Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Virtual Art School

If we are thinking about and simulating an ideal real life art school, then should we not also be creating the ultimate SL art school? Do we need a school for educating future virtual designers and artists? There are a lot of arguments floating around about this, but I don't think it wouldn't do any harm to have a go at building one. Perhaps the blank canvas approach that our friend at Leeds College of Art & Design, AnnaBeth Robinson (AngryBeth Shortbread), is taking with her students on the Digital Media course is the most appropriate way to tackle this. Art schools have traditionally provided studio space for the creation of artefacts, with staff available to mentor, facilitate and hopefully inspire students. Perhaps the ultimate art-school in Second Life is not a building at all, but an empty island owned by the student group.

comment by Ian Truelove on the Emerge - JISC website

Much consideration was placed into the idea of giving ownership of the island to the student group, when setting up our SIM. The blank canvas approach was an attempt NOT to constrain what ideas and work could be created within an online 3D environment. My personal take on this, is if you replicate too much of the 'Real' or at the other extreme create an Abstract space, the students may consider this is the only way to construct stuff on the island, or try to fit within that framework. Of course stronger students will question, explore and push this paradigm.

Interestingly for the first few weeks, as students created their initial presence on the island, they naturally replicated the real. Aspirational houses / studios decked out with furniture, setting their own boundaries and personal plot of land by creating a 'Home'. Into this space, many began to exhibit their personal and portfolio work.

I found this, not to dissimilar an experience to when I was a student at Art College. As a group we were given a very large studio space, lots of 8x5' panels, and told to construct our own spaces. What resulted was a mix of private booths, the construction of a small village of cubicles, and a section of studio fenced off, for large construction and video work (hmmm like a Real life sandbox ).

As a building exercise, I preferred to sit back and let them explore the building tools through creating recognisable structures. Creating something that's recognisable helps the student to gauge how well they can use the building tools, something akin to drawing exercises.

But within a few days, a few had begun to explore building in the sky, and immediately the parameters of what defines a space and how avatars move around a 3D environment was being experimented with. One particular went the other way, terraforming the land to create a deep 'hobbit hole' home inside a mountain.

Another thing that emerged quite quickly was the creation of 3D Characters, influenced by Designer Toys and Video Game culture. This really demonstrated how some where gaining a confidence in pushing their skills within SL.

Now the students have had their honeymoon period with Second Life, as a vocationally biased Digtial Media course, I've began to push them to consider how Second life, supports their specialist pathways and ultimately how they can utilise their skills for industry. But thats another post for later...... :)