TOWARDS A CURRICULUM FOR DIGITAL MEDIA ARTS
Section I. Introduction:
0. THE BASIC AIM:
i. Beyond Expression:
Most people generally seem to concider "Self-expression" to be the most
important aim of the artist.
However, most people do not seem to realize that every baby that cries
for its mother is capable of self-expression. So self-expression is
not difficult. In fact if one thinks about it, it is probably extremely
difficult NOT to express oneself -for how can one not be oneself, and
who else should one express!
As every baby knows, it is easy to have problems and shout for help, but
what happens if nobody comes? Surely it is better to understand how such
problems develop and how to avoid them -or how to solve them if they
are unavoidable. This is the process of growing up.
So, simply expressing what one thinks about the world is not enough,
one needs to explore the world and to understand how it is. One needs
to play with the world, to see how it may be changed and what it might
Perhaps one might need to decide which of several possible worlds might
be preferable -and one may even try to create such a world in phantasy
or reality. But then, as one learns to give form to ones desires -one may
also learn that getting what you want is not always so desirable as one
thought it would be.
ii. Towards Maturity:
So, by playing with the world one explores the world -and by exploring
the world one learns to understand oneself.
Art can then be seen to be concerned with exploring, understanding and
redefining the internal (mental) state of the student/artist through
understanding of their external environment and their (potential) role
I. OLD AND NEW TRADITIONS:
1. The Aesthetics of Form and Structure:
i. Form and Content, Structure and Meaning:
Traditionally, the artist has always been concerned with the construction
and interpretation of form and structure.
The physical structure of paint or stone has long been used to express
the mysteries of nature, the intention of the hunt, the glory of God,
the Church or the powerful patron.
However, as technological and social change interacted to form modern
society so was the role of the artist also in a state of constant change
-sometimes leading and sometimes following.
Despite the change, one thing remained constant: A belief in some kind
of interaction between the pictorial image constructed by the artist
and the world outside the art work. In other words, changes in the
world need to be reflected in the image and changes in the image are often
reflected in the world. How exactly this happens is probably rather
complex and certainly rather mysterious. The relationship between art
and life remains open to discussion.
ii. Abstract and Concrete:
One of the important changes in art history, which also reflects social
development, is the change away from representing external features which
reflect existing power structures in society and the development towards
a more abstract reflection of the individual artist.
The word "Abstract" has been used by some so-called artists to mystify
and justify the fact that they did not know what they were doing. However,
we should not not let this distract us away from the fact that "Abstraction"
is really concerned with uncovering the "basic essence" or "underlying
So it seems to be that art is generally concerned with exploring the
relationship between "external appearance" and "internal reality".
iii. Static and Dynamic:
Painting and Sculpture, the traditional visual arts, are static. However,
other art forms like theater, music and dance are dynamic and use time
as an essential part of their nature. In this sense, visual art is
further away from daily life than the other arts -because surely a
world without time would be an unimaginable horror!
Until the invention of photography, there was little room for the
mechanical in art -except perhaps the subtle mechanics of musical
instruments and complex theatrical effects. The photographic camera
was perhaps the first mechanical image maker but it was also static.
Now we have a wide range of dynamic machines for the generation,
reproduction and manipulation of sound and image in time. So the
previous need to reduce complex patterns of behaviour in time to a
single image, as in traditional visual art, is no longer neccessary.
Obviously, art is not the only area where machines are prevalent, the
whole world is moving faster and faster as we humans learn to extend
our physical and mental powers through the use of machines. This makes
us more aware of change -both natural and artificial. Luckily, the modern
visual artist is now able to use modern media to explore a world of
movement and change just as thoroughly as the traditional artist could
explore apparently more static values with paint and canvas.
2. The Importance of Form and Structure:
i. So what is Form and Structure?
By "structure" is simply meant the relationships between things which
enable us to percieve "order" in the world -as part of the natural
struggle of mankind to turn chaos into order as we structure the world,
in order to understand it and to have some feeling of control over our
However, if we are able to percieve "structure" and "order" in the
world, then presumably we are also able to create it, or change it,
where we feel it does not exist -or is not to our liking.
ii. The Emotional Nature of Structure:
Although structure is an intelectual concept, a product of our minds,
it clearly has strong emotional effects.
