We used an open class day to pull together a number of threads that had been developing. Bob put together a fantastic presentation with Cage, Reich, and Eno functioning as examples of artists that were an affront to an established system, experimented with the system, and finally found a way to integrate back into the system. The point with this is for students to begin to see generative work not in isolation, but as helping to develop viable tools for artist to employ. The timing of the presentation was great – with just having finished the sequence on indeterminate and generative music and right before the third project.
Part of the drill with the project courses is allowing students the space to understand the material on their own terms. This happens as they execute the open-ended project questions and wrestle with a specific framework or direction, but need to animate how that is navigated by them. Students naturally begin to gravitate toward mediums, elements, symbols, etc that are meaningful to them. The result of this process is that they have ownership over both their work and their understanding of the material – not merely regurgitating what the teacher has said. So – the open day is a point to remind them that they already understand a great deal about generative art whether they recognize it or not. This is a much slower process than more traditional approaches like lecture or seminar, but the pay off is that their understanding is considerably deeper and richer.
By this point in the term – right toward the end of the first third – students have been exposed to the following ideas:
Layers of meaning
“Devaluation” of skill
Audience interaction/implicate viewer in process
Typically to generate this list we ask the students what techniques or ideas have they seen develop in the projects and conversations. We then supplement that this with ideas that we may have noticed but have gone unsaid.
This brought us to the third project – making a simple machine. The assignment was to create a machine designed to make a sound. The parameters involve taking no less than one minute and have at least five steps, with the encouragement that students think about things like - motive forces, variables, time, space, speed, weight, friction, distance.
The results are always quite telling. At least half of the projects don’t work the way they did at home, and some fail to function at all. Sidestepping the issue of “success” or “failure” we try to discuss what was produced independent of intention. Often the end result is as if not more interesting than what was intended. So – it is kind of a loaded question in which we know that a certain percentage of the projects will not progress the way there were intended. For some students, who have internalized years and years of standardized testing as the only measure of success – this is a hard class. But the follow up questions are about what they learned from what their project to do. This is the first step in pushing them away from their work so that they can reflect upon what is created. The next project completely takes control out of their hands. It is always fun to see what that produces.