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New media, new messages.

Bit by bit, and byte by byte, computers are becoming a friendlier workplace for artists. In recent years artists have begun to explore computers as a new medium giving way to new forms. The question remains, however: Do computers belong in the artroom?

When I first began consulting with art teachers and giving workshops on using computers in education, the "audience" fell into three categories: those who knew nothing about computers but wanted to use them in their classroom; those who knew nothing about computers and were being forced by their principal or district to use them; those who were just curious. Eight years later, little has changed with one big exception: the number of teachers who want to use computers or are using them has been growing, particularly in the past three years. With the growing interest in computers, a fourth audience has emerged: those who want to know more.

I hope to address here, and in future articles, some of the questions I find myself being asked most frequently: Why use computers? What software do you recommend? Are artists actually using computers? and so forth. I'd appreciate your input, and welcome suggestions and questions.

Why use computers?

You and I both know that some good ideas are the products of playful thinking; but most students (particularly junior high and high school students) have lost their appreciation of play. Many art teachers seem to emphasize the feeling of permanence that media such as paper, pencil or brush carry, and students approach computers much as they would sketch pads. The computer is a place where ideas can be tested and explored, a playground for ideas. Students rarely expect these images to be finished works in their own right, but see them as "experiments."

Play is such an important part of freeing creativity. Because computers encourage playing with ideas and images, they can be of value in art education. Powerful commands, like "fill" and "undo," make it possible for students to create images quickly and easily. They also allow students to combine and recombine shapes, lines, colors and forms in a variety of ways. Students can play with visual relationships knowing that if some part of an image is unsuccessful, whether it be a simple line or major color fill, they may "undo" it. Students will play with images more freely, encouraging a fuller exploration of their imaging abilities and imagination.

Risk it

Playing with ideas is how great ideas begin, but once an idea is formulated, students often approach their image with more determination and precision. With computers, students may save their images in various stages of completion, so if a new idea is suggested by the teacher or another student, it can be tested without fear of endangering the original image. Experimentation with color, line and form takes on a "risk-free" dimension, allowing students to explore a variety of alternatives before declaring a work "finished."

Try it again (and again)

There are a number of traditional concepts in art education which are best accomplished if they are explored via a single drawing or design. The effects of color are seen more clearly if variations are explored on the same image; but students tire of drawing and redrawing the same image a number of times. Computers let students save an initial image and recall it to the screen an infinite number of times. Students can experiment with a number of color combinations without redrawing an image for each study. Designs or segments of designs can be saved to allow the student artist to push or rework a sketch in a number of ways without losing the original idea; thicknesses of line can be tested; positive and negative space can be explored and so on and so on.

From beginning to end

In large classes, some students can get lost in a back comer. I often find myself looking at a work wondering where the student began and how he or she ended up with this creation. Large classes and time constraints often force us to deal with a student's final product rather than the development or process of creating. Again, because computers allow students to save in steps or stages, they provide teachers and students opportunities to explore the process and decisions made in reaching that final image. Criticism and suggestions are not only reserved for the final product, when students hate to make changes, but may be made on the way to that final product ... all the "what ifs" can be answered.

Teacher as student

There is another reason for using computers that for me was most important of all. I have become a better teacher because of my involvement with computers. The new medium is exciting and I am a learner again. I do not have all the answers concerning computers, and I learn from and with my students. These past few years have been learning years, my love for teaching was rekindled, and I found a new medium to work in.

Computers are not the answer to every art teacher's prayer, but I hope I have given you some reasons for trying them in your artroom. In my next article I will discuss how to use computers in your curriculum (ideas, strategies, and so forth), and where you might go to find information. Please send questions or suggestions on this or any other related issue to Debbie Greh, 516 Farley Ave., Scotch Plains, NJ 07076. I'd love to see artworks, too!

Debbie Greh is Assistant Director of Communications at St. John's University, Jamaica, New York, and the author of Computers in the Artroom (Worcester, MA: Davis Publications, Inc.).
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Title Annotation:Computer Bits and Bytes; computers in art
Author:Greh, Debbie
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Previous Article:Adapting art education for exceptional children.
Next Article:Tim Rollins + K.O.S.

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