Presumably when things are going well we prefer stability and when
things go wrong we would like them to change. Frustration and ambition,
fear and optimism, all depend on how we percieve the social, political
economic or emotional structures around us -and their liability to
iii. The Political Nature of Structure:
Clearly, the way society is ordered has an effect on our lives and our
ability to preserve the things we value and change the things we do
In a rapidly changing world we should be aware of how things change
and what the effects of these changes are upon the things we believe
How chaotic do we want our lives to be? Do we want the freedom to take
risks, to win and to lose -or the security of a rigidly organised support
iv. The Economic Nature of Structure:
In a more detailed discussion we could relate this to Kenneth Galbraith's
book "Economics and the Public Purpose" which contains a discussion on
the effect of large scale (organised) companies have on the free market.
It seems that it is now the manager and not the capitalist who has power.
So should the individual artist find ways of existing within large scale
organisations -like architectural bureaus, opera companies, film production
units and large academic institutions?
v. The Philosophical Nature of Structure:
If "structure" is about relationships between things, then clearly the
way "things" are defined is of great importance.
If we are to understand and manipulate "structure" then we must also
explore the effects our definitions have on the way we build conceptual
For example, chaos (the opposite of order) is homogenous -otherwise
it could be differentiated into "order" by "structure". Apparently
homogenity exhibits the highest level of symetry (which is a concept
related to order). So chaos seems to be highly ordered! Because what we
concider to be "structure" is usually not homogeneous (because it
generally relies on "differentiation") it would appear that "structure"
is less ordered than "Chaos"!
Perhaps jokes are serious games of definition.
3. The Rules of The Game:
The concept "structure" is probably suitable for static things.
However, we have already remarked that the world is hardly ever static.
It seems it might be advisable to find some way of dealing with dynamic
Presumably, "Rules" are the dynamic equivalent of "structures".
Operating within a set of rules will presumably produce pattern, and
the analysis of pattern can be achieved in terms of "rules".
So the concept of "Rules" links the intelectual and aesthetic concept
of pattern to other rule based systems such as "formal systems" and
"games". Somehow, mathematics and footbal become closely related to
Perhaps the complex sets of interactive systems of rules which surround
us and appear to rule our lives can be reduced to simple understandable
"games" -or perhaps not!
4. The Importance of Media:
i. The objective Eye of the Camera:
Cameras, are mechanical devices for recording images. However, the
camera is not a neutral thing and the design of the camera infleunces
the image that is recorded.
Perhaps our physical nature also determines the way we see and think!
ii. The Bhudda Nature of Computers:
Computers are primarily "automats" i.e. operate on the basis of
a priori defined procedures -without further interuption (or
Automation is therefore primarily concerned with predetermination
-the question of how language and being (ontology) interact
(i.e. the nature of the predetermined universe which has, or can be,
created) must be an essential subject for study!
iii. The Bhudda Nature of Bhudda:
Video cameras and Computers are modern machines which may force us
into new ways of percieving or experiencing the world -possibly even
forcing us into new worlds for us to experience.
However, there is no reason why the artist should limit themselves
to video and computer. One can experiment with other machines, with
light, energy or even paper and pencil. The question remains: "What is
the role of the medium in determining our view of the world"?
Section II. THE BASIC CURRICULUM:
-Exploration of Definitions, Descriptions and Relationships:
-Interactions between Physical and Conceptual Systems:
-Understanding The Exception and The Rule, The Specific and the General:
-what kind of people are coming
-what kind of people do we want going out? (i.e. Final Exam)
-what basic skills do we demand (on entering and leaving)?
-what tools are available to us/them to achieve the desired change?
-How much understanding is required regarding the available equipment
and it's use -or the ability to find this information?
To answer these questions we need to develop a Pedagogical Philosophy
which might include the following statements:
The integration of aesthetic, conceptual, technical and communicative
skills in the individual student is a basic aim of the department.
This clearly implies the integration of theoretical, practical and
emotional experience. It precludes the separation of technical and
expressive learning and therefore denies (as a pedagogical basis)
the possibility of teaching technical skills through separate modules.
It requires the development of new educational techniques based on an
integrated combination of independant research by students and support,
interpretation and exchange by mentors.
The traditional art school model, based on criticising the students ability
to perform tasks (determined either by themselves or others) which they
have had no earlier training to do, is not satisfactory. Such a system
focuses on critisism (and not on dialogue) and it denies the possibilities
of a positive learning situation. Although media art would not deny the
value of the individual initiative -it also wishes to emphasise the value
of developing and exchanging knowledge in a cooperative dialogue with
others (both teachers and students). Lectures, demonstrations, work
presentations and seminars are essential forms of study which compliment
and extend the individual's private study.
