The context for learning, education and the arts (3)

This Entry is in Five Parts. (One, Two, Three, Four, Five)

This initial creativity was soon lost in the final version of “Understanding Media published in the 1964. In the book the medium becomes the message through the operations of an instantaneous sensory recognition of meaning. McLuhan explores affect by claiming that cubism in its elimination of point of view, generated an “instant total awareness [and in so doing] announced that the medium is the message? (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994, p.13.) I am not sure what ‘instant total awareness’ is, but one can surmise that it is somewhere between recognition and self-reflexive thought. In choosing this rather haphazard approach McLuhan eliminates all of the mediators that make any form of communication work.

Take the World Wide Web as an example. Few users of the web are aware of the various hubs and routers that move data around at high speed, let alone of the complexity of the servers that route that data into their home or business computers. They become aware of the mediators when there is a breakdown, or when the system gums up. The notion that we receive information instantly is tied up with the elimination of mediation. So, the arrival in my home of a television image from another part of the world seems instant, but is largely the result of a process in which radically different versions of time and space have played significant roles (the motion and position of the satellite, transmitting stations, microwave towers and so on). I won’t belabour this point other than to point out that the notion of instant recognition has played a significant role in the ways in which our culture has understood digital communications. This has tended to reduce if not eliminate the many different facets of the creative and technological process.

But let’s return to the more interesting and potentially creative idea that the subject is the message (mnetioned in an earlier post). As the sense-ratios alter, the sum-total of effects engenders a subject surrounded by and encapsulated within an electronic world, a subject who effectively becomes that world (and here the resonance with Jean Baudrillard is clear). This is not simply the movement from machine to human, it is the integration of machine and humans where neither becomes the victim of the other. As mediums we move meanings and messages around in a variety of creative ways (hence the link to speech) and as humans interacting with machines we are the medium within which this process and processing circulates. I repeat, this does not mean that we have become the machine, a concept that has inspired a great deal of criticism of technology in general, rather we end up sharing a common ground with our own creations, a mediated environment which we are explore everyday and try to make sense of the information that we are learning.

Interestingly, Derrick De Kerckhove, the Director of the McLuhan Centre at the University of Toronto who has been described as the successor to McLuhan wrote a book entitled, The Skin of Culture: Investigating the New Electronic Reality (Kogan Page, London: 1998). He said:

“With television and computers we have moved information processing from within our brains to screens in front of, rather than behind, our eyes. Video technologies relate not only to our brain, but to our whole nervous system and our senses, creating conditions for a new psychology. (De Kerckhove: 5)

To Kerckhove, human beings have become messages (and this is different from being mediums) with our brains emulating the processing logic and structural constraints of computers. Here we do become the machine. We no longer signify as an act of will. Agency is merely a function of messaging systems. Agency no longer recognizes its role as a medium and as a result we seek and are gratified by the instantaneous, the immediate, the unmediated. Now, the ramifications of this approach are broad and need extensive thought and clarification.

The important point here is that De Kerckhove has molded the human body into an extension of the computer, because we are already, to some degree, machines. Our nervous systems, which scientists barely understand and our senses which for neuroscientists remain one of the wonders of nature are suddenly characterized through the metaphors of screens, vision, technology and a new psychology. The inevitable result are mechanical metaphors that make it seem as if science, computer science and biotechnology will eventually solve the ambiguous conundrums of perception (e.g., in the virtual world we become what we see), knowledge and learning. To say that we are the machine is a far cry from understanding the hybrid processes that encourage machine-human interactions. De Kerckhove has transformed the terrain here much as McLuhan did, so that humans lose their autonomy and their ability to act upon the world, although his is a far more sohisticated examination than McLuhan's.

As I said, this is not an article about McLuhan and so I will not explore the report that he wrote any further or the vast literature that has grown up around his thinking. As you can no doubt tell, I am concerned with the rather mechanical view that our culture has of the human mind and am fascinated with the ease with which we have taken on McLuhan’s simplified versions of affect and effect. It is not so much the behavioural bias that concerns me (although it is important to be aware of the influence of behaviourism on the cultural analysis of technology) but the equations that are drawn among experience, images and technology.

