Hands-on: Using Technology like an Artist

Most of the fun tech tools I use were shown to me by designer friends and colleagues. I find this realization interesting, because I’ve spent the past six years working closely with Computer Science students and can only think of one app a fellow student showed me the entire time we worked together. My art friends, on the other hand, always seem to be asking “have you seen this?” or telling me to “try this,” or, as was the case yesterday, installing a collaborative app, dropbox, on my laptop while I was watching a Youtube video on a different computer.

It makes sense, though. Artists use technology as a tool. Well, we hear a lot about using technology as a tool, but artists are seasoned tool users — they’re used to experimenting with variations of the same tool (different paintbrush sizes) or trying different tools to achieve a certain effect. They’re purpose-driven users who, in their tech use, generally start with a vision and then find a tool to fit, rather than the other way around. Or, they think of ways to use the tool differently, perhaps against its intended purpose.

Speaking of vision, artists are also comfortable with seeing something no one else sees and spending time pushing that kernel into reality. Often, this push involves time to learn how to present the vision with a new medium, mix colors, textures, text & images…in essence, try new approaches until it all comes together exactly right.

NURTURING SCHOOL
AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star, Greg Bryan

Thus, artists are undoubtedly hands-on technology users. They’re not afraid of breaking anything, making mistakes, or getting their hands dirty, because technology is a tool that like any other tool must be experimented with to understand its possibilities. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find Photoshop daunting. InDesign is similarly intimidating. Undoubtedly, these programs have a steep learning curve, requiring hours and patience for proficiency. Yet, I’m always amazed with how fluidly my artist friends use them. Come to think of it, many of my artists friends probably logged as much time in front of video games as my programming friends when we were kids.

For education, I’d like us to take an artist’s approach to teaching with and about technology. Let’s get our hands dirty, experiment without fear of breaking anything. Let’s have a vision first and find the tool to fit. Think of the beautiful result!

[Special thanks to the designers in my life who inspired this post: Tosh, Colleen, Russ, Safa, Nancy, Aaron, Rama, Loretta, Miljena, and Michael]

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