Week 1: What Is Media Arts?

My first week was gruelling, I won’t lie. For several reasons. I’ve got to get used to being a specialist teacher. Which means, in my case, 500 names and faces to learn. It means dropping off and collecting classes. But, for this week, it meant teaching essentially the same class 24 different times.

But – I do think it was necessary. Before diving into skills, techniques and assignments, we had to cover what media arts exactly is. Oh, I know what the curriculum says. “In Media Arts students engage with communications technologies and cross-disciplinary art forms to design, produce, distribute and interact with a range of print, audio, screen-based or hybrid artworks.”

Ok, so that doesn’t help my students much. Anyway, I start with getting them to look around my spanking new space and answering my question – What do you think we will be doing here in Media Arts?

The responses I got were varied, from the inspired to the inane!

  • It’s doing photos
  • It’s doing art on computers
  • It’s doing animation
  • It’s making movies
  • It’s looking at media on computers
  • It’s iPads and computers

Can you guess which one really riled me up? Yep, the last one. What are we doing? iPads and Computers! Urrrrgggh!

I mean, the students meant well, but I gently explained that it’s ridiculous to say that. It’s just as ridiculous for me to come in when they are doing writing, asking what they are doing and hearing “Pencils”. We don’t “do” computers, we use them. Computers are a tool for the projects we are doing.

I go through a PowerPoint that explains how the year will be divided up, which I have gone through here elsewhere, and some examples that will hopefully excite and inspire them. A photo slide show for photography, a montage of student animation films, some design from magazine covers, logos and movie posters, and another montage of movie clips. In each one, as it plays, I go through some elements to get them to start to critically analyse these media forms, rather than just consume them.

For example, in the Design section, I show them these two pictures – one a poster of Jurrassic Park, and the other – the album cover of Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon.

As we see these on screen, I go into the major difference between them. The Jurassic Park poster tells you everything you need to know. Giant dinosaurs, cool logo, exciting movie – you know if it’s something that excites you and you want to see. On the other hand, with no context at all, the Pink Floyd cover tells you absolutely NOTHING. Nothing that points to what it’s called, who it’s by, what kind of music it is, or even that it’s an album cover at all. Yet both are fantastic examples of design. One tells you everything, one tells you nothing.

I then have different pieces of media that I want them to look at in small groups and come back with what they noticed. With the younger kids, we did this together on the big screen. With the older kids, I had these loaded up on an iPad ready for them to take away and discuss. Each year level looked at a photo, an animation clip, a piece of design and a movie clip. Each year level had different ones, appropriate to their age. That made it easier for them, and frankly better for me so I wasn’t looking at the same thing 24 times over!

By the end of this session, I came back to the central question of What Is Media Arts? Media Arts encompasses all these things. And in time, with patience, energy and hard work, there was no reason why they couldn’t come up with their own effective art pieces, no matter what their age level.

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