New Rom antics

Digital Creativity
April 12, 1996

Many practising artists, and indeed the public at large, still have difficulty in coming to terms with the phrase "digital creativity". Creativity is seen as something which can only stem from artistic endeavours having tactile origins, and certainly not through the use of computers.

However, there are very few students and staff from art and design colleges who are not aware of the great impact that computers are having on art and design education across the board, an extra tool which is becoming impossible to ignore.

There has been a feeling that many practitioners of the new digitally-based arts have been working somewhat in isolation, not fully aware of what else was happening across the country.

It was in an effort to address this lack of focus that Computers in Art and Design Education was started. The group aims to encourage co-operation between people working in the higher education sector.

Last April, CADE held its first conference entitled "Digital Creativity" at the University of Brighton.

The conference was ambitious in scope, attempting to engage those from both art and design, students and established academics, teachers and research-ers, purists and inderdisciplinists.

The organisers have now published a CD-Rom based on the conference and the surrounding activities. As one would expect with a CD-Rom from the art and design world it is a Mac format disc.

The CD-Rom comprises four main elements. The first is a documentary about the confer-ence; the second is an expanded version of the conference proceedings; the third is a digital version of ArCade, which was the United Kingdom's first open international exhibition of electronic prints, and the fourth element comprises a number of "creations", some textual, some graphical and some interactive, provided by various participants and speakers at the conference. Altogether there is a massive amount of material to be viewed and read. Suzette Worden, the editor, had an enormous task in preparing the disc.

The interactive documentary Reflections introduces users to the man behind the conference, Colin Beardon (reader in the Rediffusion Simulation Research Centre at the University of Brighton), and other keynote speakers such as Lucy Suchman (of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center) and Margaret Boden (of the University of Sussex).

Through a series of quotations and interviews gathered during the event, the disc explores the main conference themes and the driving philosophy behind the conference, which is how the computer can enhance creative work. The interviews appear as a series of small QuickTime movies which can be selected by the user. The navigation is explained on screen and is easy to follow.

The richest resource for those involved in art and design education is certainly the conference proceedings. Speakers came from a wide range of disciplines: industrial design, typography, fine art, music, digital imaging, holography, and multimedia to name but a few.

The papers are well-referenced and, as such, will provide much food for thought for those engaged in trying to undertake serious study in the new digital media.

The inclusion of many papers from people currently engaged in postgraduate research is particularly welcome.

One weakness is the lack of biography. In a wide field where there are only a few really well-known names it would make sense for this to be included.

The proceedings of the conference are best viewed using a Web browser such as Netscape Navigator. This allows the user to move between papers and sections of the conference with great ease. Those who do not have access to such a browser can view papers individually through an archive folder on the disc.

The digital version of the ArCade electronic prints exhibition is also best seen through a Web browser. There are more than 130 works by 108 artists from nine countries.

The exhibition was publicised through traditional posters and via the Internet, and 153 artists submitted three pieces of work each. The final selection was made by the curator Sue Gollifer, senior lecturer in printmaking at the University of Brighton, and a panel of five others including John Ward of the Printmakers Council and Martin Garnet of the British Computer Arts Association.

The aim of the exhibition was to show the general public how printmaking is moving into the twenty-first century by embracing digital technologies.

However, the selectors decided to include work that embraced a wide range of traditional techniques as well as the new technology. The exhibition continues to tour during 1996 and 1997.

The electronic version of the exhibition would have been a much more enlightening experience if all the artists could have been persuaded to write a statement about their influences and the way they work.

Art is not seen at its best on the small computer screen, which is all that most of us have access to, without some explanations.

The final element of Digital Creativity is the Creations folder. The folder comprises some 15 pieces of work. It is a somewhat eclectic mixture ranging from student projects using hypermedia, one of which seemed impossible to escape from, to movies of holograms, a college prospectus, and teaching materials for music.

This last piece by Benedict Sarnaker of Goldsmiths College and David Burnand of the Royal College of Music is an interesting approach to learning about music theory by multimedia methods.

But, while some pieces engage, others do not and the overall effect may not be to convince sceptics of the strength of digital multimedia as a new way of presenting art and information.

Copies of Digital Creativity can be purchased from CADE at a cost of Pounds 15.00. As background reference material for students and academics wanting to find out what is going on in the world of digital art and design, and where current research is heading, it is certainly a good buy.

*For details of the ArCade exhibition please contact Sue Gollifer on 013 643119 or email scg@bton.ac.uk or look at http://cade95.adh.bton.ac.uk/ ArCade.html Susan Nowak is the academic co-ordinator of the MA in Interactive Multimedia, a degree validated by the Royal College of Art and run on seven sites in five countries.

Digital Creativity

Editor - Suzette Worden
ISBN - 1 871966 23 X
Publisher - University of Brighton
Price - £15.00
Pages - Mac CD

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