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Information in Formation: Repositioning Artists on the Crest of the Third Wave

by Jeff Gates

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The artists' place in this latest technological age has yet to be written in stone (or should I say, burned on a CD). However, we can play a vitally important role in the emerging society, thanks to skills we already possess and apply in our work. With the shift from a manufacturing-based economy to an information-based one, we have the chance to reposition ourselves more centrally as information providers and interpreters.

One of the highest compliments I've ever received occurred when I was asked to participate in a corporate informational flow analysis (that's when a consultant is asked to come into an organization and chart the difference between how information travels throughout the structure verses how it's perceived to move). The consultant hired me because she felt my world view as an artist was so different from those within the corporation, that I'd bring some insights that might have been missed!

menu Art institutions and departments can also reposition themselves as vital links in this new process. We're already starting to see this shift happen. Whereas, just a couple of years ago, our students and their parents were wondering how they would support themselves after graduation, I'm now seeing many get, not only good paying jobs, but interesting and creative ones as well! In fact, to take this one step further, it's been suggested that if you're looking for a job instead of creating your own, you're already behind the curve!

The process by which society gets information is changing. Unlike television, where we're passive recipients of mass cultural programming, the Internet allows users to input information as well as receive it. To draw on the highway metaphor, TV is a one-way street and the Net has the potential to become a two-way avenue.

If we, as teachers, administrators, and as artists want to take advantage of this, and in order to make sense of this shifting techno-maze, we'll need to carefully consider two areas which those of us in art speak of all the time: process and content.

Let me focus on "the process" as this new age will require a major rethinking of the structures we live and work in.

Until now, information was often arranged in a hierarchical scheme, so that we often had to rely on experts to get what we needed. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, and, yes, even teachers, all are traditional gatekeepers of information. No matter how egalitarian I want my classrooms to be, the chairs have always been turned toward me.

But all this is changing. Some students now "know" more than I do! The "how to's" of learning Photoshop and Pagemaker are becoming easily accessible to anyone. So what do I have left to do?

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© 1996 Jeff Gates. No reproduction in whole or in part may be used without prior consent of the author.

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