So you want an art degree …

Education IconWonderful! The more education you get under your belt, the more money you have the potential to make. Now the question is, what college should you pick? Well my alma mater was quite nice, but rural Pennsylvania isn’t for everyone.

The first thing I would do is decide what art career you want once you’ve graduated. It’s quite possible to make a living with an art degree (both my sister and I have been doing it for years), depending on your skills and dedication. Of course, only the most skilled, dedicated, and lucky can make a living off of a degree in painting, ceramics, or another of the fine arts degrees. (It’s not impossible, just more difficult.) There are others, of course – architecture, communications design (advertising), and my personal favorite: Art teacher.

In any case, whatever art career you choose you’ll have to find a good college, and that’s what this update is truly about. I recommend asking your high school Art teacher, artists working in your chosen field, and of course, doing a little research online.

Google is nice, but there are other sites that give more information. If you’re serious about checking out art schools and colleges, then I recommend a site that is, coincidentally, called “Art Schools and Colleges.” More than just a categorized list, this site lists descriptions of each school so you’ll know more about it before you ever go to the college website.

Friends don’t let friends buy ugly art

Pardon me while I spend today’s update by getting up on my soapbox. The following rantings are my own opinions, and I in no way expect everyone to agree with what I have to say.

Berk Chappell recently wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the fact that the city of Corvallis didn’t like a recent installation of public sculpture. There is one quote that I think sums up a key point quite nicely:

To attack a work of art because one doesn’t understand it is forgivable only if the critic takes measures to correct the problem. It is called “education.”

This is a great quote, and when I first read it I agreed with it. Then I realized “Wait a minute. This assumes that you can’t say whether or not you like something without being trained.” Aesthetics can be understood in more detail with education, but you don’t need to take a course to know what you like or don’t like. It’s a sliding scale, not an on/off switch.

As an artist, one must always remember who the art is being created for. (You make more money that way.) Sometimes it will be for your teacher. Other times you’ll be making it for yourself, friends, boss, significant other, or any combination of the above. If you’ve been commissioned to do a public sculpture, guess what? Your audience is the public. If they don’t like it, you can’t blame them – it’s you who failed. In my opinion, some of the artists that get pretentious about the public being uneducated masses not understanding their genius are just talking about sour grapes and not willing to admit to their mistakes. This happens almost as often as some artists never liking anything they do in spite of the public raving about it. (Even Michelangelo once took a hammer to his statue of David because he thought he made a mistake.)

What upsets me the most is the idea that those in charge of buying this art take someone else’s word for it that they “just don’t understand” the art and “really, it’s quite good.” Please, if your goal was to have others think FOR you, then why did you ever go to school?

I remember back when I was in college, my father and I were driving down a highway and we passed a business with a large sculpture in front of their building. Without thinking, Dad blurted out “Man, that’s an ugly sculpture!”

I later found out that he then started thinking that he had said a faux pas. After all, here was his son sitting next to him – someone who was working towards a four year degree in Art Education. Was I now thinking that he was the art equivalent of a luddite?

He soon found out he had nothing to fear. Not knowing what he was internalizing, I took a good hard look at the sculpture. (Well, as much as I could – we were still driving down the road.)

“You know,” said I, “Two years ago I would have agreed with you and said that was an ugly sculpture. But now, I have two years of college under by belt. I’ve taken classes on sculpture and art criticism. Because of this, I can safely say that sculpture is ugly on so many levels!

Wikipedia

Browser Window pixYou have a report to write on the Vietnam War. No problem, you did your work. You found your references – all six of them.

Wait … six? You thought you only needed five! Well you’d better think fast, your report’s due tomorrow morning and it’s already midnight. What do you do?

Well you could try a Google search, but even the best search engine is hit or miss sometimes. No, your best bet is to use an encyclopedia.

What, your edition of Encyclopedia Britanica was published in 1956? Never fear, Wikipedia is here!

Wikipedia is based off of two words, the combination of which is a very accurate description of the site. The first part, “wiki,” describes what can be called an “open source” web site – anyone can edit it. This is great, because if it’s missing a section, some enterprising individual is bound to add it. If information is found to be incorrect, someone else will fix it. Yes, there’s the potential for someone to really screw this up, but so far so good. (I’ll let you guess what the “-pedia” part stands for.)

So, if you want to use a free online encyclopedia that gets updated almost in real time, check out Wikipedia. You won’t be disappointed.

Podcasting

circuit boardFor those of you that didn’t know, a “Podcast” is halfway between a blog and a radio program. In fact, most podcasters also maintain blogs that show similar content. They are easy to record and upload, where a special RSS aggregator then downloads the recording to your computer, iPod, or any device that can play MP3 files. (It’s just called a PODcast because iPods dominate the market and it’s a derivative of “BROADcast.”)

Podcasts have two things going for them. First, because they’re saved as mp3 files you can listen to them when they’re most convenient. Don’t time to finish listening to a podcast? Just hit pause and go back to it later. It’ll wait for you.

Second, podcasts are narrowcasts. Broadcasts are usually done by companies that need to make money (even public radio needs to attract enough listeners to do well on a membership drive), so they will try to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Ever wonder why there’s so many conservative talk show hosts? It’s because they have the most listeners so they get the most advertisers.

On the other side of the coin, podcasts are usually done just for the fun of it – like blogs. Sure, a few podcasters might ask for some donations, but since they’re self funded they don’t need to have a broad audience. As a result, they can focus on very specific topics that might not attract more than 1,000 people. (This does not mean podcasters try to avoid listeners, only that they don’t have to cater to the masses) I personally listen to podcasts on web design, technology, photography, and educational technology. Some of those topics would never make it into a radio program, but they’re important to me so I listen.

