Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Persistent Online Open Course

I took a couple MOOCs, 'Massively" (the word came from the MMRPGs) Open Online Course and I like them a lot. I am convinced I learned things which I could learn only in this way—on my own volition, on my own time, in my own space. It’s a great idea, and I want to do it, too. However, I think I am barred from working on a MOOC because ALL the MOOCs are premised that they must start in an institution of higher learning.
Even if they may be the new kid on the block, or even the L'Enfant Terrible, they have found safe haven on campus. I am reminded of a time in pre-war United States when people who were thinking outside the walls of academe were at first written off as kooks were later embraced and given stations in the universities. They were a big draw, in a sense, like hiring a movie star.
Sometimes this neutralized an otherwise powerful individual as it made their ideas okay and worthy of consideration. I think it was due partly because the universities wanted to appear to be cool, and appear to be doing what they are supposed to do. Usually, the new ideas would die on campus because of various reasons—they could not be accredited, there was not enough money, they involved illegalities, etc. It was a case of indispensable enemies—where the two forces needed each other to keep from doing what it must appear that they were trying to do.
I wanted to teach printmaking online in 1980, but it couldn't be an accredited course, so I took the concept to noncredit learning. They couldn't support it because the art school wouldn't approve it. It was a catch-22 situation, sort of, but mainly it was to protect the jobs of the professors and administrators. When a person in a distant, rural town could learn something they otherwise would have to move to Seattle to learn, they would be less motivated to move and pay the university tuition and conform to the accreditation in place.


The solution to the problem of teaching printmaking the way it really should be taught—as experience and as a preparation for future learning—is to put it where almost everyone can get at it. In the toy store, have the Wee Woodie Rembrandt press to start with. Online, have the instruction for trying to use the WeeWoodie, even building one from scratch. In schools, have a model on hand for after-school. At home, have clubs for vacation-time activities.

Next, create a persistent world—call it a Website—very like the persistent online games that became MMRPGs. Some parts of the world might be adventures in the game sense, in that they feature unnecessary obstacles to keep the user involved for awhile. But, mostly, it is a place to explore the techniques associate with the act of making exactly repeatable images, from the making of the press to the making of the plates to the making of the prints.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

On the eve of starting a MOOC titled Video Games and Learning, from the University of Wisconsin I think, "We could'a been a contender!"

Missing in Seattle

An opportunity lost?

