I don’t recall any art classes in my elementary school days. Nor in middle school. Though, surely, we must have finger-painted, and made collages, and cut out tracings of our hands and colored them for Thanksgiving. Or any similar hands-on art experiences. My high school days were too focused on ‘serious’ college-prep courses: botany, chemistry, physics, economics, French, all the classics in Literature (and by classics, I refer to the old, white men approved by old white men in academia) and the associated criticisms and genre explorations. Our high school (a small, private, wealthy, college-prep campus) did have music and theater and art history and creative writing courses, but these subjects were considered supplementary to, an addition to more serious academic pursuits.
By the time I reached college, I was most interested in these subjects, subjects I had not been able to explore in high school: studio art classes (life drawing, etc.) and art history survey courses (so many art history survey courses to choose from! Etruscan Art! Art of the Indian subcontinent!). Never mind that I didn’t need any of these courses for my undergraduate degree…. And authors who came from cultures that were not part of the cannon of the classics. My art history survey professors used slides and slideshows in great big lecture halls (as well as in some tiny closets of rooms – I mean, who even knows who the Etruscans were, much less about their art?). But that was the extent of our interaction with digital technology – this was before students and teachers/professors had access to the internet and online technologies. My studio arts classes were the same: tested, familiar methods in various tried-and-true mediums. These courses were fascinating because I had the leisure to follow my intellectual curiosity, because I was interested in the content, not necessarily because the lectures were particularly engaging (my second semester art of the world survey course was the best place to nap: a warm, large lecture hall, lights turned down so we could see the slides, and a professor with a soft, bass voice).
I finished this week’s research paper on the implications and effects of digital and Web-based technologies for and on art education, both studio arts and art history. Articles and research focused mostly on teacher use of technology. The old slideshows from my undergraduate days developed into online databases where professors could access images from a much more diverse and vastly greater number of museums and collections from around the world. Professors could annotate slides, leaving students free to focus on the discussions surrounding the images/works of art. Students could now access these images after classes, on their own time, and review them repeatedly.
Art history students are also able to access images on their own from museums and Google and collections around the world. This access opens the doors for students to follow their own paths of inquiry – if the apse of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul reminds them of the nave of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, students can call up websites showing not only photographs but detailed floor plans as well and follow their individual aesthetics. Student-directed explorations and comparisons can be more easily encouraged through Web-based technologies. Art history students also have greater access to primary sources. The teacher/professor is no longer the expert, the only perspective that students are exposed to. I can only imagine how powerful this liberation would have been for me, and can be for today’s students. Students have the opportunity to create their own knowledge and direct the understandings and meanings generated from their own explorations. Well over half of the articles I researched indicated this shift in methodology, to a social constructivist learning model.
Studio art students have also benefited from the advances in technologies. In my opinion, the most important shift is from the internet as a ‘virtual library’ of the world’s art work to the Web 2.0 approach to the internet. Students are able to (and do) use social media as a ‘virtual audience’ where student work can be uploaded and user-generated discussions and critiques can (and do) provide perspectives from various audience members. Students can contact and collaborate with artists around the world, with studio owners, with museum critics, etc. Again, the social constructivist learning model is emphasized: the teacher/professor is not the sole source of critique and growth.
The importance of this shift, particularly in the arts (a field that I believe is greatly more subjective than others), is that students are (or can be) empowered in their artistic and creative pursuits. And because these online sources provide a far greater reaching audience than students would ever have had before, their work is bound to improve – more feedback and critique from different perspectives, and the inclusion of a wider audience in the discussion of their own work. Students are also able, through these online collaborative approaches, to more fully participate in the discussions about art. Ultimately, students who participate in these ways are now involved in, able to contribute to, and help direct the evolution of the dialogue centered around art. I believe that art has always been a subjective form of communication and that art is a powerful democratizing force. Digital and online technologies have allowed for more individuals to have their voices heard.