These equations often reduce the creative engagement of humans with culture and technology, to the point where culture and technology become one, eliminating the possibility of contestation. In large measure, many of the complaints about digital technologies, the fears of being overwhelmed if not replaced are the result of not recognizing the potential to recreate the products of technological innovation. The best example of this is the way video games have evolved from rudimentary forms of storytelling to complex narratives driven by the increasing ease with which the games are mastered by players. The sophistication of the players has transformed the technology. But none of this would have been possible without the ability of the technology to grow and change in response to the rather unpredictable choices made by humans.

If we turn to the computer for a moment, the notion that it has the power to affect human cognition is rooted in debates and theories developed within the fields of cybernetics and artificial intelligence. The “…popular press began to call computers ‘electronic brains’ and their internal parts and functions were given anthropomorphic names (e.g., computer memory)… (Warren Sack, “Artificial Intelligence and Aesthetics pg. 3)

The notion that a computer has memory has taken root in such a powerful way that it seems impossible to talk about computers without reference to memory. So, an interesting circle has been formed or it might be a tautology. Computer memory becomes a standard which we use to judge memory in general, hence the fears about Deep Blue somehow replacing the human mind, even though its programming was created by humans! The problem is that there is a long tradition of human creativity in the development of technologies and this history is embedded in every aspect of our daily lives. Deep Blue is just one more extension of the process. The fact that we can use the computer to judge our own memories certainly doesn’t eliminate anything. It merely means that we now have a tool that we can use to examine what we actually mean by memory. In fact, recent neuroscientific research into memory suggests that we have profoundly underestimated our own minds let alone the digital ones that we are creating.

The very idea of a computer program is linked to the power to do. (Sack: 5) Again, there are certain debates that cannot be developed here, including the significant one between Daniel Dennett and John Searle, a debate explored by Stephen Pinker in his new book, How the Mind Works. Pinker is a supporter of cognitive psychology and also suggests that the brain operates like a computer. His argument is more subtle than that however, because he is quite worried about creating too great an equivalence between the brain and the mechanics of the computer. I bring this up because it is the cultural attraction of the metaphors which interests me. It is important to understand that computer programs are carefully constructed artificial languages that have great difficulty dealing with the unpredictable, with the tentative, the contingent or the irrational. Computer programs are codified according to a strict set of rules and I think that we can make the argument that common sense is not. I will briefly return to this discussion later on.

To be continued......

The context for learning, education and the arts (2)

This Entry is in Five Parts. (One, Two, Three, Four, Five)

Let me begin by quoting the head of IBM, Lou Gerstner in reference to Deep Blue, the computer developed to play chess at the grandmaster level:

“Deep Blue is emblematic of a whole class of emerging computer systems that combine ultrafast processing with analytical software. Today we’re applying these systems to challenges far more vital than chess. They are used for example in simulation — replacing physical things with digital things, re-creating reality inside powerful computer systems? (“Think Leadership? Vol. 3, No. 1, 1998: 2)

Now, what is important here is not only the references to Deep Blue and very fast computer systems, but the assumption that the replacement of physical things with digital things re-creates reality inside computer systems and by extension in reality itself. This may well be true and may well be happening, but we need to examine the implications of the claim and locate this claim within a cultural, social and economic analysis. And we need to become quite clear about the meaning of the term simulation which is used most often to refer to an artificial environment that either replaces the real or in Jean Baudrillard’s words become the real. Simulation as I will use it refers to the creation of artifacts, their use and their integration as well as co-optation into an increasingly digital culture.

