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Exploring Critical Making

04/30/2013

RISD students engage in critical making in studios throughout campus.

Faculty, staff and students came together on April 19 for Mapping Making, a new series of discussions around what critical making means at RISD and how departments view the future of making in their fields. The event was moderated by faculty member Daniel Hewett and hosted by the Critical Making Task Force, a group of deans, faculty and staff charged with furthering goals set forth in RISD’s Strategic Plan.

The first panel focused on how digital technologies are changing the disciplines taught at RISD and how students in Liberal Arts and Foundation Studies are taught to generate questions that support immersive inquiry. In most departments, students are expected to master both hand (“analog”) and digital techniques, with digital tools primarily influencing the speed and scale of output, along with the ease with which modifications can be made.

The panelists noted that at RISD the most important questions remain what and why something is created more than how it’s made. In other words, while tools are constantly changing and advancing with technology, the real quest for artists remains the same: creating content and making an authentic statement. As Agnieszka Woznicka, associate professor of FAV, pointed out, “the essence is the storytelling.”

Another aspect of the spirit of inquiry that is so important to success at RISD is the process of reshaping or transforming existing knowledge. Faculty in Foundation Studies help incoming students understand the larger world of ideas and challenge their own assumptions. And as Interim Dean Dan Cavicchi pointed out, faculty scholars in Liberal Arts are equally creative, contributing new knowledge and ideas in their fields.

The second Mapping Making panel got physical, with a discussion of the equipment available to RISD students and the importance of learning to use it properly. Everyone agreed that RISD’s facilities are extraordinary, but the answer to the question of how to best provide ready access to them was a little less obvious.

Associate Professor of Printmaking Henry Ferreira 07 PR joked about how empty RISD studios are before noon and wondered aloud about encouraging students to consider making more use of them during daylight when experts are around to help, rather than after dark. ID Professor Seth Stem added a practical comment about making sure that students whose first language is not English really understand procedural explanations and safety rules.

Most agreed that cross-disciplinary exploration is one of the keys to discovery at RISD. This kind of collaboration seems to happen naturally among undergraduates – especially during their Foundation year – but is less accessible for graduate students.

The conversation around crossing disciplines and sharing tools led naturally to the third part of the morning’s discussions: Where Do We Go From Here? Panelists considered such questions as: Is it good practice for artists to rely on digital programs they don't understand to realize their ideas as works of art and design? Or should professors encourage them, in the words of Assistant Professor of Graphic Design John Caserta, to “dig down” through the layers of production, perhaps mixing their own colors or designing their own typeface? What are the conditions that encourage the kind of critical making (the “alchemy,” in one participant’s words) we’re talking about at RISD?

Before the half-day session wound up, the conversation turned to the effects of physical space and proximity to others on an artist’s work. Some participants seemed to welcome the idea of a shared “pilot” space downtown, while others questioned the reasoning behind disrupting the work in Space A to arbitrarily move it to Space B.

Part of the goal of developing critical making facilities is to find ways to share equipment so that people from different disciplines work side by side, allowing new kinds of influence and innovation to flourish. As RISD continues to develop new spaces for cross-disciplinary conversation and collaboration, Caserta pointed out that seeing enables collaboration and that there are currently too many walls and window coverings at RISD. With the high quality of dialogue inspired by the Mapping Making series, RISD expects to move forward with the goals spelled out in the Strategic Plan – opening the shades where it makes sense and letting in more light.

Simone Solondz

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tags: Film-Animation-Video, Foundation Studies, faculty, interdisciplinary, Graphic Design, Industrial Design, research, Liberal Arts