The Partnership Between Art and Tech

A machine drawing a painting.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

It’s no surprise that in the digital age, art and technology are increasingly combining in new ways. Everything from art created via audience participation to the literal use of new tech—computers, cell phones, digital data, and more—is changing the definition of art and how it’s presented.

PNCA grad Angélica Maria Millán Lazon‘s Engendradxs, for example, uses a combination of traditional and more modern technology. By combining fabrics, photographs, and smartphone videos, the presentation gives voice to several generations of women in Millán Lazon’s family. The installation was shown at the Williamson | Knight Gallery in April and at PNCA’s exhibit of MFA projects in June.

But the intersection of art and technology started long before Millán Lazon’s smartphones—and in many cases, it’s been even more elaborate. At London’s “Digital Revolution” show back in 2014, a series of artists displayed projects incorporating everything from audience interaction, lasers, pollution data, and robotics.

Umbrellium’s “Assemblance,” for example, used computer-controlled lasers to create ever-changing light displays based on audience movement and interactions. Visitors literally left trails of light in their wake, thanks to custom-created camera tracking, audio, smoke machines, projectors, computers, and more. For added interest: the audience could create light shows on their own, but if they interacted together as a group, the result was stronger, more resilient, and more sophisticated.

Another part of “Digital Revolution,” brought to you by Russian mixed media artist Dmitry Morozov, relied on a contraption of Morozov’s design that “sniffed out” pollutants like carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and methane from the streets of Moscow. By inputting the data into a computer program called Arduino, the resulting data was transformed into shapes and colors—a surprisingly colorful movie of pollution.

Experimentation with technology and art continues today as well. During this year’s New York Art Week, The Verge reported on several particularly interesting installations from Chris Dorland and Jacolby Satterwhite, respectively.

Dorland’s work focused on the creation of video of his own painting, as well as images from a spinal reconstruction website. “The underlying idea,” Dorland told The Verge, “is how technology sees the world and how we see things and how the lens records the world we live in. What happens when you put a Cadillac ad in front of a machine that doesn’t care about the content? It’s reading the information and recording it.”

Satterwhite’s offering had more of a direct correlation with his own family history—not unlike Millán Lazon’s Engendradxs. Going through thousands of his mother’s drawings from the 90s, Satterwhite traced anywhere from ten to fifteen of them and composited them together using 3D animation. “Basically I collect disparate archives and synthesize them together to make incongruent sources and to build a harmonious narrative,” Satterwhite explained.

As our understanding of technology increases—and as artists continue to get more inventive—we’re likely to see even more unusual and innovate combinations of art and technology.


The Benefits of Classroom Laptops

A photo of school-aged children using a laptop in a classroom setting with a teacher supervising in the background.

The use of classroom laptops has proven to increase performance in reading, writing, and science.

These days, a good laptop like Google’s Chromebook can cost less than a new math textbook. So it’s no longer an extravagant luxury for schools to provide one for each student. And the potential benefits of such a supply are worth a good look.

Michigan State University is one of those doing the looking. In a meta-analysis led by Binbin Zheng, 96 independent studies into school laptop programs were looked at. They focused on programs that distributed laptops to K-12 students to use across all their school subjects. After narrowing their scope to 10 studies with statistics that could be charted against one another, they released their findings.

The main points boiled down to these:

Whether or not laptop distribution programs help to bridge the income-education gap is not clear. Poor students’ grades increase from being given a laptop more so than better-off students’ grades do, but the better-off students’ test scores still remain higher.

Students of all demographics show performance improvements in writing, reading, and middle-school science when participating in a laptop program.

Teacher participation in the laptop programs are vital. If the teacher is not engaged in teaching students how to get the most out of their technology, the programs fail. To bolster this, teachers must be given strong IT support and training and be included in the program. When teachers are engaged like this, teacher-student relationships also improve, which may account for a percentage of the improved test scores.

Students who participate in laptop programs were found to write more in and outside of the classroom than students who did not.

These results of the meta-analysis all echo a 2013 study also led by Zheng on one-to-one laptop programs in two low-income, primarily Hispanic school districts. That study also showed that at-risk students used their laptops more frequently than other students.

“Two-Minute Warnings” Don’t Help Children Transition from Screen Time

Boy using tablet

A two-minute warning may not be the best way to get kids away from screens.
Image: Shutterstock

Interactive technology like iPads and computers are an almost essential part of life in many families, and toddlers of today will be the first generation or so to never have not known such devices. As such, figuring out how to incorporate those devices into their lives is an important part of raising them to be productive adults. One aspect of that is finding ways to transition away from “screen time” to other activities.

One common method is to offer a “two-minutes warning” to let children know that their screen time is almost up. Conventional wisdom would point to this making transitions easier, but a recent study from the University of Washington finds that the opposite is actually true. Children who are given two-minute warnings tended to plead or fight more to keep using devices when time was up.

The reason behind this might be that those warnings and subsequent stoppage of screen time don’t come at a natural stopping point in the activity. If that happens in the middle of a video or game, the child is less likely to want to stop. The study found that the most successful transitions came when a game or video ended on its own, when the child became bored, or when there was something else that naturally interrupted it, like arriving at a destination or a friend coming over to play.

Some of the most successful transitions came as part of a daily routine. The same child who gets to play with an iPad as a reward was more resistant to ending screen time than when it was time for breakfast or the like. If it was routine, the child knew to expect that end to screen time and was more accepting of it.

The study also found that most parents weren’t using such devices as babysitters, but as a distraction during medical visits, to keep kids occupied while driving, or so they could take care of other children or do chores.

Using YouTube Channels for Education

Woman looking at Youtube on tablet

Youtube could provide your classroom with even more educational opportunities.
Image: Your Design /

Any student who has attended school since about 1996 has been taught, hopefully, how to find reliable sources on the Internet. But students aren’t the only people who can benefit from the Web. The Internet, for all its problems, has proven an invaluable resource for educators. It makes it easier to find lesson plans, to do research, to communicate with students, and to share ideas.

Have you considered using YouTube in the classroom? As the Internet’s largest home of freely accessible videos, YouTube provides people with a platform to express themselves and communicate with others…and to watch cat videos and listen to pirated music.

But it also provides organization that can really help educators out when looking for videos to share with their students. Such as the #Education channel. The channel in question collects videos within the Education category, allowing people who follow that channel to see pretty much anything within that category when it gets posted. It can save educators a lot of time at the search bar.

Other useful channels exist as well, like #LifeLongLearning or #PrimaryAndSecondaryEducation. The easiest way to make use of these channels is to subscribe to them. Depending on your personal settings, you can get emails whenever a channel you subscribe to gets new content, or you can receive regular notices of new content.

Following channels such as these, or the channels of specific schools, educators, or other content creators, allows educators quick access to new videos. You can create your own playlists of videos that you’ve used, which other users can see as well.

Such channels also give educators an easy way to define searches for student projects. Maybe they have to find a video to discuss with the class from a specific channel. Or you can use such channels as starting points for research projects. The videos can supplement your lectures or inspire them. Nobody knows everything, and the democratic nature of the Internet allows us to share what knowledge we do have with anyone who’s interested.