Monday, February 8, 2010

If technology is the answer what is the question?

If technology is the answer, what is the question?
John Roome.

I am a visual artist and educator who obtained my fine art degree many more years ago than I care to remember. My formative years were grounded in what are now known as “traditional” or even “old” media. Technology was not really something I thought about. Most of the technologies I was introduced to and made use of, probably date back to the Renaissance or even earlier. In fact throughout my career I have been particularly interested in ancient technologies such as handmade paper and relief printing. I saw these as ways of expressing myself rather than as technologies. But in fact they are technologies. Artists have a long tradition of adapting old technologies or even inventing new technologies. The re- introduction of hand papermaking by printmakers in the 1960’s is an example of how an out-dated technology was used to revitalize art. Many artists respond to old and new technologies in surprising ways.

In the context of this study programme we probably think of electronic or digital media when we use the word technology. Artists from my generation sometimes find it difficult to relate to electronic technology. In fact it is surprising how resistant the art world has been to new technologies. Take photography as an example. The invention of photography made an undeniably significant impact on art but it has taken more than half a century for photography to be accepted as a “high” art form.
New York artist Julian Jackson in an interview on his latest work commented that because he grew up in the 1950s and 60s, he feels like an analogue person living in a digital world. He has chosen to “work against the tide” and explores a language of formal abstraction that is rooted in the 1960’s. Like him, I am also a child of the 50s, but in contrast to him, I am making a conscious attempt to adapt and enhance my creative process by incorporating the digital medium.

My study will document my creative journey along this path. My question is: How can I use electronic technology to enhance my creative practice? This includes my practice as a visual artist and as an art educator. I do not believe technology itself is the answer but rather it is the way technology is applied that is important.

What can technology do for me? Before I can answer this question I need to know what my needs are. I need to recognize the fact that I am a unique individual involved in a unique creative endeavor. For this reason I will make use of the living theory methodology as promoted by Professor Jack Whitehead of Bath University (2008).Whitehead promotes the use of action reflection cycles in improving practice. His model, (experience, imagine, act, evaluate, modify), is one that I think will prove useful. As I work through this cycle more specific questions will arise which I will attempt to answer by repeating the cycle.

In 2007 I exhibited my first experiments combining so-called traditional and digital media (technologies) in an exhibition entitled “Press Delete and Start Again”. I exhibited an animated digital work together with woodcut panels that were based on the images from the animation. In the woodcut panels I emulated the pixellated quality of low-resolution jpg images. They were an attempt to “slow down” the digital. The exhibition was well received and later toured to Berlin.

I continued to work in this manner and began to add sound to the animations. I also experimented with projecting the animations directly onto one of the wood-panels. This work was exhibited on a group show in 2009 and also received positive reviews. Peer reviews indicated that I had been successful in producing digital work that reflects my interest in the “crude’ expressive qualities of the woodcut medium.

Powerful imaging software is known to render often facile digital effects; Roome avowedly uses minimal computer tools to create his animated images. In self-consciously avoiding flair, the authority and potency of his autographic skills in observational drawing is expressed most cogently (Calder 2009).

So far my literature research has led me into the field of digital aesthetics and “new media”. Authors Lev Manovich and Nicolas Negroponte have proved particularly inspirational and have helped me to formulate new questions and new possible approaches. The field of digital art is relatively new but is growing rapidly. The relationship between “digital aesthetics” and “traditional aesthetics” is something that has provoked considerable debate. I hope that my study can contribute to this debate.

To conclude, technology is a means to an end for me. I intend to continue my investigation of what it can do for me. I feel that I can best do this in the context of a self study approach. The main question that will guide my research is: How can I improve my practice as an artist/educator?

In answering this question I will:

• DO more. More production of creative work. More playing. More experimenting.
• REFLECT on the doing. By being self critical as well as by getting outside critiques.
• EXHIBIT my work in order to obtain feedback and critique.
• POSITION my work in the context of contemporary art practice.
• NETWORK. By using the internet to expose my work to a wider audience and to connect with other practitioners.
• INVESTIGATE. By broadening my knowledge of the field. By doing literature and internet research.
• EVALUATE. Through the above process I will identify strengths and weaknesses and discover new directions.


Darley, A. 2000. Visual Digital Culture: Surface play and spectacle in new media genres. London: Routledge.
Cubitt,S.1998. Digital Aesthetics. London: Sage.
Paul,C. 2003. Digital Art. London: Thames and Hudson.
Lunenfeld, P. (ed.) 1999. The Didgital Dialectic: New essays on new media. London: MIT Press.
Manovich, L. 2001. The Language of New Media. London:MIT Press.
Negroponte, N. 1995. Being Digital. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Rush, M. 1999. New Media in Late 20th Century Art. London: Thames and Hudson.
Schwarz, H. (ed.) 1997. Are Our Eyes Targets? Media art history. Karlsruhe: ZKM.
Wands, B. 2006. Art of the Digital Age. London: Thames and Hudson.
Whitehead, J. 1999. How do I improve my practice? Creating a discipline of education through educational enquiry. PhD Thesis, University of Bath.
Whitehead, J. 2008. Using a living theory methodology in improving practice and generating educational knowledge in living theories. Educational Journal of Living Theories, volume 1(1): 103-107.

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