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Golan Levin and Collaborators

Essays and Statements

Pedagogical Statement (2003)

Golan Levin, January 2003.

In one dystopia, we project ourselves into the digital art school of the near future. The wind howls through the room, whose shelves are empty but for three small cartons: Flash, Photoshop, Director. For today’s digital artists—many of whom have eagerly adopted the narrow horizons dictated by this small handful of commercial products—this vision is, I claim, already a near-reality. Popular tools such as these have been both a great boon as well as a great hindrance to the development of interactive media art as a new form. On the one hand, they have radically democratized the production of digital media: today, anyone with a computer can publish and distribute their work on the World Wide Web. These tools, however, also implicitly homogenize the process and products of computer-assisted and computer-based artmaking. With identical options to work with, our students’ art has begun to look and taste the same, and our art courses, as often as not, explore little more than the possibilities that Macromedia and Adobe have found convenient to bundle.

To state that computers can offer an unimaginably greater world of possible forms than these products is not techno-optimism; as computers are provably capable of simulating any other machine, it is mathematical fact. My own pedagogy is simply one educator’s attempt to reclaim computation as a personal medium of expression. In working to empower the next generation of electronic media artists, I try to give students the confidence to build their own tools and artworks from first principles.

I enjoy teaching, and creating curricula, for all levels in the fields of interactive art and design. In introductory classes, I focus on developing the students’ competency in applying programming, mathematics and procedural thinking to aesthetic problems in visual and reactive design. At Cooper Union and Columbia University, for example, I created undergraduate curricula in the “Fundamentals of Computational Visual Form”. This course cut across a variety of computer languages in an effort to develop the students’ comfort with the basic, language-independent elements of computation; through rigorous exercises in such languages as Java, Lingo, Python, and PostScript, I attempted to expose the basic vocabulary of constructs that govern the synthesis of static, dynamic, and interactive graphics. Topics covered in this course included the computational manipulation of: point, line and shape; texture, value and color; time, change and motion; reactivity, connectivity and feedback. Through the course, students became familiar with basic software algorithms, computational geometry, digital signal filtering, kinematic simulation, and the application of these techniques to aesthetic issues in interaction design.

For students at intermediate levels, I have developed curricula more closely related to my own interests in the field, such as audiovisual systems and machines, non-verbal telematics, and interactive data visualizations. It would be accurate to describe these as “studio art courses in computer science,” in which the medium is software, but the objective is to produce personally and/or socially relevant expressions and systems.

At the most advanced level of graduate education, I am fanatically committed to encouraging the finest caliber of work in the thesis process. To date I have served as the primary graduate thesis advisor for more than thirty students at the Parsons School of Design, the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and now at Carnegie Mellon University. I work very closely with students, both individually and in groups, on creating novel, exhibitable (or publishable) projects, and on developing commensurately-considered written theses which can articulately contextualize, argue for, and document their constructions.