learn painting by watching Bob Ross.
New media approaches to foundation art+design education is research based. There is always more to art and design systems. Platforms, access, participants, histories, representation, materials, products, economics, and paradigms are not neutral. Current and future art students need context, facilitated methods, and engagement with new media works in order to develop language and literacy, as well as a level of genuine criticality and a sense of self/invention in the art/design worlds.
New media approaches to foundation art+design education are social. Group work takes practice. Often, students must learn to recover their natural collaborative tendencies that were replaced with the rigid individualism and authorship demanded by institutions driven by standardized testing and examples still embodied by the art market. Real collaboration is horizontal/peer-to-peer and requires an exploration of language, development of mutual respect, use of transparent channels of communication, clearly identified individual and group motivations, and shared objectives/resources to function.
The scope, depth and pace of media are dynamic, even instantaneous. New media approaches to foundation art+design education are focused on teaching and learning with students. This means integration of immersive self-directed learning, modular scenarios, a nonlinear environment, acclimation and own pace, rich social networks with layers of group dynamics, and asynchronous presence. This is not a “reboot” of education: research critically, live critically, notice things, immerse ourselves in heterogeneous scenarios, practice, communicate, refine ---- but it is a suggestion that new media approaches to foundation art+design education and immersive new media oriented project scenarios are more closely aligned with the questions, currents, and conditions of our time than the priorities we have inherited. In this, our approaches to design and art are similar to the way that the post-WW I Bauhaus instructors’ focus on architecture, order and spiritual exploration was reflected in the Vorkurs. We presume that our approach will change and that it will timeout. Until then, though, we remain committed to building transient sets of scenarios with students, encouraging them to invent the future and construct their own, shared worlds. It is the most up-to-date approach to art and design we can imagine.
- Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. http://www.cs.indiana.edu/metastuff/wonder/wonderdir.html
- European Travel Commission. ETC New Media Trend Watch. http://www.newmediatrendwatch.com/markets-by-country/17-usa/123-demograp...
- National Endowment for the Arts. NEA 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, http://www.arts.gov/research/2008-SPPA.pdf
- Baby TV http://www.babytv.com/ Vtech - Baby's Learning Laptop http://www.amazon.com/VTech-80-073800-Vtech-Learning-Laptop/dp/B000M3QJPU
- Banham, Reyner. Theory and Design in th e First Machine Age, pp 278 - 9 Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=ewPCi4SZC6cC&dq
- “In 1915-16 I worked on pictorial compositions of geometric abstract forms and mounted natural materials. Hölzel sent me my first students to enable me to make a living. At first, my own work was strongly reflected in my teaching, but through the students’ many questions, problems of art education came into focus for me...We worked on geometric and rhythmic forms, problems of proportion and expressive pictorial composition. Assignments with textures and subjective forms were something new. Besides the study of polar contrasts, exercises for the relaxation and concentration of the students brought amazing successes. I recognized creative automatism as one of the most important factors in art. I myself worked on geometric-abstract pictures which were based on careful pictorial constructions” Itten, Johannes. Design and Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus. Trans. John Maass. p.8
- ibid, p 11.
- Vaneigem, Raoul. The Revolution of Everyday Life. Chapter 24. Available: http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/216
- Deleuze, Gilles "Postscript on the Societies of Control". October 59, Winter 1992, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 3-7. Available: http://www.n5m.org/n5m2/media/texts/deleuze.htm
- The Invisible Committee. The Coming Insurrection. Available: http://tarnac9.wordpress.com/texts/the-coming-insurrection/
- free and open source textBook/toolKit for art foundations. http://rhizome.org/commissions/proposal/2599/