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By: Holland Wilde

Re: "Teach Your Children":  Seminar Session Oral Text

Broadcast Designers Association International Conference

Los Angeles, 1996

There are only a few minutes left in this panel today...one of the luxuries, I suppose, when you're the last of six speakers... and so first let me clarify that, ... I am not an international lecturer...I did travel to Germany twice in the last six months to speak at various venues...so, as is often the case in our just-add-water-and-stir world, I suppose that makes me an instant certifiable expert.

Also, I am not a student, although I did spend 21 of my 43 years in school successfully dodging adulthood, the military draft and math classes in general. Nor am I a teacher, but I did teach design at the university level for five years until it finally dawned on me I was unfit to wear the tweed-jack-with-leather-elbow-patches uniform.  So, if anyone would like to leave now - I'll make it really easy by telling you the ending of my talk first, and that is: We cannot teach students to be digital artists.  And for me, one of the absolute biblical signs of Armageddon is believing we can.  There.

Let me begin by saying I doubt the very possibility of a correct way to teach digital art for the broadcast environment...because, we are trapped into emphasizing output, instead of process.  The only real responsibility in teaching - any teaching - is overcoming every student's suckling expectation of getting spoon-fed answers of truth, in tiny, bite-size...crispy times two... morsels.  But the reality is, there can be no truths when teaching today’s embryonic digerati, particularly when the Holy Grail of computer design education is the endless chase for more and faster technologies.

The digital Playskool world we are trying to hatch is simply mutating much too fast, and one cannot teach a moving target.  To use a tool well to craft an object, one has to know the tool, and it's limitations.  Every artist knows that.  But, hardware and software are evolving at the speed of a drug resistant Ecoli virus - exponentially.  So, who can find the time to address the why in art when we can't even get past mastering the how.  It's an exercise in impotence...ad infinitum.

Dog paddling upstream in this primordial pit of digital ooze, designers cease having their own thoughts.  Today, the broadcast designer's mantra is - ...do something ...anything ... fast... and remember - please, try to be entertaining while doing it ...or you can be sure they'll find another, cheaper factory worker to kick start the assembly line.  Therefore, creativity springs only from the desire to be different, clever and cute.  We steal - or should I say sample - all the trendiest gimmicks simply because it's easier than developing our own style.  But, who even has time to rip-off the latest fads?

Plus, since the relevant life-span of digital equipment lasts about as long as that classic Hollywood sitcom Manimal...it creates a narcissistic elitist system where only the MOST affluent ivory towers have the "biggest and bestest" toys.  But what happens to students when their access cards void-out at these Circuit City Taj Mahals?  The continuously escalating "user fee" for the sexiest tools necessary to surf this hysteric techno-tsunami is simply an impossible price to pay for the average lotto-scratching slacker-artist.  So the rich get richer.

You know, art schools used to be bastions of anarchy: Sanctuaries of the non-conformist. Safe havens for free thinking.  But now, everybody's in cahoots with the big corporations. We can't even scratch our lily-white butts anymore without hearing the siren song for underwriting, sponsorship or corporate funding.  This silky, soporific, moneyed lullaby is anesthetizing an entire generation of artists.  Money walks...but ya gotta pay the piper.  And, corporations don't want thinkers...or artists....they want workers, and consumers.  So you tell me...is the purpose of a design school to create terminally hip titans-of-the-industry, or gnarly, free-thinking, eccentric visionaries?  You should look around the room for that answer.

However, the major odor wafting over computer design training is the unspoken agenda to control the thinking of students.  This has created, in part, an unspoken collusion between industry, school and the student.  There is clear evidence that computer design schools are now taking up the dubious tradition of shaping students to be tomorrow's workers... not future artists.  Unfortunately, when students are handicapped by evolving technologies, this sad outcome is unavoidable.

The main reason is that the exclusive use of computers for art and design training handcuffs the student to the software's limitations.  It seems we just can't move forward in our own artistic development until that next CD software upgrade version arrives in the mail.  I find too many students now leave school after learning a few sexy computer tricks, and then offer themselves as media artists. Yet, they have no real understanding of the principles of design.  I've heard more than one student complain aloud when such fundamental design tasks, as perspective or light and shadow, couldn't be mastered with a simple keystroke.  So we compensate with gimmicks of seduction.

These issues promote visual illiteracy, that, when coupled with our industry's insatiable desire for entertainment, creates the inevitable death-by-Las-Vegas. What I call the "Liberace Factor" blinds an art student to the traditional path of honoring one's craft.  We simply cannot see art anymore without entertainment "value".  If you disagree, try viewing your best student's digital work without the obligatory hip music he or she most likely tracked over the images.  You'll find it probably doesn't stand up on its own merit.  That ol' static Parthenon just doesn't look cool anymore without an animated Disney-touch.

So how should we teach?  Well, if you take my stance that computers are refrigerators, the answer is clear... let's lighten up on this digital Jihad. Concentrate, instead, on classic, liberal arts, not hardware.  If one is not able to read or write, or critically analyze, or formulate logical opinions of our world beyond our own incestuous consumer spheres... how can we expect to promote brilliant, conceptual communicators... let alone citizens.

Look... I'm not implying that we should all start doing our taxes with an abacus. But, let's stop chasing the hi-tech tail of this ever-mutating mechanical dog and instead dig in and bury this bone into the real issues of art education.  We all have enough machines to last a lifetime.  Thanks.