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1. Introduction
2. Classroom Activities
2.1 Discussions
2.2 Hands-On the Computers and Digital Media Tools
2.3 A Closer Look at Digital Art
3. Reflections

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Creative Discovery in Digital Art Forms: A First-Year Seminar
Jennifer Burg , Wake Forest University
Yue-Ling Wong, Wake Forest University

Digital art, broadly defined, includes photography, drawings, paintings, music, and literature created or presented by means of a computer. In a first-year seminar, we explore with our students the potential of digital art and the avenues of creative expression made possible by computers. Students learn photographic processing, sound editing, drawing, painting, and multimedia programming on their computers; they create multimedia interpretations of poems, and they write a term paper exploring the legitimacy of digital art as "real art."

1. Introduction
All freshmen at Wake Forest University are required to take a first-year seminar - a course in which they engage in "critical thinking and writing" on a special topic chosen by their professor. First-year seminars are taught in all disciplines, on subjects ranging from "Chaos Theory" to "The Analytical Methods of Sherlock Holmes."

The purpose of our seminar, entitled "Creative Discovery in Digital Art Forms," was to examine historical understandings of the word art, discuss the legitimacy of art created with the help of a machine, introduce digital art in a variety of genres, give students hands-on experience with digital media, and explore with them their own creative potential when the computer becomes their artistic tool and medium of communication.

The maximum class size for first-year seminars is 16 students, which was the size of our class. All students on campus have identical laptop computers equipped with a standard load of software. In addition to their standard software, we put key-served versions of Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Freehand, Flash, and Director on the students' laptops. The students also were able to use our digital media lab with Cool Edit and Acid Pro sound editing programs, Cakewalk PC Music Creator, and a MIDI keyboard.

2. Classroom Activities
2.1 Discussions

The seminar began with an overview of the history of art. We considered prehistoric works like the paintings at Lascaux and the Venus of Willendorf -- works that, in retrospect, we consider "art" while not knowing their actual inspiration. We noted that in ancient Greece, art was based on classical rules of form, and a distinction was made between the crafts of painting and sculpture and the inspired activities of poetry and music. We observed that through the Middle Ages, the "liberal arts" came to be defined, and art increasingly was associated not only with knowledge of form and classic technique, but also with inspiration. We discussed the Renaissance and post-Renaissance notions of grazia, the je ne sais quoi or indefinable element that characterizes timeless art. And we noted the emergence in the 17th century of the beaux arts or "fine arts," including poetry, music, architecture, painting, sculpture, and mechanics -- bringing together form and structure, aesthetics, inspiration, and the craftsman's skill.

The second topic of discussion was the seminar's central question: What is art? Quotations from artists through the ages gave us the starting point for our discussion. Gustave Flaubert emphasized the importance of form. "One must not always think that feeling is everything," he said. "Art is nothing without form." The sound must seem an echo to the sense." Oscar Wilde claimed that "Art is quite useless," not implying that we should not bother with it, but acknowledging that what compels us to artistic activity is "the human impulse to create." Goethe asserted that "Individuality of expression is the beginning and end of all art." Others have focused on the relationship between art and nature. To Samuel Taylor Coleridge, art was the "reconciler of nature and man," with " the power of humanizing nature, of infusing the thoughts and passions of man into everything which is the object of his contemplation." Other artists aligned art with truth and beauty -- considered one and the same thing by John Keats in "Ode on a Grecian Urn." ("Beauty is truth, truth beauty, -- that is all\ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know!") George Sand valued art "for the sake of the good and the beautiful." Leo Tolstoy viewed art primarily as a means for communicating one's feelings and experiences to another. Similarly, Marcel Proust rejoiced that art can give us "another's view of the universe."

We had a similar discussion about the nature of poetry. We considered Frost's definition -- "a momentary stay against confusion" -- as well as Wordsworth's -- "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," which emerges as "emotions recollected in tranquility." We considered Archibald Macleish's injunction that "a poem should not mean, but be," and we looked at other poems that attempt to define poetry, including works by Pablo Neruda and Marianne Moore.

In the next part of the course, we considered how art might be compromised by the intervention of mechanical tools. Photography, in its beginnings, gave us an historical example of how new art forms can be called into question when it appears that clever technological tools play too large a role in their creation, perhaps at the expense of the human element.

One of the two major assignments in the course was a term paper exploring the issues raised in our discussions: What is art? Can digitally-created art justifiably be called "real" art? Is the computer taking over too much of the creative process? What human element must be present for a work to be truly artistic? Does the computer open channels of communication not possible in earlier art forms? What is the effect of combining media in a digital production, including pictures, sound, motion, text, and interactivity? What is the effect of interactivity in art? What is the effect of non-linearity? What is the effect of changing a work dynamically, altering it for different viewings or viewers? Is good work being created in digital art? Can it be found on the Web? What are some of the best examples of digital art and digital literature to be found on the Web? And so forth.

2.2 Hands-On the Computers and Digital Media Tools
Our classroom discussions set the stage for the students' hands-on work in digital media and their preparation of a term project. The assignment for the term project was to choose a poem or write an original one and to create a multimedia interpretation of it by adding pictures, sound, and interactivity. Requirements for the project were these elements: (1) the text of the poem, either static on the screen, appearing line by line, or rolling across the screen; (2) two sound clips -- one voice (reading the entire poem or at least the title) and one music; (3) at least one original photograph or drawing, digitally produced, expressing some aspect of the poem; and (4) interactivity, e.g., the ability to click on a word and open a new picture, show some new text, change the sound, or alter some other aspect of the poem. We required that all photographs and sound either be original or not be protected by copyright.

