Why I’m not an Artist and Teachers that influence.
I am a designer but I do not consider myself an artist, the reason for this lies in the difference between my Art and IT teachers and how they influenced my education path.
Note: I drafted this before I recently attended DIBI Conf in Edinburgh where a keynote speaker Richard Adams planted a little seed of doubt in my mind so I’ll start as I intended and describe where my doubt is at the end.
Before I go on, I do not blame my teachers I’m just highlighting that as a 15/16 year old the influence that 2 different people had on the direction of my path.
I’d always wanted to make computer games from the day my Dad showed me Manic Miner on his Spectrum, I was very good at drawing especially people and characters and my Dad helped me learn to code basic at a young age by copying game code from magazines and recording them into cassette tapes (how far we have come eh). I went to secondary school in 1993, I chose my GSCES in 1995 and my 2 best grades Art & Computing allowed me to continue to do A Levels in 1998 of Art, Computing and Business Studies. I’ve always felt I’ve stumbled into this profession but in hindsight my education path even at a time when the internet was document links for science folk and art was Rembrant and Picasso I must have had some younger me instinct as to how things were moving.
Scene set I’ll get to my point. My Art teacher was a quiet yet passionate, mid 50's classically trained painter, my computing teacher was an early 30's annoyingly enthusiastic but infectious man and I was a shy introvert teenager from a ‘broken home’ who grew his hair long to hide.
School was school, I went because you had to but also because I couldn’t see any other path. But there were some things I really enjoyed Art and Computers being two things and always in the back of my mind was,
‘I can draw and I can paint and I can use computers so how can I use these subjects to make computer games?’
A lot of my focus was trying to use the digital mediums to create artwork. In my head it didn’t matter the medium it was how I was portraying the story of my piece, my classically trained art teacher simply could not compute this (pun intended) he could not comprehend why I would use digital photo-manipulation and painting software above the physical pencil and paint, and being a unconfident teenager I could not explain why other than ‘I want to so I will’
On the flip side I could do no wrong in computing, as with art I had a real interest in it, it was a class slightly ahead of its time with 50% based on practical work, something I could get creative with. Our overenthusiastic teacher oozed confidence into all of his students and somehow managed to pique all their interest and curiosity. I churned out lines upon lines of code that all worked and were never questioned.
Over the years I played back and forth with Art sometimes it was nice to do the 3D side of things, not 3D max but clay and sculpture it was a reprive, and if I’m being critical on myself I did tend to start at the end and work backwards,
‘here’s my final piece but shit, how did I get here!’
Other times I’d get embroiled in wanting to do my digital stuff and it turning into a battle of wills that simply could not communicate each others point to one another.
At the same time the internet had started to move on, Napster and MSN messenger were the norm, I had got a home PC with a MASSIVE 1GB hard drive, games like Half Life and Unreal had made 3D gaming the benchmark, I seen an out. Academic Art was clearly failing me, if I focus on computing I can get out of this funk, I can go on and make games and be creative digitally a throw my middle finger up to academic artistry and its backward thinking!
‘Fuck you Art'
I thought, secretly still loving art and all the wonderful masterpieces that exist and are being created all the time but I seen an out and poured myself into my computing. A Levels came along, I passed IT, I flunked Art…I didnt meet the grades to get into a computing degree, there was no such thing as Interactive or Multimedia at the time it was Art or Computing,
‘Crap I have to try and get into Art College’
With an embarrassingly crap portfolio and zero interview experience needless to say I did not get into the course (explaining that the idea for a piece came in a dream still makes me laugh and cringe at the same time)
It may sound like I am being harsh on my Art teacher, again I am not blaming him, I do however still believe that at the time Art was a fusty institution and did not want to accept new mediums especially digital. The crux here is not that my teachers made the choices, good or bad ones, for me but that because of the influence positive or negative they had on me at an impressionable age I pushed myself along this path to find no real end.
I got a job, eventually after a repeat year of A levels at night and a complete year out of education by chance a friends Dad was a lecturer in college on a new HND course MultiMedia design! He persuaded me that if I could prove that I could show good working knowledge I could apply for the night course. I applied, I got in, I passed my first HNC year with distinction and was able to move onto the full time HND course again passing with distinction which led to me getting onto a Multimedia degree course and so, while I am still to make that game I have always wanted,
Here I am a Designer but not an Artist…
Or am I?
Art is subjective, computing is not but their core values lie in being creative, solving a problem and getting the end result from that creativity, and this is the nugget that finally dropped when Richard Adams currently redesigning the Royal Shakespere Companys web presence stood in front of me at DIBI and said ‘You’re not just designers, you are artists!’
Ultimately maybe I was ahead of my time, not in a sense of talent but in the sense of academia simply had not caught up to what was happening, my teacher probably knew his curriculum inside out, we had a very talented class and as a school were known for producing good artists, he was most likely only trying to advise me to go down a path that would get me a grade and I could go on and do what I want after that, but the more he seemed to disagree with the methods of my work the more I pushed academic art aside.
I thank both my teachers for trying their best, I thank my friends Dad for persuading me to apply to the HNC, I thank all the people who have encouraged me or influenced me or given me opportunities to get where I am and finally thank you for taking some time out in my mind.