Ashley Johnson – What is your background and current role?
David Hlynsky – I initially worked at Coachhouse Press, learnt Photoshop, spending time in a darkroom as a photographer. I also have a degree in painting. I taught Photoshop at OCAD and Sheridan before University of Toronto where I teach digital courses.
What is the role of digital art education for students?
Corporate interests pay for institutional infrastructure through grants, tuitions and commercial sponsorship. Sheridan is a prime example of that. There is so much corporate money going in that they don’t even talk about the art world, they talk about the industry. It has to do with supplying workers for the communications industry, journalism, advertising, filmmaking, animation and so forth.
The colleges have a mandate to turn out students who can go from a two-year program into the image production industry and get a job. Universities want to produce thinkers.
How would you say digital art integrates with traditional art?
As photography developed its own methodologies and populated the world with photographs painters had to develop new kinds of painting, like impressionism, as a response to traditions of figurative painting that photography has displaced.
Photography used to be a physical medium where students were encouraged to make beautiful, crystal clear prints of extraordinary tonality on archival paper. Digital technology has transformed this entirely because there is no need for a physical object. Now it’s about producing a bit of information that can be transmitted at the speed of light. We are producing streams of information that have become a global flood.
VdA: What does the program at U of T offer and what subjects does it cover?
There are 3 different programs at U of T Scarborough. The one I work with is a studio art program with traditional painting, drawing, sculpture fabrication, art history and theory courses on how art works in a globalized environment.
The digital course is part of the general stream of photography, video making and animation because we recognize these media are as important as painting and drawing. We give students an art theory background but we don’t spend a lot of time delving into techniques.
The 3rd program at Scarborough is a media studies program which is a highly academic program that looks at digital media for how it influences contemporary society and impacts the development of future social movements, awareness and communications technologies.
What sort of skills would a student emerge with?
Students from the Community Colleges might have skills in still photography or they might have training in digital web production, animation, film making but they are being hired as technicians.
University students don’t see a BFA as the terminal degree anymore because their goal is to have a combined career of producing their own art and teaching others so they need an MFA or if they want to become theoreticians then a PHD.
How is the university equipped with the latest technology? Does it focus on that?
No. The community colleges do because they aim to put streams of people into industry and industry pays well on a freelance basis. People who are going through college are being groomed to go into industry and that means industry is also interested in grooming them to be customers of technology. Sheridan is a perfect example. In the 1st week students would be given a camera, which they would keep for a year and they would all be given licenses to the complete Adobe Creative Suite. In university they would borrow cameras. We wouldn’t give them licenses but we’d give them a lab to work in with a common license.
Commercial software and hardware manufacturers target college students because they will assist or freelance and when they open their own studios they will buy equipment and software. Kids going through university don’t have that goal so it’s unlikely industry would sponsor those programs.
Sheridan has its own studios and darkrooms with a studio big enough for 15 students. U of T doesn’t have a shooting studio at all.
What do you think about online platforms, social media and their importance in the new media age?
I think that it has a high degree of accessibility. Now you can make a snapshot and everyone can see it. Social networks are where your social income would be and also where your philosophical positions are so from a personal and economic position social network platforms are really important.
From a philosophical point of view we no longer believe that images represent truth. We see so much that we can’t believe any of it and the response is cynicism. That raises other problems in how we educate people to be politically astute and critical so it gives that 3rd tier of theorists a much more important role.