Digital Approach to Art Ed. Gains Momentum

By Katie Ash — June 04, 2008 2 min read
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Although digital media have become more common in art education, such forms of art are still new and many educators have yet to embrace them.

“I don’t think that, in general, many schools have quite woken up to the revolution that is happening with video and other forms of digital art,” says David S. Gran, the art teacher at the Shanghai American School in China, a 2,600-student K-12 school for students from about 40 countries. “But I would say that they are mediums that are gaining momentum.”

Some educators may be hesitant to teach digital media simply because of a lack of familiarity with such approaches, says Melanie L. Buffington, an assistant professor of art education at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.

See related story “Digital Tools Cast Student Moviemakers on a Global Stage

Because digital video as an art form is relatively new, it may not have been included in many art teachers’ training, she says.

“If it wasn’t around when you were trained, you might not feel as knowledgeable as you are about paintings or sculptures,” Buffington says, and unless teachers seek out their own opportunities for professional development, they may not feel they have the skills to teach digital video.

Kristine Fontes, an art teacher at Union City High School in Pennsylvania, warns against the dampening effect such teachers can have on students.

“Many art teachers are stuck in the old-school curriculum of teaching the elements and principles of art via drawing, painting, and ceramics,” she says. “They unintentionally discourage many students who may not appear to be artistic—because they can only draw a stick figure—from taking art.”

Craig Roland, a professor of art education at the University of Florida and the creator of Art Education 2.0—a social-networking site for art educators—recognizes the tension between teachers who use more-traditional art materials in their classes and those who have welcomed new forms of expression.

“Artists have always been on the cutting edge of technology,” he says, citing tubes of paint, the pencil, and the camera as examples. “We’re using that technology to create meaning, to express ourselves, to communicate. We’re always looking for new ways to do that.”

‘Thinkers and Inventors’

But teaching traditional art is also very important, says Roland, and ultimately, he thinks the best approach is a combination of the new and the old.

“The more technologies and the more materials we can use in the classroom, the better the chances are that each child will find a medium to express themselves,” he says. And although digital media aren’t as widespread as other forms of art, Roland says he has noticed a steady increase in the number of teachers using digital animation and video.

While teachers such as David Gran and Kristine Fontes both agree that traditional and digital art complement each other and should be taught in tandem, they also think teaching students to make and critique digital media provides this generation of students with essential knowledge they will need whether or not they decide to pursue careers in art.

“Video certainly overshadows other art forms in the public arena,” says Gran. As a result, he argues, it’s important for his students “to develop critical-thinking skills about all the information that comes at [them] on a daily, if not hourly, basis from the mass media.”

Fontes agrees. “I am arming the students with the skills they will need to compete in a global workforce,” she says. “They are the thinkers and inventors of the future.”


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