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Monthly Archives: September 2016

Digital Art’s Aesthetics

While borrowing many of the conventions of traditional media, digital art can draw upon aesthetics from many other fields. But various criticisms have been made against it: for example, given the variety of tools at their disposal, how much effort do digital artists really have to put into their work?

I asked Jan Willem Wennekes, also known as Zeptonn, for his opinion on this. He is a freelancer who specializes in illustrative design and art direction, with a focus on eco-friendly and environmental projects.

Jan Willem Wennekes: The question seems a bit ambiguous. On the one hand, there seems to be a question about the effort required to create digital art. That is, some people may think that using digital media to create art is easier than using traditional media. On the other hand, there seems to be a question of whether digital art is an art form in itself (or maybe at all?).

With respect to the first question, I think that working with digital media (mostly the computer, mouse, Wacom, scanner, software, etc.) does not have to differ from creating art in other media. The computer and all the tools generated by the software are still what they are: tools! You have to master those tools just as you have to master any other tools. For example, if you do not understand how light works, you won’t be able to create artwork with correct lighting, and so on. If you don’t know how the pen tool works in Illustrator, then you won’t be able to create good artwork, just like a traditional artist who doesn’t know how to use a pencil. You still have to master color theory and all the other things that are essential to creating a good or stunning piece of art. In that sense, it doesn’t matter whether it is a painting or a print. Simply put, you have to master all the tools and theory, just as you had to master them before. And the better you master them, the better your artwork can be.

What is Art ?

Art Is…

This question pops up often, and with many answers. Many argue that art cannot be defined. We could go about this in several ways. Art is often considered the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations and ways of expression, including music, literature, film, sculpture and paintings. The meaning of art is explored in a branch of philosophy known as aesthetics. At least, that’s what Wikipedia claims.

Art is generally understood as any activity or product done by people with a communicative or aesthetic purpose—something that expresses an idea, an emotion or, more generally, a world view.

It is a component of culture, reflecting economic and social substrates in its design. It transmits ideas and values inherent in every culture across space and time. Its role changes through time, acquiring more of an aesthetic component here and a socio-educational function there.

Everything we’ve said so far has elements of truth but is mainly opinion.According to Wikipedia, “Art historians and philosophers of art have long had classificatory disputes about art regarding whether a particular cultural form or piece of work should be classified as art.”

The definition of art is open, subjective, debatable. There is no agreement among historians and artists, which is why we’re left with so many definitions of art. The concept itself has changed over centuries.

The very notion of art continues today to stir controversy, being so open to multiple interpretations. It can be taken simply to mean any human activity, or any set of rules needed to develop an activity. This would generalize the concept beyond what is normally understood as the fine arts, now broadened to encompass academic areas. The word has many other colloquial uses, too.

 

Art Makes You Smart

A few years ago, however, we had a rare opportunity to explore such relationships when the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Bentonville, Ark. Through a large-scale, random-assignment study of school tours to the museum, we were able to determine that strong causal relationships do in fact exist between arts education and a range of desirable outcomes.

Students who, by lottery, were selected to visit the museum on a field trip demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.

Crystal Bridges, which opened in November 2011, was founded by Alice Walton, the daughter of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart. It is impressive, with 50,000 square feet of gallery space and an endowment of more than $800 million.

Thanks to a generous private gift, the museum has a program that allows school groups to visit at no cost to students or schools.

Before the opening, we were contacted by the museum’s education department. They recognized that the opening of a major museum in an area that had never had one before was an unusual event that ought to be studied. But they also had a problem. Because the school tours were being offered free, in an area where most children had very little prior exposure to cultural institutions, demand for visits far exceeded available slots. In the first year alone, the museum received applications from 525 school groups requesting tours for more than 38,000 students.

As social scientists, we knew exactly how to solve this problem. We partnered with the museum and conducted a lottery to fill the available slots. By randomly assigning school tours, we were able to allocate spots fairly. Doing so also created a natural experiment to study the effects of museum visits on students, the results of which we published in the journals Education Next and Educational Researcher.

Over the course of the following year, nearly 11,000 students and almost 500 teachers participated in our study, roughly half of whom had been selected by lottery to visit the museum. Applicant groups who won the lottery constituted our treatment group, while those who did not win an immediate tour served as our control group.

Several weeks after the students in the treatment group visited the museum, we administered surveys to all of the students. The surveys included multiple items that assessed knowledge about art, as well as measures of tolerance, historical empathy and sustained interest in visiting art museums and other cultural institutions. We also asked them to write an essay in response to a work of art that was unfamiliar to them.

These essays were then coded using a critical-thinking-skills assessment program developed by researchers working with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Further, we directly measured whether students are more likely to return to Crystal Bridges as a result of going on a school tour. Students who participated in the study were given a coupon that gave them and their families free entry to a special exhibit at the museum. The coupons were coded so that we could determine the group to which students belonged. Students in the treatment group were 18 percent more likely to attend the exhibit than students in the control group.

Moreover, most of the benefits we observed are significantly larger for minority students, low-income students and students from rural schools — typically two to three times larger than for white, middle-class, suburban students — owing perhaps to the fact that the tour was the first time they had visited an art museum.

Further research is needed to determine what exactly about the museum-going experience determines the strength of the outcomes. How important is the structure of the tour? The size of the group? The type of art presented?

Clearly, however, we can conclude that visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas that challenge them with different perspectives on the human condition. Expanding access to art, whether through programs in schools or through visits to area museums and galleries, should be a central part of any school’s curriculum.

Tips to Create an Excellent Observational Drawing

Tip 1: Look at what you are drawing

Failing to look at what you are drawing is one of the most fundamental errors an Art student can make

This sounds obvious, but it is the most common error made by art students. Many students attempt to draw things the way that they thinkthey should look, rather than the way they actually do look.

The only way to record shape, proportion and detail accurately is to look at the source of information. Human memory does not suffice. Forms, shadows and details are hard enough to replicate when they are right there in front of you; if you have to make them up, they appear even less convincing. In order to produce an outstanding observational drawing, you must observe: your eyes must continually dance from the piece of paper to the object and back again. Not just once or twice, but constantly.

Tip 2: Draw from real objects whenever possible

The phrase ‘observational drawing’ typically implies drawing from life (see the superb observational drawing exercise set by artist and teacher Julie Douglas). Ask any art teacher and they will list the benefits of drawing from objects that are sitting directly in front of you. You are provided with a wealth of visual information…changing light conditions; rich textures; views of the subject from alternate angles; as well as information from other sense…smells and noise from the surroundings etc. Transcribing from three-dimensions to two is ultimately much harder than drawing from a photograph, but it often results in drawings that are ‘richer’ and more authentic.

Tip 3: Don’t trace

Throughout history, great realist painters have traced from photographs or worked from projections blown up onto walls. But these painters are not high school art students; nor are they assessed on their ability to replicate form.

Tip 4: Understand perspective

As objects get further away they appear smaller. The replication of this change of scale on paper (through the use of vanishing points) is called ‘perspective’. The fundamentals of perspective are usually taught in junior high school; by Year 10 at the latest. If you are a senior art student and have somehow missed this lesson, remedy this situation urgently. There are not many theoretical aspects of art that are essential to learn, but this is one of them.