Visual Art/virtual Art: Teching Technology for Meaning

By Freedman, Kerry | Art Education, July 1997 | Go to article overview

Visual Art/virtual Art: Teching Technology for Meaning


Freedman, Kerry, Art Education


Today visual representations are available to anyone with access to television, computers, film and other mass media. Visual forms of culture have become more accessible than literary forms. Americans have more televisions and video recorders and spend more on advertising per capita than any other nation. Approximately onethird of the early adolescents in the U. S. watch five or more hours of television a day. Many more students, from childhood through adolescence, watch national network television than are being taught through the same school curriculum. In a sense, television has become the national curriculum and the media now provide "edu-tainment." In this world of imagery, how should we teach art?

One answer to this question is that we should focus on the ways in which students use technology. Without such a focus, the merely technical aspects of computing are likely to pervade in schools (Streibel, 1993), and inappropriate generalizations about learning with technology will guide instruction. In art education, student use of technology must include consideration of both the production and viewing of technological images, as well as the ways such images come to have meaning. Even in classrooms where students do not have computers for production, they can learn how to analyze images created through the use of computer technology.

SEEING BELOW THE

VIRTUAL SURFACE

The fragmented, often contradictory, multidisciplinary and intercultural references to knowledge that students interact with through visual technology may have more to do with student understanding of the subject than does curriculum based on the structure of a discipline. Such postmodern visual experience should not be made to fit into modernist curriculum frameworks (Efland, Freedman, & Stuhr, 1996). Instead, the interpretive, didactic, and even seductive power of imagery (Freedberg, 1989) should be given attention in school.

In other words, the meaning of technological images cannot be simply understood in terms of what has been called "visual literacy," which has generally meant the semiotic reading of signs and symbols. As Neil Brown (1989) explains, the concept of visual literacy is an attempt to force images to fit illegitimately into a structuralist analysis of literary texts that tends to narrow visual meaning. Rather, a broad view of creative production and interpretation in relation to multiple meanings and visual qualities is called for if we are to understand and teach about the use of images in contemporary life.

The social conditions of viewing are vital to the way in which visual messages are received and understood (Morley, 1992). The process is a highly interactive relationship between imagery and audience in which cultural and personal meanings are created. Both cultural and personal meanings are created as a result of social knowledge, including, for example, gendered associations, formal and informal education, and socioeconomic level. Therefore, focusing only on the technical aspects of visual technologies, such as manipulating computer software or animating film, in curriculum may result in the loss of a vital aspect of imagery in students' lives.

PRODUCING ON SCREEN

Artistic production with computers is an important use of technology for students. The social aspects of this production include a concern about students becoming isolated and antisocial as a result of sitting in front of a screen. However, classroom research has demonstrated that students of various ages actually work best in groups when using computers in school (e.g., Johnson, Johnson, & Stanne, 1986; Rysavy & Sales, 1991). This conclusion has been reported based on studies of a range of computer uses, from databases (Ehman, Glenn, Johnson, & White, 1992) to computer graphics (Freedman, 1989), and involves a range of collaboration types, from pairs of students working at the same computer, to students who correspond by electronic mail.

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