“And soon we’ll see this hyper-extended networked world made up of a trillion interconnected, intelligent devices — intersecting with data-mining capability. Pervasive Computing meets Deep Computing? (Gerstner: 3)

I will return to the implications of this quote through a variety of different routes. Historically, the advent of new technologies in the 20th century has generally been paralleled by claims of social effect and cultural transformation and these are synoptically represented by the continued influence of Marshall McLuhan on present thinking about technology and its effects. I will not examine McLuhan’s ideas in great detail, suffice to say that many of the assumptions guiding his cultural appropriation by a variety of writers, commentators and politicians do not stand up to scrutiny of a rigorous kind. For example, McLuhan’s famous statement that “The Medium is the Message? grew out of a report that he wrote in 1959-60 for the Office of Education, United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare. It was entitled, “Report on Project in Understanding New Media? In it McLuhan analyses media such as television using the tools of cognitive psychology, management theory and economics. For McLuhan, media include speech, writing, photography, radio, etc.. And he is puzzled by why the effects of these media have been overlooked for as he puts it, “…3500 years of the Western world? (McLuhan, 1960: 1)

McLuhan searches for an explanation and much of the research for the project is prescient and fascinating as well as a precursor to the publication of “Understanding Media? in 1964. When it comes to the famous aphorism about the medium and the message, McLuhan reveals a rather interesting foundation for much of his later research.

“Nothing could be more unrealistic than to suppose that the programming for such media could affect their power to re-pattern the sense-ratios of our beings. It is the ratio among our senses which is violently disturbed by media technology. And any upset in our sense-ratios alters the matrix of thought and concept and value. In what follows, I hope to show how this ratio is altered by various media and why, therefore, the medium is the message or the sum-total of effects. The so-called content of any medium is another medium? (McLuhan, 1960: 9)

It is clear from this statement that the medium is actually the subject, that it is human beings whose sense-ratios are altered by participating in the experiences made possible through the media. It is not the content of the communication, but the encounter between the medium and subjectivity that alters or disturbs how we then reflexively analyse our experience. Although the medium is the message is generally interpreted in formal terms and although it has been appropriated as a generalization used to explain the presence of media in every aspect of our lives, McLuhan is here playing with cognitive and psychological research as it was developed in the 1950’s. More importantly, at this stage, he is avoiding a binary approach to form/content relations. He is effectively introducing a third element into the discussion, namely, the human body.

The context for learning, education and the arts (1)

This entry has five parts. (One, Two, Three, Four, Five)

The context for learning, education and the arts has altered dramatically over the last few years as has the cultural environment for educators and artists/creators. Part of what I would like to do here is examine the intersection of a number of crucial developments that I think have transformed the terrain of technology, education, art and culture.

This is a grand claim and I would be the first to admit that we are being incessantly told that change has become the major characteristic of the late 20th century. But, I do think that we are witnessing shifts which will have a profound effect not only on the social and political structure of Western countries but on the ways in which In which we see ourselves, act upon and within the communities of which we are a part and how we create meanings, messages and information for the proliferating networks that now surround us.

The one important caveat here is that although I am concerned with the transformations we are experiencing, I will in no way claim that we are undergoing a revolutionary change. I tend to see history as evolutionary, which in no way precludes dramatic shifts from occurring. As intellectuals, artists, technology developers and educators, I believe it is our responsibility to become active within this environment and to develop the critical and creative tools to respond to the ongoing evolution of an emerging aesthetic of interactivity in which aesthetic goals are linked with ethical goals and are based on a perspective of caring for both the individual and the larger economic, political, ecological, social and spiritual circumstances that create contexts for the individual. (Carol Gigliotti;Bridge to, Bridge From: The Arts, Technology and Education? Leonardo, Vol. 31, No. 2, April-May, 1998 p.91)

Our cultural claims about the various factors that produce change tend to be linear, the line being one that moves along a fairly straight, if not narrow trajectory from the less complex to the more complex. The approach that I will take looks at the displacements that are created by the movement from one phase to another, movement in this instance being more like transportation framed by what Bruno Latour has described as connections, short circuits, translations, associations, and mediations that we encounter, daily. (Bruno Latour, Trains of Thought, Common Knowledge, Vol. 6, # 3, Winter, 1997, p. 183.)

