Why is media arts so vital for students today?

Children working together on Chromebooks

Media arts classes can help children learn how to mix digital skills with the creative impulse.

Credit: Mountain View Whisman Elementary School District

Media arts has long been a part of arts education in California, right alongside more traditional disciplines such as dance and theater, but Senate Bill 1341 codifies the idea that the study of visual and performing arts also includes digital art forms such as animation, video and web design. Sponsored by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, the proposed legislation, which unanimously passed in the Senate, would shine a spotlight on electronic media as a key part of a comprehensive arts and music education. 

Dain Olsen, president and CEO of the National Association for Media Arts Education, recently took a few moments to explain the allure of media arts, how it bridges the world of high tech and old-school art, and why mastery of electronic media is such an important part of arts education amid the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) as a force in society. Olsen is a veteran media arts educator, having taught at Los Angeles Unified, UCLA and Vermont College of Fine Arts. 

 Q: How significant would it be for this new media arts legislation to pass in California? How would it impact children?

A: It would be historic and set national precedent, legitimizing it as a separate arts subject and making it available for 5.8 million K-12 students. This culminates a decades-long effort across various state and district initiatives, and is an inflection point for its continued progress.

 Q: Is media arts the same as digital art?

A: Essentially media arts is digital arts. It goes a little bit further because it does include things that are not purely digital. It’s basically machine-based and multimodal in that it’s multisensory and multimedia. One can access the other arts disciplines and all aesthetics. That’s what makes it different from the other arts education disciplines. For example, I can merge audio and visual in the creation of a video.

 Q: Is it more high-tech oriented or more arts-focused?

A: It is tech-centric, but is absolutely very artistic and creative. Tends to be focused on popular commercial media — photo, graphics, video. Our organization will push for other forms, and more “art” orientation, original, experimental and interdisciplinary. 

 Q: Why do students today need to master media arts?

 A: It is imperative that these vital forms of production and design become standard, high-quality offerings in schools and other educational settings. These offerings are important for students to skillfully wield these forms for their own creative expression, academic development and career preparation, as well as to gain critical literacies in analyzing and negotiating multimedia experiences. 

We recognize it as vital for 21st century students and particularly in California, given our creative economy and the growth of these media arts areas, in industry and in our economy and their key role in our evolving society. 

 Q: Why should media arts be recognized as its own genre?

 A: Media arts reflects our current digital society, and prepares students with the multiliteracies necessary to function and succeed in this rapidly changing world. Students need to be able to read, analyze, interpret and evaluate a deluge of multimedia information in their everyday lives. They need to be able to construct their own messages, products and experiences, so that they become responsible contributors to and empowered participants in this society. Students need to be able to determine fact from fiction, and verify information vs. misinformation. They need to be able to address the potentially harmful impacts of new forms of artificial intelligence, technology and media. Media arts provides safe and balanced environments that systemically prepare students for these evolving societal conditions.

Q: How might the emergence of AI shape the media arts landscape?

A: AI is a media arts form because it is machine-based and multimodal. It (media arts education) will have a tremendous impact on the media arts industry and will become a core aspect of media arts. Media arts education provides a safe and rigorous environment, whereby students gain critical thinking skills in managing and skillfully wielding the power of AI. This connects it to the embodied practices of the arts and provides grounding, aesthetics and culture, which AI inherently does not reflect. This becomes a major component of the multiliteracies across media tech and digital culture. 

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