Art Schools of the Future Need to Teach Students to Understand Technology. How Will That Change the Future of Art?

Art schools have been slow to adapt to the digital revolution. Now, they're finally catching up.

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Are you a sculptor? A painter? An illustrator? For decades, art students starting out have asked themselves these questions. But these categories could look very different in the near future, as art schools belatedly attempt to incorporate new technology into their curricula. 

Earlier this year, one of the world’s most prestigious art schools, The Royal College of Art in London, announced plans to expand its curriculum to include science and technology. It was a watershed moment that suggested some art educators are finally understanding that these subjects need to be part of the academy in order to for it to survive the digital age. 

But how can art schools adapt to this new paradigm, and how will the changes inform the kind of art that will be made in the future?  

A Culture Gap 

There has been much discourse about how education needs to expand from STEM to STEAM, incorporating art and creative thinking into more right-brained areas of innovation. But so far, the science sector has been more open to welcoming art than the reverse. 

According to the 2019 State of Art Education Survey, 52.2 percent of art teachers want to learn more about teaching digital art effectively, but only 21.9 percent of art teachers feel comfortable actually teaching a digital arts curriculum. Schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University, meanwhile, have already incorporated arts education into their historically science- and technology-led curricula. 

“Many art schools have been cautious to adopt anything that feels too vocational or applied,” says Luke Dubois, an associate professor of integrated digital media at NYU. “Art schools need to focus on career training that stays within the values of the arts.”

Professor Mick Grierson, a research leader at the newly opened Creative Computing Institute at the University of the Arts London, attributes the gap to ideological friction between arts and technology. Some traditional creatives are not only unsure how to integrate technology into their lessons, but also hesitant to see coding and other tech stills as artistic practices in and of themselves. 

“There are plenty of people who, for decades, have been in the art and design community but haven’t really been able to find a home for their technology-led creations and practice,” he says. “So of course, they naturally migrated to a STEM environment because it’s easier for them to talk about the materials they use and the approaches they take.” 

As a result of this culture clash, digital artist and educator Vicki Fong believes arts schools have missed a huge opportunity—and art is suffering as a result. “People are using digital skills to speed up the process, so more art is being made at a much quicker rate, which doesn’t necessarily increase the quality,” she says. “Digital art so far has been about production, about churning things out. I think that mentality is shifting now.” 

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