So, I will begin by exploring the various conjunctures and disjunctures created by the presence of digital technologies in nearly every aspect of the cultural context of the early 21st century. My goal, however, is not an overview, but rather, to raise as many questions as I can in order to introduce increasing levels of mediation both to our understanding of the digital and to our creative transformation of the digital into various media of communication.

To be continued.....


Some comments on How Images Think

Professor Pramod Nayar of the Department of English, University of Hyderabad comments on "How Images Think." This is a small selection of a longer review that appeared in the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology

How Images Think is an exercise both in philosophical meditation and critical theorizing about media, images, affects, and cognition. Burnett combines the insights of neuroscience with theories of cognition and the computer sciences. He argues that contemporary metaphors - biological or mechanical - about either cognition, images, or computer intelligence severely limit our understanding of the image. He suggests in his introduction that image refers to the complex set of interactions that constitute everyday life in image-worlds (p. xviii). For Burnett the fact that increasing amounts of intelligence are being programmed into technologies and devices that use images as their main form of interaction and communication - computers, for instance - suggests that images are interfaces, structuring interaction, people, and the environment they share.

New technologies are not simply extensions of human abilities and needs - they literally enlarge cultural and social preconceptions of the relationship between body and mind.

The flow of information today is part of a continuum, with exceptional events standing as punctuation marks. This flow connects a variety of sources, some of which are continuous - available 24 hours - or live and radically alters issues of memory and history. Television and the Internet, notes Burnett, are not simply a simulated world - they are the world, and the distinctions between natural and non-natural have disappeared. Increasingly, we immerse ourselves in the image, as if we are there. We rarely become conscious of the fact that we are watching images of events - for all perceptive, cognitive, and interpretive purposes, the image is the event for us.

The proximity and distance of viewer from/with the viewed has altered so significantly that the screen is us. However, this is not to suggest that we are simply passive consumers of images. As Burnett points out, painstakingly, issues of creativity are involved in the process of visualization - viewers generate what they see in the images. This involves the historical moment of viewing - such as viewing images of the WTC bombings - and the act of re-imagining. As Burnett puts it, the questions about what is pictured and what is real have to do with vantage points [of the viewer] and not necessarily what is in the image (p. 26).

Notes and varia

Christo covers the Reichstag

"The wrapping of the Reichstag my colleagues, enables us to see in another light and newly, perceptually experience this central and ambivalent place in German history. The wrapping is no debasement. It is an expression of reverence and creates room for contemplation of the essential. In the Catholic liturgy of Holy Week, the cross is wrapped so that it can be unwrapped in celebration at the high point of Good Friday. In the Jewish faith, the Torah rolls are wrapped in order to remind us of the preciousness of what they contain. The Reichstag will not be desecrated by Christo's wrapping, it will be ennobled - as strange as this may sound for a house of democracy."
Spoken by Konrad Weiss member of the German parliament and a member of the Green Party

Wrapped Reichstag.gif

Network of networks diagram




Speech presented at the 77th Graduation Ceremony of Emily Carr Institute

Honoured guests, Dr. George Pederson, Chair of the Board of Governors, members of the Board, Graduates, Faculty, Staff, Families and Friends, today I will speak to you about some of the challenges that we will all face in the near future and the crucial role that the graduates from this institution will play in the future well-being of our society and of Emily Carr Institute.

This is my tenth graduation ceremony since being appointed President in 1996. Each year is different and each year is special. Each year we celebrate your achievements and your successes. It is always a humbling experience for me and I hope for all of you. Over the last ten years 2800 hundred students have graduated from Emily Carr. Since 1929, 7500 students have graduated from our great institution. In other words, 81 years after our founding, over 37 percent of our graduates have come through Emily Carr during the last ten years.

Before I begin my formal speech, I want to take a moment to honour someone whom many of you have met. Rick Robinson has been working at Emily Carr since the early 1970’s and since 1974 as a core member of our technical staff. If you have ever gone into the wood workshop in the North Building, then you have met Rick. This is a man whose dedication to the job, to the Institute and to students has been total — a dedication that goes far beyond conventional norms and expectations. Rick is a gentle, wonderful person whose contribution to Emily Carr has been so very profound. Today, we are going to honour Rick with a certificate of achievement and by permanently establishing an entrance scholarship in his name. The Rick Robinson Entrance scholarship will pay the full fees of an incoming domestic student and is our way of saying thank-you to someone who has done so much for so many generations of students and who is a crucial part of the very fabric of our institution.