I first became aware of the University of Wisconsin in the 1970s when I was a professor of art at the UW. By someone’s ranking system, the UW-Seattle and the UW-Madison were somewhat alike in terms of scale and reputation as research universities. It was natural, then, to focus on the printmaking department of the art school at Madison and then to compare it to our printmaking department. 
When the chairman of our department retired, one of the potential replacements that was interviewed was a professor at Madison, over-qualified and out of the range of the salary that was going to be available, but he was flown out and interviewed, anyway.
It became obvious, later, that the hiring committee here had already chosen Kurt Labitsky to whom to offer the position of the new chairman of printmaking. The other two candidates were window dressing; they were brought here to legalize Kurt’s hiring as per the requirements of affirmative action.
It seems to me that the UW-Madison was perhaps above the UW-Seattle in one matter—the matter of ethical practices. In Seattle, the administration of the UW School of Art was having its way with the printmaking department, bending the rules and manipulating the outcome.
The reason they did this was because I was pressing for a fundamental change in the way printmaking was being taught. While the majority of the faculty saw printmaking as a mere extension of painting and drawing and as a kind of craft with little significance to art.
My view, that printmaking is part of a larger topic—media arts—and as such, therefore, printmaking should be taught in the context of new technologies which were emerging on campus and all around the Seattle area. Today, these find their finest expression in video games, and they all date back to printing. Today, too, a MOOC for printmaking is imminent and would—if it were to happen at the UW—would put Labitsky out of a job.
It is likely that the printmaking department at the UW-Madison is still being taught as an extension of painting and drawing. A visit to the Website might show the studios with large-scale presses, sophisticated toxic chemical safety facilities, and great spaces for printmaking.
In other words, the training was to continue the position of printmaking as a second-rate art form—something not quite as grand as painting and sculpture, installation and performance arts. After their initial grounding in the rules of 2-D composition, graphic design, reflective color laws, etc., printmakers could aspire to make huge, multi-color prints and expend their resources emulating painters. They might compete for space in art galleries and museums; but they will be wasting their resources in the process, in my opinion.
“Bigger is better is the rule” at universities like the two institutions, UW/Seattle and UW/Madison. It is the result of political and economic plays carried on by art school faculties backed up the National Association of Schools of Art and Design and other major accreditation boards.
I wonder, what could have happened if I had not lost the battle for change at the UW-Seattle? It is possible that—today—there would be an effort like that which is behind the current MOOC coming out of the UW-Madison (which I am starting in a couple hours).
If it had happened my way, then the Seattle version would not only be a course which on the value of video games for learning, my course would connect antiquity with today’s games in general because printmaking is the ancestor of games. It is the ancestor not only of games, but all technologies which depended on exactly reproduced words and pictures in time and space.
What is missing in Seattle is a company that produces games for learning with printmaking as one center of focus. Games for learning is a huge topic, and printmaking is only a small part of this; but it is one which exemplifies the social value of games and technology in an age when hands-on learning has been diminished by a perceived lack of resources.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We can change this by means of which I have made a beginning—with the help of a handful of friends and hundreds of people who think the mini press is worth having. The mini press can be a console for learning, not only about printmaking techniques, but also about the social value of the art. The most important thing about it is that kids can do printmaking—in groups—given the mini presses our company makes.

Therefore, I reach out to people to join me in forming the company that will produce all kinds of learning opportunities in ways similar to what is happening all over the world—using old printmaking and new technologies to restore education.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

No more prizes for me

     In the art world there are many awards given to artists for reasons of their art, their contributions to the community and their impact on the culture of their nation and its people. For over twenty years I thought I might someday win a big award and I kept my eye on prizes. This notion may have started when I was in high school when I became aware that, besides good grades, someone like me could get awarded for jobs well done in art and publishing.
By the time I was ready to graduate from my formal education (graduate school) I had a few sips from the awards goblet and I liked it. Getting a job at the University of Washington School of Art was quite a big gulp; in fact, it was bottom’s up! For the next nineteen years I continued on my binge, winning all kinds of awards from prizes at local art fairs to a National Endowment for the Arts grant for video work and, along with these, promotion to full professor.
Prizes came also from the UW in the form of research grants—usually less than a thousand dollars, but helpful for paying for non-budgeted items such as videotape and experiments in printmaking. Two sabbatical leaves—in 1976 and 1983—plus unpaid leaves of absence were wonderful perks for a young, ambitious artist and teacher like me. The sabbatical in 1983 was a substantial win, coming as it did in a lean year for Washington State colleges.
To me it meant the crowning achievement of my career because, with a fact-finding trip around the world, I would have the proof that would justify a shift in my field—printmaking—toward a new union of the antique printmaking arts with new technologies. It would give my students a new outlook on their future as global artists. My family was willing to go along for the ride, and we took on a $50,000 debt to make the trip to augment the 66% of my $29,000 salary.
It did not turn out the way I wanted, however; instead, that sabbatical was the last major award I would receive for the rest of my life, the beginning of the end of my career in education. The leave was given to me so I would go away long enough to let the administration put a choke hold on the changes I was pressing for and fortify the old guard determination to limit printmaking as a minor art and craft in the UW School of Art.

When I started this essay, I titled it, “Why I will never win an award for what I do,” but then I removed the title because it sounded hopeless. I probably will never give up hope for the union of antique printmaking arts with new technologies. If I can marry these, my award will not come from the established, award-giving entities but from the thousands of individuals who purchase what I have participated in making—a company that makes hardware and software for printmaking experience.