Monday, November 23, 2009

Want to visit the art gallery? Grab your laptop!

For many, viewing art has been an act of looking at pictures, sculptures, or other physical objects identified as "art". Most of the time viewing such objects required individuals to go to an art museum like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Louvre where you stand in front of the object and attempt to extract meaning from the creator's work. Often this has been seen as a high culture endeavor rather than one of average folks. But is this the only form of art and viewing such work? The answer, no.

Nowadays art is much more than paintbrushes, clay, marble, or welded metal. Art encompasses us in most everything that we do through media arts. Media arts also allows for a much more diverse group of people to participate in and do art--more diverse meaning almost anyone. Traditional art used a relate more to using a defined media in an emulation of a particular style to create art. Media arts are much less constraining and much more open, containing many different vehicles for art creation in the digital computer realm.

Everywhere I look on my computer there seems to be art. Everything from my operating system to many programs, flash games, websites, even web-based ads are artful and aesthetically pleasing. Higher stakes are being placed on digital media and the ability and willingness to engage in media arts is becoming more lucrative and mainstream. If you've ever visited Newgrounds to play a flash game or two, you know that everything on the website is user submitted. The site includes video games, pictures, and videos--many of which are original while others are remixes of other popular media.

There are a variety of digital museums devoted to new media rather than digital uploads from physical museums. One such museum is PrettyLoaded. This particular museum is purely devoted to flash load screens that typically appear while content is being loaded on a website. Another is The Digital Museum which is currently featuring a slew of anti-war art that appears to be primarily created in Photoshop. Large or small, static or fluid, new media art is something that has a relatively low bar of entry. Those who have any computer fluency most likely have already jumped into and already made digital media art. This group of computer fluent individuals is a growing number of today's youth who may not have a particular connection to or appreciation for traditional art.

Digital arts allow individuals to make a lot of what is around them into a personally meaningful work of art. Take a simple photo or even other work of art that is digital (even a digital version of traditional art) and it can be remixed and recycled into something that is meaningful to the individual creator. This also means that instead of cycling through a museum staring at pieces of art being purely a consumer, those creating digital art becomes a prosumer both adding to the art realm but also taking something away--meaning.

Another great example and a relatively low bar of entry is the viral sensation of lolcats. These are pictures of cats to which a funny caption (in kitty pidgin) is added to make a comedic piece of art. While this can be done through Photoshop, the original website allows users to pick a cat picture from a selection to which they can add a caption and post it on the website.

It would appear that many folks have actually created some form of digital art--perhaps annotating a youtube video--but do not realize it as art. While art is typically an abstract symbol, there will always be some contention as to what constitutes art. However, new digital art seems that it more readily can be called art as there is a far more diverse group of "critics" and viewers of the work.

Monday, November 9, 2009

When it comes to computers are you A) literate, B) fluent, C) flexible, D) huh?

Alright, so the term literacy has expanded a long way from just reading and writing but what does it really mean when we start talking about computers and technology? There are so many terms to describe computer “proficiency” such as computer literate, computational fluency, and computational flexibility. But what does it all mean? Especially when terms like "computer literate" is so broadly and loosely invoked it wouldn't be surprising that many folks have a skewed perception of what it means to have computer proficiency (as I'll be calling it for now). I remember growing up with a computer (FYI it was a Mac...blech), literally from birth (so I'm told). At about the age of 1 or 2 my parents acknowledge that I started playing with electronics and even the computer. To be honest I don't remember that far back but I will say that as far back as my memory will retain coherent recollections I have always used a computer or at least I cannot remember a time that I didn't have a computer. For a little frame of reference I was born in the 80s so we're talking super-old computers. Let me throw up a picture for reference (to the right). Now I'm not talking some crappy system that only ran DOS, we're talking a full desktop system with word processing, paint shop, computer games (I loved Brickles), music editing/authoring software and much more.

So why does this matter? Wellll...I was quite fortunate to 1) have a computer and 2) grow up WITH technology rather than it growing up around me. In the sense of what computer literacy is defined as in the many readings for 650 this week, I was computer literate by no later than age 4. I know that you me and everybody we know thinks computer literacy is probably thinking "duh, of course you're computer literate", but for many computer literacy is a struggle and the only end-goal. In a previous job a good portion of my work was with middle-age individuals who had zero computer literacy skills, but they didn't grow up with the technology. To be honest, for the purpose that they needed computer proficiency and level to which they needed it, computer literacy was the highest level they wished to go or even needed to go. However, for most of us born in the last 3 decades computer literacy is the first way-point on a continuum of computer proficiency.

Next stop in the continuum of computer proficiency is computational fluency. At the fluency level we're talking lifelong skills and learning here people, not just the everyday rote memorization tasks of keyboard, mouse and office suites. Now we're talking about taking that knowledge and creating something with it. But what, you may ask, constitutes creativity? To quote Mitchell et al (2003), creativity is a bit like pornography; it is hard to define, but we think we know it when we see it. At the point of fluency one should be taking said literacy skills and slapping them together with some creativity to pump out some original something (that's right). Maybe a video, a picture, music, a game, the list could go on forever. I personally hit fluency somewhere between the age of 4 and 6. I loved to create pictures on the computer. I even got into making and remixing music. Does making an old-school Mac talk constitute a performance piece? If so, then chalk that up to fluency. But here's the hitch for fluency--you can't stop. Why? Because today's computational fluency is (literally) tomorrow's computer literacy skills. Since technology and the skills needed to use them change so rapidly this goes right back to the lifelong pursuit involved in maintaining computational fluency.

The final step in the computer proficiency continuum is computational flexibility. If you've made it to this step that means that you've superseded fluency due to some inadequacy of the technology or software available to you and gone on to create your own to fulfill your needs. Now if I'm going to be honest, yea I'm not here...yet. With movements toward open source software the ability to create even the most minute and simplistic software is possible to most anyone willing to put in the effort. From what I read on a lot of tech sites like or it would seem a logical next step in our technological progression of society for future generations to leap (pretty early on) into computational flexibility. However, this thought is hampered by the fear of apathy and stifling of creativity. Without the vested personal interest and the creativity of individuals then there isn't going to be an en masse movement to computational flexibility (perhaps the reason why we are all still struggling between Windows and Apple OSs). But even that is changing with the advent of Google running the gauntlet and getting into open source software, threatening to jump into the OS ring.

So what's the point of all this junk that may have read if you made it this far? That technology is a moving target, albeit an import and ever more necessary target to keep on top of. Like any other skill computer proficiency cannot stagnate lest you be stuck in the technological dust. Computers are always becoming more and more integrated into every little thing within out lives. I would really hate for folks in the near future to starve simply because they didn't care enough to keep up with their computational fluency and then grocery stores implement a new technology that you haven't familiarized. could happen.