On the Future…
“Sometimes there are moments in human history that seem to beckon awakenings. They perturb us to reevaluate our beliefs, assumptions, and reigning cultural stories. They challenge us to synthesize and integrate seemingly disparate forms of knowledge into new relationships, new patterns, and new theories. They invite us to invent new language, new rules, and new structures. They call us to create and live into new stories of possibility. These moments grace us with enlightened insights and more soulful understanding. They fill us with wonder and amazement. They open us to life and to the invitation to reclaim the fire and light that resides within us all to change the world.

(Stephanie Pace Marshall)

Stephanie Pace Marshall who wrote those words is one of America’s most important educational leaders. Her words are very important in the context of this ceremony. As graduates of Emily Carr you will encounter a series of moral and ethical issues and challenges that will test not only the education that you have had, but also your ability to respond quickly and sensibly to dramatic change at the social, cultural and political level. Soulful understanding connects you to your role as both artist and citizen, as designer and citizen, and as media creator and citizen. We carry many labels in our lives but none is more important than the label of citizen and with that label come many responsibilities including a passion for the social good, an understanding of and compassion for those less fortunate than us and a desire to contribute to the well-being of our society.

One of your most important challenges will be to make the environment for living and working in our society a more humane one and it will be your creativity, your knowledge and your sensitivity to invention and innovation that will mark you and also separate you from other post-secondary graduates.

In this, the sixth year of a new century, your skills in advancing and widening the role of the arts as an integral part of our social fabric and as a powerful catalyst in shaping the life of our local, national and global communities will be crucial not only to your well-being but to the well-being of the planet.

You are our greatest asset. You represent the living memories of the learning experiences at Emily Carr Institute, the continuity and connections between generations and the future of the institution as well as the future of the arts.

As Emily Carr moves into its next phase with graduate programs, a joint degree with the University of Northern British Columbia and the opening of our new research studio, Intersections Digital Studio of Art, Design and Media, we invite you to stay connected with us and to always feel that we are part of your extended family.

What do you take from this place? A grad project, stories, friendships, memories? Learning cannot be quantified. Hopefully you have learned some lessons about how to overcome hurdles, how to take on a challenge and succeed, how to better understand the story of your life and how to be sensitive to the stories of others. You will have brought poetry and imagination to your learning, new vision and the sense that the creative spirit cannot and should not be kept at bay. Hopefully, you will have learned how to channel your ideas into material forms but never at the cost of the passion that you have for experimentation. Some things cannot be expressed and some projects cannot fully represent the depth and complexity of your initial impulses. But, you are also part of a time when conventional notions of art, audience and display are undergoing fundamental change. It is no longer that simple to see oneself as an isolated creator. For better or worse, you are part of a growing cultural space that more and more people are noticing. You are a generation that will have a voice and with that comes even greater responsibilities to your families and to your communities.

My challenge to you is to always remember the institution that you have come from and to integrate your learning into the values of your life and to never forget that as holders of degrees from an Art and Design school, your mission is to bring the light and fire of creativity to the everyday lives of people in your communities, to inspire and be inspired, to challenge and be challenged, to create and promote and support the arts.

I will end with a quote from William Allen White who was one of the great journalists of the early 20th century:

"About all that a grad speaker can do for his auditors is to turn their faces around. He looks back upon the world as he thinks it was. Then he considers the world as he thinks it is. Finally in his receding perspective he discloses the pictured phantasm which he hopes will be the future. Thereupon his listeners may see mirrored in the gloss of his picture the world which they think they will make. It is a pleasant exercise.


