Point of View: To increase status, art curriculum needs new media focus

By Liz Hitchcock

Most people think of visual art as the old masters’ work, oil paintings and drawings, even photography. When I think of visual arts, my view is slightly less conventional.

New media artists are those who work with media that are just that — unconventional. Through computers and software, new media artists create paintings on planes that are, many times, intangible and can only been seen through a backlit screen or projector.

Although this concept can be traced back decades, it has just now emerged as a more popular form of art. Artists like Rafael Rozendaal, Jeremy Bailey and Miltos Manetas use the Internet as a platform to show their work to the masses. Using animation and computer-generated imaging, these interactive pieces that allow the viewers become participants create a sort of instant gratification or disinterest in these participants.

After beginning my research in new media art a couple of semesters ago, I began to think about the content of the art courses taught at Baylor. Although there is something to be said about the old ways and familiarizing yourself with century-old techniques and styles, I believe that a more contemporary approach to curriculum is necessary at Baylor.

Being an art minor, I took the second of two Introduction to Art History survey courses for non-majors last semester. The description of the course had mentioned that it would cover from the Italian renaissance all the way to contemporary art.

The professor teaching the course made a decision to retrace our steps and cover ancient Greek architecture first. I would have had no qualms with this, but after viewing the syllabus and realizing how much time we were to spend on Greek architecture, I realized that we would have to cut down the time spent covering the last topic of the semester, contemporary art.

We barely spent time talking about post modernism, viewed one video on the French surrealist Marcel Duchamp, and skirted the issue of contemporary art completely.

Ignoring some of my favorite artists such as Nam June Paik and Matthew Barney, the professor spoke briefly on one Jeff Koons piece, understating the importance of it in a historical context. Although I do understand that anyone who is an art major is allowed to attend courses that are specifically focused on certain periods of contemporary art, I feel that non-majors should be introduced to it as well.

This brought me to the conclusion that even if some of the professors in the art department are less comfortable with the idea of covering contemporary content, it is a necessary topic to discuss.

For me, art has always been a form of communicating a certain thought process or idea of the world around you in a way that is unfiltered and realizes different perspectives.

I believe that if students aren’t taught new ways to express themselves, or even represent themselves, the past will surely repeat itself.

During a class taught by Associate Professor Robert Darden in the journalism and media arts department, one of the ideologies he spoke about was Marshall McLuhan’s view of technology. He talked about how we not only change technology, but technology changes us, and technology that we create eventually becomes an extension of our beings just like an arm or a leg would be.

Just as a paintbrush is a tool for a painter and charcoal a tool for someone who favors drawing, the computer is now a tool for these new media artists. As our thinking as humans changes throughout time, so should our tools. As our thinking changes throughout time, our individual ways of seeing the world does as well.

Students should be given the opportunity to be acquainted with and understand the ways that they are able to disseminate their thoughts through our ever-changing, technologically enhanced world.

Now I’m not in any way advocating that we simply replace course content with newer content, but I am promoting the idea of combining the different curriculum, seeing the importance of both the old ways and the new styles.

A possible solution to this problem could lie within a marriage of both the art department and the communications department, where they have the means and the capabilities to guide students through these new art forms.

An interdisciplinary course based on visual aesthetics and technological teachings could bridge the gap between the new media art that is so prevalent today and its predecessors.

With the year 2012 rapidly approaching, Baylor’s goal of being a tier one university seems almost out of reach with an art department that barely touches on contemporary art. I believe that to reach that stratum, the school is in dire need of funding toward more forward thinking in the field of visual arts.

Liz Hitchcock is a junior journalism major from Phoenix and a reporter for the Lariat.