1. The Basic Theme:
MEDIA, MESSAGES, THOUGHTS and IMAGES:
-Why do we think what we think?
-Do we think what we think?
SECTION III. -STRUCTURING THE CHAOS AROUND US!
(Some Unavoidable Themes and Problems)
1.0. The Binary Computer
-Automation: Control at a distance
-Abstract Meta-systems (de-materialization)
-Flexibility within a basic repertoire
-What can we Simulate and How?
-How Real is a Simulation?
-Who has control?
-Reliability, Security and Observation
-The terror of mass-markets (wintel and others)
2.0 Science and Technology
-How things are
and How things work
-Technological push and
3.0 Mass Media and Commercial Systems
-Art, science, sport and media
-What are "Information", "Knowledge" and "Wisdom"?
-Do "Facts", "Truth" and "Reality" really exist?
-Communication or Manipulation?
-Are market values the best values?
-What is the value of Culture?
-Consumers or Producers?
-Survival of the fittest for what?
-Farmers vs. Hunters?
-Settlers vs. Nomads?
-Freedom vs. Responsibility?
4.0 Traditional Artistic Choices (Aesthetic Values)
-Aesthetics as a dynamic balance
-Aesthetics as Logical irrelevance but emotional neccessity
-The World as it is or the World as it could or should be?
-Working for Religion, Commerce, Society or Self?
-Expression or Exploration?
-Form or Content?
5.0 Conceptual Models of Systems, Language and Space
-Are the problems related?
-Are there underlying patterns which may help us to understand?
-Can we develop strategies to find these potential patterns?
-If we find these patterns are they real?
SECTION II. -A Search For Order
(Some Abstract Themes and Concepts)
1.0 Some Basic Skills:
-Ontology (how we
think things are)
-Construction (how we build things)
-Perception (how we
-Evaluation (how we
-Control (how we
2.0 Some Basic Domains:
things we can
-Conceptual (the things we can
imagine around us)
-Emotional (the things we
-Economic (the flow of material and
energy around us)
-Aesthetic (the balance
between the things around us)
3.0 Some Basic Questions:
-What is it and how can we understand it?
-Language: -Are we talking art,
mathematics, logic, language, philosophy or electronics?
-Technology: -How does it work and what can we do with it?
we play with it or is it too dangerous?
-Simulation: -What is imagination and what is
-Stimulation: -Is life more than a game?
-Society: -What is
privacy and what is loneliness?
-Psychology: -Who are we and what do we want?
-Economy: -Who works and who pays the
4.0 Some Silly Models:
<-> MEDIUM/LANGUAGE <->
SIMULATION <-> UNDERSTANDING
Representation <-> Represented
Action <-> Reaction
Social rules <-> Individual
strategy of Attack <-> Strategy of Defence
Some Basic Trilogies:
<-> Personal EXPERIENCE <-> Social
Individual Experience Social
How do these spaces relate to the individual (student)?
How do these spaces interact to produce a dynamic process?
5.0 A Silly Remark:
There is nothing more powerful than reality -it is the final
measure of all things.
There is probably also nothing so difficult to determine as
what reality really is!
6.0 Some Basic Strategies:
-Teaching as a Learning Experience
-Accumulating Knowledge and Understanding
-Developing a Critical Vision
-Understanding the role of the Medium
-Understanding Cliche as the basis of language
-Understanding Metaphore as a structural principle
-Choosing Aesthetic Positions
-Learning to Collabourate
-Researching the consequences of one choices
7.0 Some Basic Techniques:
-Theater of Interaction
-the interplay of forces
-actions and things
-objects and actors
-Exploring the Limits:
Think of a something.
How big is it?
What happens if it gets bigger, much bigger?
What happens if it gets smaller, much smaller?
Is it the same?
What material is it?
How does one know?
What happens if you try and cut a corner off,
or prick the surface, squeeze it,
hit it with a hammer or throw it on the floor?
What is it doing
What if it was somewhere else? (Limitations)
8.0 Some Nasty Words:
-Visual (non-verbal) rhetoric
-Morphology of action and reaction
-Project Discussion Groups
Amsterdam, September 1997