Breakfast Speech on Learning, May 6, 2006 (Emily Carr Institute Graduation)

“Most people believe that it is education that will save us. But this bland, sweeping, and unexamined assertion reduces us into continuing to uncritically support and tinker with the current story of schooling. It is education that will save us, but not any kind of education—only education of a certain kind: only education that is generative and life-affirming, that invites, engages, and integrates the fullness of our children’s capacities and ways of knowing, and that nurtures the creation of integral minds committed to the creation of a truly just and wise global civilization. Only education that develops our capacity to become more fully human is truly worthy of the human spirit. Only education that invites deep learning and reconnects us to life will light and sustain the fire within?

(Stephanie Pace Marshall)

Learning is a complex and challenging subject. The learning experience both within schools and outside of them has been an area of debate and contention for centuries and we still do not know that much about the optimum conditions for learning or even how humans internalize information and process knowledge. In this context, post-secondary and K-12 institutions are struggling to respond to sometimes-excessive expectations on the part of students and their communities, trying at one and the same time to create value and be valuable.

Stephanie Marshall quotes Mary Catherine Bateson: “You can’t prepare the child for the job market that will exist 20 years from now. So how can you build a curriculum that will shape an individual to be a pioneer in an unknown land — because that’s what the future is? (Stephanie Pace Marshall, “[The Learning Story of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy? ]( The future cannot be known and we do our children a great disservice when we suggest to them that getting a degree, for example, should be connected in a linear way to their future employment. This means that a creative student exploring their often profound and sometimes confusing desire to craft or produce a work of art is has to struggle to explain both the value of their creative process and the outcomes of their creative engagement in the context of an employment picture that may not produce a simple fit. A philosophy student or even a learner with a philosophical outlook will judge speculative thought to be less than useful, largely because it cannot be connected to a clear and discernable outcome. To me, learning is as much about the practice of engaging with materials and ideas as it is about speculative thinking that cannot and should not be translated into a concrete form.

It is interesting to note that the present model for most universities is and has been a contested one. Notions of original research and inquiry only took hold in the late 19th century. Public education as we know it is relatively young with some of the biggest growth coming in the 1960’s. The idea of teaching the liberal arts in a university only reached some critical mass in the late 19th century, while in the 1930’s, research and graduate teaching were prioritized over undergraduate teaching and public service. It was only in the 1960’s that Clark Kerr proposed that a single institution “could perform multiple missions to benefit society.��? (John C. Scott, “The Mission of the University: Medieval to Postmodern Transformation,��? Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 77, No1 (Jan-Feb 2006) p. 3.) These different positions span the history of post-secondary education and learning and remain in place today with institutions bearing the weight of trying to distinguish among strategies and choices that are not well understood either by the public or by government.

Have you ever wondered why educators continue to rely so heavily on lecture formats within classrooms? In medieval times, before the printing press was invented, before it was possible to disseminate ideas to a broader populace, teachers, who were generally clerics, spoke to students, read from the bible and from other available material. They read and spoke very slowly so that the students could take notes, which was the only way for learners to reproduce the ideas and information for their own personal use. The teachers of the 12th century gained great authority from this teaching strategy. It was the beginning of a process of institutionalization, which to this day remains central to the practice of teaching. But does it remain central to the practice to learning? How do we bring new insights into our understanding of learning? Have we reached the point where our institutions, their rules, regulations, policies and practices are not able to optimize the conditions within which learning can take place?

It is within the context of this discussion that I am so very pleased to introduce Chris Kelly to you. Chris’s biography is rich and varied having been the Superintendent of Schools and Chief Executive Officer for the Richmond School Board for nine years and completing his third year as Superintendent of the Vancouver School Board. As an educator and administrator, Chris’s experience includes elementary and secondary teaching, Aboriginal education, special education, curriculum development, and professional and organizational development. He is presently the President of Canadian Education Association, is on the Advisory committee to the Deans of Education and Science at UBC and a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Global Ethics.

