Being an artist in current times, often requires a myriad of skills, far reaching those required of the practice itself. Our lives are increasingly interwoven with the digital landscape and although art can be devoid of digital in its form, it is likely to be somehow intrinsically linked, as our means of communication and self-expression are so often mediated by screens, applications, and online spaces.
Whether you are a performance artist, visual artist, designer, illustrator or any other type of artist, engagement with the digital is something that has become somewhat of a necessity, not only for the sharing and promotion of work, but also a tool to challenge, interrogate and expand the form further.
The pandemic and the digital learning shift
The pandemic has accelerated many artists’ forays into the digital, as it has provided a way to communicate their work to audiences while theatres, galleries and other public spaces were closed. While the ubiquity of technology has bolstered this shift, it has also revealed huge gaps in the infrastructure needed to support digital creativity in the arts – especially in education.
Not only do many institutions lack access to digital tools themselves, but there is also a lack of training and support in this area that encourages and empowers teachers to explore digital technologies within their pedagogy and practice.
Terms such as ‘disaster digital learning’ (Vilson,2020) and ‘emergency remote teaching’ (Hodges et al, 2020) are phrases that have come into being recently and reference the difference between a pedagogy that is adopted as a reaction to a set of circumstances at play (i.e., a global pandemic) and a pedagogy that is specifically designed for the current times. It is important to note the subtle difference between the two; ‘disaster digital learning’ suggests that you may be dealing with an unprecedented situation meaning the fundamental values and objectives for teaching and learning are reactive and therefore not representative of the usual standards of working. Yet while all pedagogical approaches need to adopt a level of flexibility, what is most notable now, is the pandemic’s impact on the arts and how the industry has altered indefinitely. Creative arts curricula need to reflect this shift.
Of course, necessity is the mother of invention and although digital approaches in arts education were already well underway pre-COVID particularly at HE level, it is important that the new tools and strategies adopted throughout this time do not simply set the precedent for creative teaching and learning of the future. Rather this should be a peek into the window of possibility, providing a proof of concept for a critical digital pedagogy for the arts, showing what could be achieved with good support and infrastructure. With pre-HE taking priority after already being behind the curve pre-pandemic.
Understanding your field in the context of the digital
The last few years have been particularly challenging for the arts. Funding and subject intake in arts education was dwindling pre-pandemic and although the imposed lockdowns saw an increased engagement in digital performance, online creative classes and the use of creative apps also piqued(Lighttricks.com), the creative arts are still facing huge governmental cuts despite their proven benefits to society.
Understanding how digital tools are and can be used within your field – and the arts more broadly – is important for both situating your subject within the current climate and working towards future-proofing your curriculum to be relevant in coming years.
This way of thinking is important not only for ensuring those embarking on a creative education are equipped for the current challenges of the industry but it also, rather sadly, seems an important step in boosting the perceived validity of creative arts education.
Exposing new avenues into creative careers
A “digital skillset” is one of the most requested candidate specifications across recruitment now (World Skills UK, 2020), and while it may be a vague term within your field, exploring digital tools as one of the strategies for ‘making’ – whatever that means to you – can be both exciting and certainly beneficial for future cross-disciplinary collaboration.
As with any new skills development, exposing your craft to new ways of working can often unlock avenues you never knew existed, providing new creative opportunities and challenging your practice. Having knowledge of digital processes within the arts – even if you are not interested in pursuing them yourself – can lead to interesting and meaningful collaborations. Just understanding the language of digital technologies can be enough to enable you to foresee new possibilities and relationships across disciplines.
Repurposing existing skill sets and encouraging play
The ubiquity of everyday technologies such as mobile phones has led to a generational shift in the way we communicate, the way we work and fundamentally, the way we live. Approximately 98% of UK households have a mobile phone (Statista.com) and although the way they are used varies significantly, there is still a presumed base knowledge and understanding of how the basic technology works. Beyond making calls and sending text messages, most mobile devices now also provide the user with a myriad of creative tools to explore in their everyday lives. For many art forms there are endless exciting possibilities to be explored, even within a single mobile device, that can not only challenge some of the traditions of our practices but can also help ideas expand above and beyond the realms of possibility. This idea suggests that even everyday technologies like mobile phones can provide a wealth of opportunity for a user to begin to explore the creative possibilities of digital technologies.
Social media applications for example, now have sophisticated built-in image manipulation tools, something that could be utilised and explored for creative output by students. Other options such as video editing, text and image composition and live streaming are also features that are supported across these networks and can be utilised alongside a creative arts curriculum. Young people are often already utilising and importantly playing with these tools in their everyday lives and therefore reframing these skills in the context of teaching and learning can be very beneficial for developing critical digital creativity and encouraging creative learning.
Encouraging play, as a critical form of experimentation is a very common principle in the creative arts and this should extend to any experimentation within digital tools within the form. “When you play, you are constantly experimenting, taking risks, trying new things, and testing boundaries. Having a playful attitude means that you’re willing to try new things and experiment and the most creative things happen when you have that type of playful attitude.” (Resnick, 2019) Digital tools often offer a very clear possibility of iteration with little consequence, this means that often digital spaces are a fertile ground for rapid prototyping i.e., testing ideas quickly and not getting bogged down with the pressure of having to ‘make’ something!
Overall, exposing your creative practice and pedagogy to digital technologies, is beneficial in many ways and it doesn’t need to be overwhelming.. Even everyday, lo-fi and free technologies/tools can provide a fertile ground for experimentation and offer foundational understanding of new techniques and practices that can help to unlock new and relevant ways of working.