Does Interactive Media Fit Into Academic Art School Education

Although I have more or less finished my practice in context essay, today we had a session in which we informally presented our current progress and feelings about this module so far. I wish I could say it was a pleasant experience but it was not, I sensed a lot of negativity with my choice of approach and subject matter, and to be honest this is not the first time during this course.  I simply do not fit in, if it’s not the difference in approach towards looking at and evaluating art and design, it’s the technical nature of my practice and lack of comparable 18th century painters or sculptors from which I obviously don’t draw comparisons.

This may becoming a bit of a rant but this feeling of struggling to fit in with the status quo of art school academia is very frustrating and I feel as though the heavily art biased approach of this course can very off putting.  I am trying immensely hard to fit in but this is becoming more of a struggle.  I do not blame the staff on my course for the way I am feeling because it is definitely not their fault; I am a victim of my own circumstance.  I am the least art influenced student in my group and the traditional art perspectives applicable to the other students are not always applicable to me or my practice but this may not be the main problem.

In my essay I discuss the misunderstanding surrounding my practice in a professional context and maybe there is a lack of understanding of my practice in art school academia, in the same way that there is a lack of understanding of my practice in the wider world.

My essay points out that my practice crosses boundaries between sectors and thus this causes confusion and not only misunderstanding but also misidentification.  In the same way that my practice does not fit neatly into a traditional bracket of employment, it does not seem to fit into a traditional bracket of academia.

This lack of understanding is something that can be very frustrating from my perspective but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a level of frustration being experienced by my lecturers, in trying to deliver relevant notions and ideas to me and also an annoyance levelled at me for being constantly perturbed.

I think there may be a deeper lying problem here and it is not an ‘art vs. design’ problem as I have written in the past.  I believe that the problem is the application of traditional art school educational principles, to a non traditional subject matter.

Art school teaching often looks to the past, for influences that pertain meaning in relation to current works, for example a female student photographer may draw comparisons or contrasts between her own work and the work of ‘Annie Liebovitz’ by comparing style, technique, technology and influences of a social, temporal,  psychological and philosophical nature.  The sources from which the student may find relevant information may include books, journals and interviews, all of which are recognised academic sources of information and the lines of enquiry are all traditional art school academic investigations.

In my practice there are lots of relevant lines of exploration, including most of the traditional investigative paths but there also seems to be a lot that don’t seem academically acceptable.

In my practice I cannot look back at famous pioneers in the same way, due to the fact that we are in the thick of the pioneering process right now.  My practice is not traditional its new, it is current and that is fact.  You may be reading my thoughts right now on my blog; I read the thoughts of my fellow interactive designers on their blogs or on their twitter feeds but these are not academically acceptable.  This makes one of the largest elements of my practice unavailable as a resource, but been part of a ground breaking profession as its breaking new ground, means we do not have the luxury of looking back with the same romanticised notions as artists or more traditional design practices.

My practice is based around the practical needs of users in today’s world and it seems as though the equation is Practical = Devaluation.

Professor Donald A Norman describes a situation in design that I believe creeps into art school academia, he says “Prizes tend to be given for some aspects of design, to the neglect of all others-usually including usability” (Norman, 1988: p151-152), in other wordsthe practical aspects are not appreciated as much as the visual aspects.  Folkmann also highlights this issue “when design artefacts are noticed and appreciated, it is more often for their aesthetic qualities than their practical or functional ability to solve more or less complex or well-defined problems.” (Folkmann, 2010).  It is my belief that the situation described by Norman and Folkmann, mirrors the situation in art school academia, I believe there can sometimes be an under valuation of the technical or practical design subjects, in comparison to their art or traditional counterparts.

This may be because of an understandable lack of understanding of the complex nature of the new experimental subjects and the theories and relevant literature available to the students of these subjects.  There are many books written about art that look back on pieces with a romanticised notion, that often contradicts the initial reaction to the work and this could possibly be what may happen to the writings of the new media practitioners of my generation, our practice is still evolving whilst also been extremely culturally relevant right now.

I am a victim of my own circumstance in the respect that I am a new media student and practitioner, a practice that is probably the most untraditional and furthest removed from all others within an art and design school environment.  A practice that is too new to write academic writings based upon the exploits of relevant pioneers and innovators, not because the pioneers don’t exist but because the majority of them are still pioneering and sharing their exploits in non academically suitable mediums such as blogs and twitter.

These pioneers do not purposely circumvent the traditional academic process (well some might), they simply uses the methods of their practice, is it hard to believe that new media practitioners may show their work and thoughts on new media platforms?

But here is the problem, academia has a set of rules regarding trusted sources, these are set in place to try and preserve the integrity of academic work and due to the misguided attempts of some new media platforms at providing information, new media generally is not a great resource for academic material.  In time, more academically appropriate, new media related information will become available but often as is the nature of new media practice, the pace of practical evolution often outdoes the pace of new media related academic enquiries.

At the moment, I do not have a solution to offer that may solve frustrations and I believe there may never be an answer but what I do know is that at the moment, as a new media student in an art school environment, I feel a bit like the proverbial elephant in the room that nobody wishes to discuss.  I am not trying to cause problems and I am not a maverick looking to upset the establishment, I just feel that there is a problem here worthy of further debate and discussion, and hopefully my view via the benefits of new media production, may be noticed by those with the power to look further and deeper into this quandary, to hopefully benefit the new media students of the future.

Folkmann, M. N. (2010) Evaluating Aesthetics in Design: A Phenonenological Approach, Design Issues, Vol. 26, Iss. 1, pp. 40-53

Norman, D, A, (1988) The Psychology Of Everyday Things, New York: Basic Books

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