The middle portion of the semester was spent introducing the students to photographic processing, sound processing, digital drawing, digital painting, and multimedia programming. The classroom demonstrations were designed to give students -- who had no significant experience with these tools -- the essential knowledge they needed to create their multimedia presentations. Working with the computer tools also gave them direct experience with digital art and generated ideas for their term papers.

2.3 A Closer Look at Digital Art
The last part of the course was spent reflecting on what we and others have done in the realm of digital art. We examined Web museums such as the San Francisco Museum for Modern Art's 010101.ART.IN.Technological.TIMES exhibit, where we found interesting site-streaming presentations of artists discussing their work (in audio) at the same time that the work is dynamically displayed online. The most interesting Web site we found for digital literature was Born Magazine, with a large and varied collection of digital and interactive poetry.

In the last week of class, students shared their own digital poems. Three students did original poems, one did a poem written by a friend, and the rest did "classic" poems. Some students wrote and performed original music, recording either on their guitars (through microphone or connected directly to the computer) or on the MIDI keyboard. Others used uncopyrighted sound clips made available with Acid Pro.

A sampling of the best work from the class is described below. Their poems and papers reflecting on their experience are published as companion works to this article.

About the authors...

Jay D'Errico interprets Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Charles Carville's Eyes." The central photograph is a self-portrait, with intruiguing variations focusing on the eyes and mouth. Jay uses Andy Warhol-style repetitive images, warping and crumbling them in a way suggestive of death or degeneration of spirit. The voice reading the poem is Jay's, digitally altered in Cool Edit to reflect the mysterious mood. We found this to be one of the most original and imaginative student productions, offering an intriguing interpretation of the poem. 

Figure 1. A screenshot from Jay D'Errico's interpretation of Edwin Arlington Robinson's "Charles Carville's Eyes."

Jay D'Errico's paper, "A Digital Interpretation of 'Charles Carville's Eyes' by Edwin Arlington Robinson."

Jane Bianchi's work is unique in combining an original poem, an original music composition, and her own performance. We asked Jane to put the focus on these elements by making her production simple -- showing just the text of the poem with the music played in the background. This work reflects one of the issues we discussed in class -- that sometimes too many elements of mixed media can detract from the work, scattering the viewer's attention. We liked keeping the focus on Jane's beautiful poem and accompanying music.

Annie Lausier presents a digital rendition of "Ettrick" by Alicia Ann Spottiswood. Her photographs and colors effectively capture the passage of time, the changing seasons, and the shifting emotions. In the background, we hear violin pieces of Bach, Corelli, and Massanet, played by Annie's friend Aaron Blade. Both the music and Annie's reserved but emotive reading of the poem contribute well to the mood of the poem.

Jane Bianchi's paper, "Juggling Multimedia Tools With Creative Expression."

Figure 2. Thumbnails of four screenshots from Annie Lausier's digital rendition of "Ettrick." Her use of photographs and colors effectively capture the passage of time, the changing seasons, and the shifting emotions.

Annie Lausier's paper, "Ettrick: Imagery Parelleling Emotion."

Stephen Tatum, a lover of baseball, managed to capture the motion and energy of the game in his original photographs and his passionate reading of the poem "Ball Game" by Richard Eberhart. Stephen choses color and visual effects well in his photographic processing. He even adds a bit of realism in the picture of his own bloody knee, injured in a baseball game. 

Figure 3. A screenshot of Stephen Tatum's presentation of "Ball Game." He even adds a bit of realism in the picture of his own bloody knee, injured in a baseball game.

Stephen Tatum's paper, "ilm of Dreams."

Zach Cotter's poem was written to describe the emotions of a young person whose friend has taken his own life, and the lingering effects of this experience even years later. Zach captures the mood with his dark colors, resonant reading voice, and original background bass and guitar music. He also makes the text of the poem available at the end, verse by verse -- a feature we thought would be appreciated by the readers, who would probably want to go back and read the poem more closely.

Figure 4. A screenshot from Zach Cotter's "Journey to a Moment." Zach captures the mood with his dark colors, resonant reading voice, and original background bass and guitar music.

Zach Cotter's paper, "Digital Representation of an Origianl Poem."

Michael Stewart's poem was written by a friend after the Columbine shootings. The poem expresses the painful alienation that could cause a young person to end his own life and the lives of others. Michael uses digitally-produced double exposures and color to symbolize the emotions and capture the images of the poem. 

Figure 5. A screenshot from Michael Stewart's "Angel."

Michael Stewart's paper, "A Vision and a Medium of Expression."

3. Reflections
In the end, we came to the obvious -- but still not disappointing -- conclusion: The tool may be a paintbrush, a chisel, a pencil, a camera, or even a computer, but ultimately art is a human creation. You may know how to hold a pencil in your hand a drag it across a piece of paper, but that does not mean you can create a drawing with that je ne sais quoi. In the same way, you may know how to do photographic processing, sound editing, drawing, painting, and multimedia programming on a computer, but that doesn't mean the work you create will be "art." The students learned this in the best way possible, from their own experience. We believe they learned something else, just as important. Every one of us has some bit of creativity. It is enriching and satisfying to reach inward for this original voice, and the computer can be a wonderful tool and outlet for creative expression. Our students all have computers; they spend a great deal of time pecking away at the keys - writing term papers, sending email, exchanging instant messages, downloading music, playing games - but too few of them venture into the creative possibilities of computer use. Our hope is that this seminar introduced them to a new kind of creativity that they will continue to explore in their own unique ways.

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