ERIC Identifier: ED410180
Publication Date: 1997-03-00
Author: Matthews, Jonathan C.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
for Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Computers and Art Education. ERIC Digest.
Many art educators do not use computers in their teaching. Computers, unlike
clay, pigment, and charcoal, seem foreign to them. Even the word "computer"
connotes that these techno-boxes are best-suited for rapid number crunching. For
this reason, computers are seen as tools of the quantitative realm, at the pole
opposite the arts. In art, one deals with the expressive manipulation of visual
qualities. This qualitative arts realm is in constant competition with the
powerful quantitative realm. Math, science, aptitude test scores, and other
quantitative interests crowd the arts into a tiny corner of the school week. As
long as the computer is seen primarily as a tool of the quantitative realm, it
is likely to be regarded by art educators as alien.
If computers ever were enemies of art, this is not so anymore. No longer is
knowledge of complex computer languages required to use a computer. Color,
pattern, shape, and line, the qualitative elements of the visual arts, have
pushed quantitative computer command codes into hiding. Graphic designers have
recast the face of the computer screen so that those of us without any computer
savvy can --as the experts put it--"plug and play." Now, from the moment we turn
on the machine, we are in a world of imagery. Though some art educators have
hesitated to become involved with computers, those machines have learned to
speak the art educators' language. While art educators will continue to work
with traditional media, there are many reasons why they should also teach
computer art to their students.
EASE OF USE
All current models of personal computers come "plug and play." Turn the machine on and the user is greeted with groupings of
icons, small color symbols representing the various software that is
pre-installed on the machine. A graphics-outfitted computer will have one or
more icons for its graphic arts applications. With a click of the mouse, a
painting or drawing screen appears with new icons depicting a variety of art
media choices: charcoal, ink, oil, spray paint, pastel, and watercolor. Simply
click the mouse on the appropriate icon to choose the medium and instantly the
cursor becomes a paintbrush, spray can, or other tool.
A color laser print of a computer-generated "oil painting" can look indistinguishable from a book or magazine reproduction
of an actual oil painting. But the creative possibilities of computer art go far
beyond merely imitating traditional media. Without formal instruction, one can
quickly create surprisingly satisfying images. Of course, as with any medium,
expert knowledge counts for a lot. Studying the graphics software manual allows
mastery of the technical procedures that allow even more control of the
Throughout history, artists have always worked
in the latest media. Many artists from the past were criticized in their own
times for embracing new media and styles. To refuse to use computers in art
education is to increase the probability that one's students will be left
behind, caught on the wrong side of history. The embrace of new media is not a
rejection of the old. It is simply an important expansion of one's creative
armamentarium. Art educators need to help their students become competent in
this most powerful visual art medium.
Perhaps because of their early familiarity with
the video screen, children of all ages are interested in computers; many seemed
compelled to use them. Art educators who teach computer art may therefore
attract many students who otherwise might never discover art's riches. Computers
might be the enticing door that delivers students into a world of aesthetic
For a number of reasons, art education is less
highly valued by administrators, parents, and society than many other school
subjects. Once administrators, parents, and community discover that an art
educator is going to teach their children to master the creative possibilities
of the computer, that art educator may find that his or her perceived relevance
and importance have soared. While there are many intrinsically good reasons to
bring computers into an art education program, a significant extrinsic reward is
the increased support and status that the art program may enjoy.
COLLABORATION AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
popular and versatile. An art educator who runs a computer lab will find that
educators from other curricular areas may express increased interest in
interdisciplinary collaboration. This could lead to the visual arts being
integrated throughout the school curriculum. This increased interaction with
peers in various curricular areas could lead to positive professional
development and greater job satisfaction for the art educator. In short, the
possibilities for professional growth are tremendous for a computer-active art
ART EDUCATION AND THE INTERNET
Through the World Wide Web,
an art educator with a computer gains instant access to thousands of Internet
sites that can assist professional development. Type "art lessons" into the
search-box of any web browser and the screen will be filled with a long list of
"point and click" titles that lead to Web sites full of art lessons. Most of
these lessons have been created and posted by K-12 art educators. Ask them
questions about their lessons via the instant text communication possible with
electronic mail. Need visuals? Many museums have placed their whole collections
on the Web. CDs are available with vast amounts of art on them. Doing a unit on
Southwestern art? A class can have an interactive, electronic mail conversation
with a Navajo potter in Window Rock, Arizona. People from around the world with
shared interests can carry on keyboard conversations through on-line "chat
A CREATIVE TOOL
Making art on the computer is much more
than simply imitating images possible in more traditional media. Computer art
applications make it possible to do things that are possible in no other medium.
Computers also handle some traditional graphic arts creative challenges much
better than other methods. Thus, they have made these other methods obsolete.
The computer is a great place to try out artistic ideas. An original sketch can
be saved, then limitless additional copies of that sketch can be altered and
saved. One can then easily view each of these variations in succession, or
display reduced copies simultaneously on the same screen. To accomplish this
same sort of artistic deliberation in traditional media might take weeks.
AN EXPERIMENTAL MEDIUM
Artistic daring and experimentation
can be increased greatly with a computer, primarily because it is virtually
impossible to "ruin" a computer crafted artwork. Limitless copies can be saved
with a key stroke at each point on the creative path. This allows the artist to
branch off and explore risky possibilities that otherwise would not be dared.
There is also a key that allows one to "undo" whatever change one last made to
the work. Digital image capture allows the easy mix of photography, video, and
drawing and painting on a computer. Scanners make possible the incorporation of
any existing image into the artist's current computer image, to be transformed
in any way the artist desires. While there are many sorts of art objects that
cannot be created on a computer, it is unrivaled as a tool for two-dimensional
A KEY TO COMMERCIAL EMPLOYMENT
Virtually all commercial
art--illustration, product design, architectural design, industrial design,
advertising, publishing and animation--is now done on a computer. Ten years ago,
most of the creative people in these disciplines worked at drafting tables; now
the drafting tables have been replaced by computers. The artist at the computer
can simply do good work faster than on paper. Art educators who fail to teach
their students computer art skills limit their ability to win commercial art
We live in the computer age, and vital art necessarily reflects and interacts
with dominant contemporary forces. While continuing to embrace traditional
media, art teachers should carefully consider the merits of exploring the
educational possibilities of the computer.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
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LITERACY IN THE DIGITAL AGE: SELECTED READINGS FROM THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE
INTERNATIONAL VISUAL LITERACY ASSOCIATION (Rochester, New York, October 13-17,
1993), 1993. ED 370 594.
Dilger, Sandra C., and D. Craig Roland. PREPARING STUDENTS FOR THE
TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: A RATIONALE FOR INTEGRATING NEW TECHNOLOGY INTO SCHOOL
ARTS PROGRAMS. Position Paper, 1993. ED 393 729.
Gregory, Diane C. "Art Education Reform and Inactive Integrated Media." ART
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