Creating with Technology

Published : Wednesday, January 20, 2016 | 1:27 PM

Arts and technology come together in harmony at Idyllwild Academy. Even the academic teachers often include artistic elements in their assignments to help students learn, absorb and communicate knowledge in many ways. One math teacher who has engaged with the arts in a strikingly original way is Justin Barrett, Director of the new Creative Technology program.

Creative Technology helps students integrate advanced technology into their art and also supports faculty who want to incorporate technology into their teaching or art. The program grew out of a computer science class that Justin team-taught with the Visual Arts Chair, Gerald Clarke. Both the Mathematics and Science Department and the Visual Arts Department had acquired 3D printers, which Justin planned to show his math students how to use. But he realized their training could be enriched if he were to partner with an art teacher, and Gerald was game.

The printers heat and melt spools of plastic that resemble spools of thread, and then extrude the plastic in layers in order to build objects of varying complexity. At an arts school that teaches several disciplines, their most obvious application is to Gerald’s Visual Arts Department. Yet he and Justin have seen a Creative Writing major design and print a model antebellum mansion for a project inspired by a Southern Literature class.

On a morning of T-shirt weather last month, two of their eleven Computer Design for Artists students started class in the annex to the Chemistry Lab. The space holds the two 3-D printers, each the size of a microwave oven, but also a laser cutter that is as big as a washer and dryer sitting side by side.

Gerald watched his colleague help Renatta Cervantes Castelar, a twelfth-grade Visual Arts student from Mexico, with the room’s other piece of advanced technology, a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine. A computer converts a software-produced design into numbers which are in effect the coordinates of a graph, and the coordinates direct the movement of a blade that cuts and shapes material.

“You’ve got to have the material,” Gerald said. “For me the goal has always been physically making art.”

Justin stepped back so Renatta could try on her own.

“This class is a lot of fun,” he said, “but also a lot of work. You have to spend time with each student because the machines are complicated, and the only way they can get it is by doing it themselves.”

He turned around to face a shelf piled high with colorful, plastic, baseball-sized busts, and picked up one that had been done in royal blue.

“Here’s Renatta. All the students have used the 3D printers to make self-portraits, so the next step is to cast these in aluminum or bronze.”

“Bronze casting,” Gerald added. “This is a ten-thousand-year-old technology married to a ten-year-old technology.”

He excused himself so that he could walk to the other space the class uses, the Native Arts building. Justin stayed behind to make sure Renatta was on track to finish her task so that another student, Sam Zorn, a jazz violinist from Southern California, could take his turn on the CNC machine. Then he followed Gerald to the Native Arts building.

“This is basically Linda’s classroom now,” Gerald said.

Linda Santana had earned her claim to the room before ever teaching a class at Idyllwild Arts Academy: after joining the faculty in the summer of 2013, she spent two weeks reconditioning the school’s pair of rusty, long-neglected presses. Though she also teaches drawing, water color, and jewelry design, the bracelet on her wrist announces her first love: PRINTMAKING. When she teaches in this room, helping students make two-color prints with Japanese woodblock tools, the teenagers seem unfazed by the contrast between the background sounds of hip hop and Jimi Hendrix and the ancient printmaking methods to which Linda is devoted.

Justin and Gerald were not playing music, but the room had filled with the same air of relaxed concentration that distinguishes Linda’s classes.

“I don’t believe in talent,” Gerald has been heard to say. “What I believe in is hard work.”

The nine students in the room were working hard to make prints with their laser-cut designs. Yet anyone who believed that working hard at something was incompatible with loving it would have been persuaded otherwise by these young people, who obviously loved this second example of marrying an advanced technology to a traditional one.

Idyllwild Arts Academy is located at 2500 Temecula Rd in Idyllwild, CA. You can visit the school at www.idyllwildarts.org.

 

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