Popular Art School classes respond to digital-age demands

Computer screens and digital cameras seem to be taking the place of some student artists’ more traditional paintbrushes and chisels.

Digital art classes are becoming an increasingly popular part of the art major’s curriculum, according to Department of Art course-enrollment numbers. The department introduced this semester two new digital arts classes — digital drawing and introduction to digital video — in response to increasing student demand, Art Director of Undergraduate Studies Henk Van Assen said.

Van Assen said the increasingly vital role of computers in everyday life is contributing to the growth in demand.

“It has a lot to do with the world we live in, where so many of our interactions happen through computers … The interfaces with which we work need to be designed as such,” he said. “When people decide to take art classes, the computer becomes another tool of how to investigate and how to create art.”

Digital arts classes are filled to capacity and art professors are considering increasing the number of classes offered, Art School Registrar Patricia DeChiara said.

DeChiara said there are 13 students in the digital video class and 15 in the digital photography class — the maximum numbers allowed. Both classes had to be limited because of the availability of equipment at the Digital Media Center for the Arts, she said.

Art professor Sarah Oppenheimer, who teaches digital drawing, said she thinks the increased demand for digital art classes reflects a broader cultural trend. The contemporary visual world is already largely digitally generated, she said, and in order to relate to modern culture, artwork must reflect this digital focus.

Student interest in digital arts is changing the makeup of the Art Department’s other course offerings, DeChiara said.

She said the department is reducing the number of regular photography classes while increasing the number of digital photography classes. A digital video course that last year was offered only in the fall is being taught both terms this year, DeChiara said.

Interest in these courses reflects the department’s and students’ acknowledgment that digital art has changed the way art is perceived and created, Van Assen said.

“The computer as a tool plays an important role in the conception and execution of work,” he said. “It is really sort of seeing the computer as an integrated part of the design and a vital part of the project that you’re working on.”

But Van Assen also said the department will not replace any of its traditional four major concentrations in art — photography, sculpture, painting and graphic design — with digital media.

“I do feel that the directors and faculty of the concentrations are somewhat protective of the four core concentrations and what we are used to doing in those concentrations,” he said. “But we understand that there are crossovers with different media, faculty and methodology, so on all levels we like to keep it as fluid as possible.”

Art major Tanya Grigoroglou ’10 said she agrees with Oppenheimer that modern artists should take advantage of the potential of digital media in their work.

“The more our culture revolves around the computer as a medium of expression and communication, the more art must accommodate this,” she said. “Art as a form of personal expression has begun to adapt to the changes in everyday life by expanding into less traditional forms, like digital drawing or photography.”

Van Assen said the University’s art offerings will likely expand in even more fields than digital media. When students express interest in new fields, the department sometimes responds by offering workshops, but offers original classes when faculty find the interest to be substantial and permanent enough, he said.

In fall 2006, dozens of shoppers competed for the 15 spots available in the digital photography, art students said last year. The class enrolled only 12 students in fall 2005, DeChiara told the News last year.

Comments