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Art and Outcomes on Student Thinking

by on Nov.25, 2013, under Art

The New York Times reported on  a study conducted on student visitors to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas that showed a strong correlation between exposure to the arts and enhanced critical thinking skills, higher levels of social tolerance and greater historical empathy.  This effect was stronger for students from poorer backgrounds who may have not had prior opportunities to view and think about art.  In light of this study, it seem especially demoralizing that arts programs are being cut in preference of a STEM-only curriculum when an integrated approach may be most effective at cultivating a young mind.

Education has been shoved into a pigeon-hole of teaching to the standardized tests and may be doing our teachers, our students, and this country’s future a major disservice.  The problems our children will have to solve, such as over-population and climate change, require creative thinking because there is no clear-cut answer.  Twelve years of training that the world’s problems can be boiled down to a single, easily arrived at letter on a multiple choice test is not the most effective way to prepare kids for the future, even if it’s easiest for us to judge.

 

 

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Obsolescent

by on Sep.02, 2013, under Art, General

Rhizome.org and the New Museum are offering artists the opportunity to recover their art that is currently stuck on obsolete media before it is too late.  Through September 8th, they’re offering transfers from archaic storage such as floppy disks to a more stable format with the option to transfer them to the Internet Archive as well.

The art world has always had to deal with the issue of preservation but the severity of the issue is intensified by magnitudes for the born-digital materials.  This is not just true for art, but for other documents that made hold historical value.  In a world where it is so easy to Select All and Delete, how do we ensure that our history will be preserved?  Is it up to the digital archeologists of the future to comb through caches and log files to piece together the remnants of history forgotten?  I’ve had several desktop computers die on me and their carcasses sit dormant in the basement.  I simply re-installed the software on my new computers but the images, papers, and other memorabilia lie lost on those hard drives.  The exact makeup has long been forgotten so who knows when and if I’ll ever get around to recovered what was on those old drives.

In the age of the smartphone snapshot, how much digital history is banished before it can be preserved?  We snap away in our smartphone cameras and pick and choose what gets posted to our social media circles.  How many interesting beautiful cast-aways never see the light of a computer screen?  How many memories are forgotten when we upgrade our phone?  Physical prints are rarely created by the average person anymore, so how much family history will be lost in private Flickr accounts or locked down Facebook albums when someone passes away?  Is the age of stumbling across your grandparent’s old family album fading away?

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Is it Art?

by on Mar.17, 2013, under Art

My husband and I both earned degrees in Computer Engineering and a liberal arts field: he in English Creative Writing and I in Studio Arts.  Our immediate core of good friends are all tech people who earned degrees in Computer Engineering or Computer Science and as such tend to be solely practical minded.  Often, we go out to restaurants and have a good time and while there notice the various artwork hanging on the wall.  Often, the age-old question comes up for them.

Is that really art?

The conversation then usually devolves into my husband and I arguing that it is art, while they all complain that the piece is just some old rusty metal that was found in a field and cut into a series of squares and that they could do that so it cannot be art.

I think they should stop being so hard on themselves.

First of all, they are not” doing that.”  They are not looking at some old rusty metal that they found in a field and viewing it from the perspective of how they could transform it into something beautiful and/or meaningful.  No, if they happened to see some old rusty metal, likely they would not even notice its presence.  It’s easy to see a work after the fact and assume that you are fully capable of creating it yourself, but what these just-engineers are not able to realize is that the process is more than the physical creation of the object.  There is also the conception, the act of creation (of which the artists himself is not required to do), the presentation and the reception from the viewer.  They might be able to perform the creation step, but only after much research and analysis of how to work metal effectively.  Moreover, in this instance, they were not able to conceive of the idea without the finished work being right there in front of them.  They certainly weren’t able to present it in a visually compelling way and the fact that they are not able to receive the work as art that speaks to them and their experiences is their problem not the artist’s.

Secondly, they really should stop being so hard on themselves…

They seem to be conflating whether or not they think they could create something similar as determining whether or not something can be art.  What they don’t realize is that they are fully capable of creating art.  Just because they are able to do something, doesn’t make it not art.  When (or if) they create, do they do it purely for function or do they try to incorporate some beauty, or emotion, or meaning to it?  If they were willing, they are fully capable of opening their minds and creating something artistic.  I find it sad that for one of these individuals, who can make beautiful quilts, she doesn’t see what she does as artistic; she feels that she is just making quilts.  Despite this, the works are beautiful and are certainly art to others even if she feels her work is without meaning.

