To many, the study of technology as a part of a fine arts education would appear to be nearly dichotomous: hard science and art are not often seen as intersecting. Yet, as technology continues to become omnipresent in our lives, many innovators in arts education and computer applications are discovering new ways of bringing technology into the fine arts classroom. The advantages of technology are proving effective in drawing students to fine arts programs while at the same time helping them learn skills that enhance creativity and even garner employment in other fields.Since the mid 19th century, when the fine arts were introduced into the traditional university by Joseph Henry and Samuel F. B. Morse, the fine arts have been an integral element of higher education in the US. At that time, Henry lectured on architecture in Princeton while Morse lectured on “The Literature of the Arts of Design” in New York City, bringing a new element of culture to an American education system that many felt paled in comparison to its far more established European brethren. Yet soon, fine arts education flourished in US higher education. In recent years, the tradition of fine arts education in the US has been spurred by the growth of graphic design in new media. The growth of online mediums has only increased the importance of visual communication in modern life, with programs like CorelDRAW Graphics Suite
assisting artists in translating their abilities to digital mediums. CorelDRAW is a graphic design software program that guides users through illustration, layout, tracing, photo editing and professional web design. Adobe Creative Suite
, another digital fine arts program, allows users to draw, paint, animate, manipulate and build websites, video or still images.Nancy Cantor, Chancellor and President at Syracuse University asserts there are three main models for fine art education and production. “The first is the stand-alone model, a school or college dedicated to the arts and art-making,” says Cantor
. She offers the College of Visual and Performing Arts and the School of Architecture at Syracuse or the School of Music at the University of Michigan as examples. “A second model embeds the arts and art-making into schools, colleges and departments whose central focus is not on the arts and art-making per se,” says Cantor, with the College of Engineering and art-making in entrepreneurship courses in the School of Information Studies given as examples. Cantor’s third model “encompasses institutions and organizations that are ‘public goods,’” such as museums, galleries, libraries or theaters. While Cantor acknowledges that many universities have all three models in some capacity, she encourages “a blending and interplay between them,” through new models.
In creating and utilizing the new models proposed by Cantor, new technologies could provide a significant service. Founded in 2008, ArtWeLove specializes in making and selling prints of contemporary artwork, working with 30 artists, including photographers, painters and multimedia artists to produce high-quality, limited edition prints of their work. “High culture at an affordable price is exciting to people, especially when they can access it on the internet and don’t have to come to New York”, says ArtWeLove founder Laurence Lafforgue. “Artists are dealing with things that are very important, dealing with things in our culture,” says Lafforgue. “It’s a completely new artistic production we are creating, a new kind of production for the 21st century.” For students, this can mean greater and simpler access to modern art, much of which could serve as an integral segue into a greater understanding of the importance of fine art in society.
In terms of traditional fine art education, however, the most promising recent innovation is perhaps Art.sy, an extensive free repository of fine-art images and an online art appreciation guide that went live early in October 2012. After two years of private testing and millions of dollars from investors, the site is hoping to become a source of pleasure, discovery and education for visual art, similar to the way people use Pandora to explore music or Netflix for film.
Art.sy has already found its share of skeptics in both art and technology communities, who question whether digital analytics should be applied to visual art. Yale University School of Art dean Robert Storr is yet unconvinced.“It depends so much on the information, who’s doing the selection, what the criteria are, and what the cultural assumptions behind those criteria are,” says Storr.
However, many in the art and education community are deeply invested in the project. Upon debuting to the general public, Art.sy has already digitized 20,000 images into its growing reference system. Lead by Matthew Israel, PhD in art and archaeology at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, a team of a dozen art historians refer to the building of the reference system as The Art Genome Project, as they decide what codes to use for each piece and how they should be applied. Labels for each piece denote objective qualities such as historical period and region in which the work was created, as well as features such as style and categories like Cubism, Flemish portraiture or photography.
Other categories are more subjective, as Art.sy’s curators might attach terms like “globalization” to give ideological context. With the Art Genome Project, Art.sy’s goal is to make connections among artworks that are seemingly disparate, with a catalog encompassing pieces from the British Museum, the National Gallery in Washington, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and others. Recently, Seb Chan, director of digital and emerging media for recent Art.sy partner Cooper-Hewitt asserted sites like Art.sy are not meant to replace museums or galleries, but instead to help art neophytes to stretch the boundaries of their taste. “You shouldn’t need to be a scholar to discover works of art that you might be fascinated by,” says Chan. “The Art Genome is another way of creating serendipitous connections.”
While technology should not be used as a crutch or a replacement for the tangible, physical elements of art education, it can be an excellent supplement to traditional methods and philosophies. Technology democratizes the world of fine art by allowing anyone with a WiFi connection to at least acclimate themselves to the norms of history of the classic as well as modern art world. In an age where most young people are far more familiar with consumer software and computers that with gallery books or museum archives, technology can serve as natural introduction to a wider world of rich cultural history.