There are many good podcasters out there, but here are three good ones that teachers might want to check out:

teach42

This frequently updated blog includes many a podcast on how teachers can integrate technology into their curriculum. Far from being merely a blog about blogging, any type of technology is fair game to this guy. Next to Leo Laporte, he’s one of my favorites.

Weblogg-ed

The maintainer of this site is a Supervisor of Instructional Technology and Communications, so you can be certain he knows what he’s talking about. Mr. Richardson describes himself as a “blogvangelist,” so it’s quite understandable that most of his postings are centered around how blogs can be used in the school setting. [EDIT – while Weblogg-ed is still quite active, he doesn’t podcast anymore.]

Teachnology

Another good site, this podcaster focusses mainly on websites that can help teachers in the various subjects. It’s important to note that this is not Teachnology.com – that’s a different site and it’s nowhere near as informative.

Ed Emberley

brushesWhen I was a little tyke back in the ’80s, I loved checking Ed Emberley drawing books out from the library. Mr. Emberley’s style was to start each lesson with “If you can draw this: (followed by a bunch of scribbles that even a trained monkey could do) then you can draw a fish!” Substitute “fish” for “dog,” “cat,” “three ring circus,” etc., and you get the idea for most of his drawing books.

I actually credit Ed Emberley (and a few of my classmates) with instilling in me a love of Art, as my own elementary Art teacher did little to encourage me.

So imagine my surprise when I found out that not only is Mr. Emberley still making books, but he also has his own flash based web site! This gem of online design includes instructions for a variety of activities, complete with written permission to reproduce sections of his web site. I may have to work some of this stuff into an Art lesson later.

RSS Feeds

circuit boardYesterday I mentioned RSS feeds, so today I thought I would describe them in more detail.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It’s sort of like html code, but different in some key ways. Mainly, with RSS feeds the content comes to you rather than you going to the content.

If a web site has an RSS feed option, you’ll see a little link or button that says “XML,” “RSS,” “Syndicate this site,” “Atom,” or something like that. (The feed URL for this site is to the right near the top, for example.) You may have already seen this button and clicked on it, only to get a page full of text and code that was difficult to read. That’s OK, it’s just not meant to be read in a web browser.

Instead, what you can do is copy the address for that page of gibberish into a program known as a “news aggregator.” That program then checks the feed on a regular basis to see if the website has any new content. If there is, it shows it to you. Naturally, this feature is nice for sites that update often, like news and blog sites. Most of my news comes from the RSS feeds I’ve subscribed to, although I’ll occasionally listen to the radio.

News aggregators are becoming more and more common, and you don’t need to pay a dime for a good one either. If you use Firefox you can download an extension to make it an aggregator as well as a browser, or you can go with any one of a number of programs out there. Even Thingamablog (the program I use to make this website) has an aggregator feature, although at this point I much prefer NetNewsWire Lite for OS X. You can even use a web based news aggregator if you use multiple computers (Yahoo! has added this feature, for example), but I much prefer using a separate application.

Furl

Browser Window pixWhat do you do when you find a website you like? Why, bookmark it, of course! But wait, what if you’re in a lab and there’s no guarantee you’ll be on the same computer again? Or perhaps your a teacher using a shared computer in the teacher’s lounge? Or what if you want to visit the same site from home and from school?

Well, you could always copy the sites’ addresses down by hand on a scrap of paper, but if your handwriting’s anything like mine you might not remember if you used an “a” or a “u” in some cases. Better yet, you can use a website like Furl that saves bookmarks online.

Online bookmarks are really nothing new (there were a few dotcoms back in the day that thought they could make a ton of money off of the concept … they couldn’t), but Furl added a few other pictures to sweeten the deal. Bookmarking sites is quite simple, once you copy a Furl link into your browser’s bookmark bar. When bookmarking, you have the option of filing the bookmark in any number of categories, as well as adding keywords and a short description for reference later (so you don’t have to ask why you bookmarked the site two months from now).

One of the nicest features included is the ability to export your bookmarks on a variety of formats – RSS feeds, web site additions, ZIP archives, Mozilla bookmarks and – best of all if you’re a teacher or student – MLA or APA citation format. That’s right, never have to write out your works cited list again.

I’m still playing around with it, but if I may very well add Furl to this site in the future. We’ll see.

Test your Art IQ

brushesWhen Modernism came about, many more traditional artists questioned whether “Modern Art” was an oxymoron or not. Then came Post-Modernism, Installation Art, Performance Art, and all other kinds of fun things that truly tried to turn that fine line between the works of the masters and the quirks of the legally insane into a grey blur. (This is not to say that it was all bad, mind you.)

Ok, enough of my rambling. How about you take the Art or Crap quiz and find out how well you know the works of the 20th century.

Lissa Explains it All

Browser Window pixYour first web site is a step into the brave beautiful world of self publishing, where you can share your ideas, your masterpieces, and, dare I say it, your very soul with the world.

Unfortunately, a lot of the so-called web page builders provided by the free hosting services out there leave a lot to be desired when it comes to customization.

Lucky for you, web design isn’t too hard to learn thanks to web sites like Lissa Explains it All. (This is quite possibly a take off of an old Nickelodeon show called “Clarissa Explains it All.”) Don’t let the garish color scheme drive you off, this stuff can be quite helpful.

Sure, you can use a program that writes the code for you. I’ve used plenty of those myself. However, I’ve yet to use a program where I didn’t have the desire to go in and tinker with the code “by hand.” Sometimes it’s faster and easier than trying to modify the same thing through the program’s menu options. I’ve yet to see anyone learn to use HTML and then regret the time it took.