The question of ‘is it art’ was answered long ago.  Duchamp’s Fountain was one of the most pivotal pieces of last century.  This realization that anything can be art is incredible because we can then move beyond asking the simple “is it art” and begin asking the more meaningful “is this effective art?”  Is the artist effective at addressing a point and/or is he effective at evoking an emotion from the viewer?  In the case of my friends, he was not effective, but only because they don’t have experiences where old rusty pieces of metal can bring back memories or be viewed as beautiful.  For me, they remind me of the aging farm equipment I see out in east Boulder county.  I marvel at the beautiful color variations as the rust patterns flow over each individual piece.  The rust is a natural occurrence and its patterns develop by chance.  Framing the rust using just the metal they formed on, cutting each piece exactly and precisely provides a nice contrast to the randomness contained within.  For me, it was effective, beautiful, and of course, it is art.

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Polaroid and the Evolution of Photo Sharing

by on Jan.26, 2012, under Art, Tech

Polaroid, the company that popularized instant photo sharing, demoed a smart camera device at the 2012 Consumer Electronics show.  The new 16 megapixel camera based off of the Android operating system, features a 3x optical zoom, wifi and bluetooth connectivity along with one-button sharing to social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Tumbler.  Polaroid’s origins are rooted in photo sharing and, unlike Kodak, they made the transition from film based photography comfortably, so this product seems like a natural extension.

Despite the firm dominance of modern digital photography, consumers are still enamored with the old photographic effects of toy cameras.  Perhaps it’s nostalgia for a simpler time but it’s coupled with an ironic usage of new technology to intentionally create the by-chance effects of old analog cameras.  Instagram offers single-click filters to mimic these old-timey effects over your smartphone snapshots, but people can also create toy camera effects in Photoshop and several apps offer the ability to replicate the Polaroid photograph, from the white frame to the vintage looking images themselves.

For the die-hards, the original, physical Polaroid is the way to go.  Although Polaroid stopped producing the instant film in 2008, a team of former employees created the impossible project and endeavored to preserve Polaroid’s analog photographic art by developing and releasing new forms of the instant film for use in the millions of functioning Polaroid cameras still in use.  They’re keeping the art-form alive and in addition to selling the film, they also host galleries of artistic work created with the cameras that are shared digitally on their website.  It’s more than a digital filter slapped over a snapshot.  It’s intentional art.

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The Forgotten City

by on Oct.01, 2011, under Art, Tech

Geocities, the once thriving community of web citizens was officially shut down in 2009.  A group called the Archive Team created a backup of the data and designer Richard Vijgen created a gorgeous visualization of the data file, which represents Geocities and its individual pages as a virtual city.  Interestingly, the data file was ~650GB and I can’t help but note that I could easily fit that on my harddrive today.

Delightfully, the video of the Deleted City visualization uses a Beck midi as the background music.  Somehow, the thought of the common midi background music of Geocities sites brings back far more pleasant memories for me than the blast of MP3s that was prevalent in MySpace.

 

As a digital city, Geocities is preserved, untouched and ageless.  It does not decay the way physical cities do, such as parts of Detroit.  It may be forgotten, but its form remains the same.

So, what was the path of decline for Geocities?  I created my first website in Geocities when I was in high school.  I started by using their WYSIWYG editors but wanted to know how everything worked so I learned HTML and CSS until I was creating pages by hand.  I learned how to manipulate images and started making more elaborate webpages.   Eventually, I was offered the chance to leave Geocities by Shae, who hosted personal sites as sub-domains.  After a few years, I bought my own domain and hosting, both of which became more affordable and came with the flexibility to create and do what I wanted on my personal domain.

Some say that what  Geocities offered, Facebook and MySpace now does.  I disagree.  I wouldn’t say that I felt any inherent connection with my fellow Geocities denizens; I barely knew of who was ‘living’ around me.  Facebook and MySpace make it far more easy to connect with people around you.  However, what they make up for in interaction, they severely lack in customizability.  While MySpace has convoluted mechanisms to enable users to change background images, colors, etc, Facebook essentially provides a single layout, with the only option of personalization being a ‘cover photo’ and profile picture.  With Geocities though, anyone can find you via a web search.  Despite Facebook’s enhanced ability to foster human connection, people can and do close down access to their pages.  Although these social networking sites have largely replaced the personal webpages of yore, they went from being cities full of artists and enthusiasts, where people can be different, look different and harp upon their interests in graphically interesting ways into a uniform colony of likes and simple image sharing, lacking in personal creativity but with designated pieces of flair where we’re allowed to express ourselves.

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