What I have described here only reflects a small portion of what Chris does, how he interweaves his passion for learning and education with the tremendous responsibilities of managing a large k-12 system, how he manages at the same time to play a public role as an advocate for our educational system, how beautifully and clearly he articulates his concerns for the quality of learning and the needs of students. Chris and I have known each other for some years now and every time we have met, our discussions have been rich and varied. So, it pleases me tremendously to announce to you today that we have agreed in principle to explore the possible creation of a specialized high school in Art and Design in Vancouver that would be supported by and developed with Emily Carr Institute. Chris will talk a little more about this, but you can be rest assured that we intend to follow through on this visionary project that we feel will ensure a place, a strong place for the creative arts in the curriculum of young learners.

John Fowles

John Fowles died today. The author of the French Lieutenant’s Woman among other books had been ill for a long time. The New York Times has an obituary at this URL.

Fowles wrote a book on trees aptly titled, The Tree that combines photographs with texts and in its simplicity not only reveals a great deal about nature, but also about how our culture sees the natural environment. His books influenced me a great deal, but it was the film of The Collector which really had an impact on my generation. A summary of the book can be found at this site.

Some recent comments on Research and Wikipedia

From Chris on Research in the Arts

Here in the UK, arts research culture might be a bit more accepted, but it is still nascent. I agree that the terms 'practice-based' and 'theory-based' set up a problematic dichotomy for research culture. In acknowledging the distinction, one runs the risk of mirroring the historical bias towards empiricism. This bias has supported a hierarchy of epistemologies that, descending from quantitative research to qualitative research and from theory-based to practice-based research, denies the creative arts a platform for expression as knowledge.

The ways in which the creative arts shape our understanding of the world are difficult to measure, but no less significant than other models of knowledge. If most 'pure science' researchers would accept that some form of rudimentary research occurs prior to art making, can we take it even further? Can we suggest that an artwork - in itself - is a form of research?

I believe we can. Especially when it involves the active questioning of existing frameworks for understanding, with the inclusion of an 'experiment' designed to fill in the gaps that are opened up by these questions. This occurs most frequently in the new media arts now, an area informed by cognitive models of the human condition, based on active experimentation with new technologies that pose questions about how we perceive.

The conclusions from these arts experiments may not be concrete, indeed they may be difficult to outline and impossible to apply in any economy. But insofar as they function as part of a process of semiosis - the generation of signs and thus meaning... well... they're rather important, and deserve to be encouraged.

From Mary on the idea of an Art School as Wikipedia

If Wikipedia were an art school, it would look like WalMart. Nah. It would look like an academic department that has been around for too long - a congerie of pseudo-experts. Nothing worse than that. Consolidated mediocrity. When I first saw Wikipedia I thought - WOW - post-structuralism meets pedagogy in the form of an ever-evolving set of artifacts. Nope. Take a deeper look at the rules governing the construction of knowledge in Wikipedia -- no controversy blah blah -- but the most interesting thing to me -- no original knowledge -- wow -- and just go look at how this absolutely implausible limit condition is defined and policed. Fascinating. Then go look at the Rosa Parks entry, and carefully go through the history of the page. Look at the contest over "getting it right" and "getting the controversy out of the story". Art school. Wow. I hope not. Wikipedia is modernism run amok. A moebius strip of epistemic spam.


From a Recent Event at Emily Carr Institute

The Value of Art

A recent study by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism persuasively argues not only for the value of the arts to the health of our society, but for its necessity as a fundamental part of everyday life. It is a great report, but it amazes me that we are still producing reports on these issues as if the debate is a new one. No city can survive without culture. No country would even dare call itself a country if it couldn't link its culture to its history. Every aspect of what we do and of how we live is intertwined with the cultural actitvities we pursue. No small town in Canada or the United States is without its craftspeople. Most of the environments that we inhabit either reference culture or express some form of cultural activity. The fork and knife that you use to eat with were designed by creative people. The buildings we inhabit are the product of centuries of thinking about the built environment. Unless we start connecting the dots here, we will continue to think of culture as something that is done by others, by artists and designers, as opposed to a process that we all engage in to varying degrees. Artists create the windows through which we can view and engage with our own world and the worlds of others.


An item from my extensive collection of newspapers from 1968