Digital Art VIII: The End.

Yes, Mathematics and Digital Art is officially over.  Personally, this has been one of the most enjoyable courses I’ve taught, but also one of the more challenging.  From the initial course proposal — begun in November 2015! — to the Final Projects, it seems there was always something unexpected popping up.  But in a good way, since these surprises often involved such things as writing code for a student’s project, or helping a student incorporate a creative aspect into a digital artwork which I had not previously considered.

As I mentioned last week, the last assignment was to write a final Response Paper about the course.  Students had many good things to say, but also made some suggestions for improvement.

I feel like now, though, especially through the talks we were given from other artists, that my scope of the word “art” has broadened. The realm of digital art is so much wider than I could have imagined and includes a lot more mediums than I would have thought.

After completing this course, I realize that the world of art is even vaster, with so many areas still left unexplored or underexplored.

Wow!  I was so glad to see how the course broadened students’ perspectives.  Some students also mentioned the presentations on Bridges papers in this regard — how they were able to learn about many diverse topics in a brief amount of time.  They got a small taste of what it’s like to go to a Bridges conference….

As I had hoped, many students’ perspectives on mathematics changed during the course.  I’ll let the students speak for themselves.

Overall, I really enjoyed the class. Through high school, math was complicated and boring, but this class made me appreciate math in a different way, and I enjoyed learning about coding and digital art.

After this course, I definitely think about math differently, because now I know how it can be used to figure out shapes and layers and colors that I can use in my art. I also think differently about art, because before this course, I had only really done traditional art, and had no idea about any digital art besides using a tablet to draw with instead of a pencil. This course has really opened my mind to what I think art can be, and definitely how it can be created in different ways.

As with most classes, I learned a lot of significant things, but this class really taught me how to push beyond my boundaries and comfort zones. Learning about fractals and affine transformations were mathematically the most difficult part for me, but without those chapters I probably wouldn’t have sharpened my basic math skills….

I felt the coding part of the course was pitched at about the right level.

I soon realized that even though I had no background in code the material was explained and taught so that anyone could understand it.

But some  students commented that they would like to go into more depth as far as programming is concerned.

And one student even decided to minor in computer science!

Best of all, this class is part of the reason why I decided to declare a minor in computer science. It is something I have been considering as I have always had an interest in the subject, but I feel this class had really helped fuel that interest and give me the final nudge I needed.

Most students remarked about how much they loved learning to make movies in Processing, and how the small class size really helped them in terms of their personal learning experience.  The class was just nine students, and I had Nick to help me out — so I felt I really got to know the students.  Not a luxury I’ll always have….

Aside from focusing more on code, some students commented on how we didn’t really use the few weeks on polyhedra anywhere else in the course.  Yes, I wanted to give them some exposure to three-dimensional geometry without having to spend the time developing the mathematics of a three-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system.  But it seems this was just too disjointed from the natural flow.

I think a good substitute would be to discuss L-systems for these two weeks instead.  There are two advantages here.  First, L-systems are another really neat way to create fractals, and the class responded very positively when I gave my Bridges talk on L-systems and Koch curves.  And second, this would give a few more weeks when we could discuss coding, especially recursion.  In general, recursion is a difficult topic to teach — but teaching recursion in the context of computer graphics might really help the learning process.

I also asked Nick if he’d say a few words about his experience with the course.

I was very excited to work with Professor Matsko on Math and Digital Art, I think we both caught on a while back that the great flexibility I’ve found within the math department to support creative interests can be shared with other students. Also the instant gratification that we were finding from programming was really picking up. When communication from generated images was profoundly more efficient than any attempt to explain with words, it was clear that we had to invite more people to the conversation.

What I think has been so powerful following my discovery of programming – and what I hope I left with the students – is the ability to paste mathematical notation for very specific thoughts directly into the computer so that I can just look at what those thoughts literally mean. This continues to be the best way that I’ve found to meet and greet interesting new patterns and behaviors. Ultimately I think this is extremely natural and that the students caught on quite well: curious how a fractal might react? Poke it and find out!

Some areas definitely saw unexpected challenges, but once we got their mathematical comfort zones lined up with the curriculum the enthusiasm was excellent. My favorite part was definitely helping students let their imaginations fill the newly available parameter space. It was really great that we had a small class size, too – the two of us walking around made the perfect environment for any question to be asked during open days when they worked on self-directed projects. And it really felt like success to observe students becoming fixed on a single idea of what they wanted to create, whether or not they knew anything about how they would create it.

Overall I may have learned more than the students and was very surprised by the deeper understanding that begins to build after explaining to the masses. I would be very interested in assisting a course again!

As long as enough students enroll, I’ll be teaching Mathematics and Digital Art again next semester!  I won’t be reporting as frequently as I did this first semester, but expect updates every month or so….  Who knows what creative ideas next semester’s students will come up with?

Published by

Vince Matsko

Mathematician, educator, consultant, artist, puzzle designer, programmer, blogger, etc., etc. @cre8math

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