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What are they doing with computers?

What Are They Doing With COMPUTERS?

If your recollections of color theory classes involve bored students working out tedious assignments with gouache or colored papers, you would be surprised by Marc Barr's color class at Memphis College of Art. There you would see rapt students sitting at computer terminals, feverishly typing on keyboards and clicking mouses. Color theory is just one of the classes at Memphis College of Art (MCA) where both fine art and applied art majors are able to take advantage of the speed and flexibility that computers offer the artist.

In many departments at MCA, computers are as integral as the more traditional paint brushes and charcoal sticks. Starting in the Foundation Program (the prerequisite courses in basic concepts and studio skills), students are given computer training in their 2-D design, 3-D design and color courses. Upper level students continue to use computers as a tool to solve more complex creative problems in classes such as Desktop Publishing, Computer Animation and a new course called Computers and the Visual Artist.

For the graphic art student, computer knowledge and skills are becoming absolutely essential. Stormy Fitzgerald, Art Director at Sanford Payton, a large advertising agency in Memphis, explained that all the local agencies are gradually converting to computers for design purposes. "If I were just starting college today," she said, "the first thing I would do is sign up for a computer course."

MCA's class in desktop publishing assures that students will have computer design experience, as well as portfolio works that prove their skills to potential employers. This winter, students completely redesigned, produced and typeset the college's quarterly newsletter using Macintosh II computers, Aldus PageMaker software and a Linotronic printer.

Graphic artists, however, are not the only ones benefiting from an investment in visual computer technologies. Fine art students are also pushing beyond traditional limitations with the options made available to them by computers.

Marc Barr, a ceramist and art theory instructor, taught clay until a few years ago. Although some artists have tended to resist working with the new computer technology, Barr says he feels comfortable around computers because, like clay, they are "originally formless and completely malleable...a sort of electronic lump."

The use of computers in his color theory class saves vast amounts of time and allows the students almost endless opportunities for experimentation. Where traditionally a student would laboriously hand mix a palette of colors in order to perform a certain test, a student can now almost instantly set a color palette in the computer and work the tones into a design.

What would once have taken two classes now takes minutes, and the student can then proceed to try other designs or color combinations. "Maybe it's our orientation toward sitting in front of a TV set," says Barr, "but I find students who would never open a book will sit at a computer experimenting for hours." After a class of study on the computer, the art students are assigned to work out their most successful computerized solutions in the medium of their choice. In this way the computer serves as a kind of electronic sketchbook.

The computerized looms in the Decorative Design Department are another example of how computers can expand the boundaries of the visual artist. The computers allow weavers to work out, in one hour, designs and patterns that would take six hours to graph manually. The computers can also plot previous impossibilities, such as a smooth curved line, into a weaving. Bill Roberson, weaver and Acting Associate Dean, says that these new looms "completely revolutionize weaving, giving the weaver the same flexibility and control of his fabric, as a painter has of his canvas."

Photography, painting and even sculpture students are finding increasing applications for computers. They work with software which can replicate three-dimensional objects, as well as scanners and video digitizers which bring outside images onto the computer screen for creative manipulation. The new software is very user friendly and students quickly become proficient on the computers.

The use of machines as a creative instrument is certainly nothing new. Such tools as the printing press, the Jacquard Loom and the camera have proved their usefulness and attained acceptance. Memphis College of Art believes in the future of the artist and the computer, and is investing heavily in computer technology in order to provide students with the maximum options to support their creative ambitions.

PHOTO : Computer generated image, Marc Riseling.

PHOTO : Graphic design (computer), Kevin Willis.

K.C. Warren is a staff member of the Memphis College of Art, Memphis, Tennessee.
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Warren, K.C.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1989
Words:762
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