By: Anne Canfield
Kansas City Art Institute
Even artists and designers who rely on traditional media are turning more and more to digital technology for purposes ranging from exploration to implementation.
“There are approaches to art practice that involve traditional media, such as paint, pencils, charcoal, and sculptural material, and then there are areas of practice and academic programs that rely primarily on digital technology,” said Mark Salmon, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs at the Kansas City Art Institute. “But today more than ever, artists and designers are using digital technology no matter what kind of media is the centerpiece.”
Salmon said artists and designers who may or may not use digital technology to create work nevertheless use it to document and archive their work, as well as to share the work with the public at large and with colleagues. “They have electronic portfolios, websites and blogs,” he said.
Technology also can play a supporting role when it comes to conceptualization for artists working in traditional media. “Our fiber students and faculty use digital programs when designing fabric,” he said, “and sculpture students make use of 3-D modeling programs to create sketches of what a sculptural object might look like.”
Larry Dickerson, KCAI’s chief information officer and vice president for technology, agreed, stating, “Artists use digital capability in the same ways that scientists and engineers use it: for collaboration, communication and presentation.”
Dickerson said some of the more exciting technological advances include expanded digital capability for everything from creating 3-D movies to being able to digitally create a concept for a painting before ever having to apply brush to canvas or pen to paper.
“Warren Rosser, chair of our painting department, tells me that many of our students use digital tools during the conceptual stage,” Dickerson said. “Students lay out their thoughts on the computer before making an attempt at creating the piece.”
Dickerson said students at KCAI value access to new technology, including Wacom tablets, which are digitally attached to a computer. Using the tablets, students can draw with a digital pen and see work on a monitor.
“These tablets make it possible to capture images as the student works —
images that can be stored and easily retrieved,” Dickerson said. “The student can enhance the work, alter it, take it through stages and show the development of the work to the professor. In this regard, the tablet is very useful as a teaching tool.”
Other advancements in technology include Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) routers, which, Dickerson said, “can make the creation of artistic conception more efficient and more precise.” He said a new CNC router is now available for KCAI students to use.
“If an artist has a concept of how to carve or cut designs into a piece of wood, it could take days or weeks by hand,” he said. “But if she writes the program that tells the machine what to do, the machine does it — precisely, completely without interference and multiple times as exact copies.”
Art and technology go hand in hand. “Throughout history, technological advances have gotten turned to artistic use pretty quickly,” Salmon said, citing photography as one example, and game design art as another, more recent, example. “It’s no longer debated whether game art is art; it’s accepted in the larger world as a legitimate art form. Like other forms of art, game art is the fruit of the creative imagination.”
To keep their fingers on the pulse of new technology, Salmon and Dickerson attend trade shows that spotlight the newest innovations. These include SIGGRAPH (an acronym for the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual conference, which bills itself as “the world’s largest event covering filmed entertainment and the development, management and delivery of content across all mediums.”
Dickerson noted artists and designers can also pick up a lot of information on the Internet, including demonstrations by artists and designers showing new ways they are using technology to create work.
“Artists today are sharing things they could never share before,” he said. “The important thing to remember is that technology is the servant of the artist or designer. The artist is the one who has to have the creative concept, the one who envisions the artistic product. I understand what Picasso meant when he said, ‘Computers are useless; they can only give you answers.’ It’s up to the artist and designer to ask the important questions.”