Just the words ‘art school’ conjure up the smell of paint thinner and the scratch of a violin being tuned...but at the California Institute of the Arts, soon it will also invoke the subtle sound of mouse clicks. Starting with the Fall 2012 semester, CalArts will begin a computer programming program for its students -- only instead of the traditional teaching methods, this initiative will employ a completely new methodology. Students will learn basic computer programming via a series of creative project in music and the visual arts.
Of course, computers are not exactly a new addition to art studios and rehearsal halls -- there are a myriad of computer programs designed specifically for graphic design and music application. But Cal Arts is blazing the trail by teaching actual computer programming in an art school environment, and the National Science Foundation has signaled its support with a $112,000 grant to help underwrite this innovative coursework.
The curriculum for the program was designed by Perry R. Cook, founder of the Princeton Sound Lab and a CalArts lecturer, and Ajay Kapur, the associate dean of research and development in digital arts. The first semester will be structured around music, with students required to create a new composition each week, with the second semester focusing on visual arts. The curriculum is structured to get students up and running with a basic understanding of networking and programming language. And with the increasing role of digital technology in all professions, including the arts, having these skills makes smart career sense.
“Computer science is like English, you just need it for the digital arts,” says Kapur, adding that the goal of the course is to give a real, hands-on experience that shows artists that “engineering is fun.”
Located in a suburb of Los Angeles, CalArt was established in 1961 with the guiding hand of , merging the Chouinard Art Institute and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. Disney’s relationship with Chouinard went back to his early days as a struggling movie mogul. With no money to pay for animator training, Disney faced disaster, when Chouinard stepped in and offered a ‘pay later’ plan, and the Walt Disney Studio was born.
Disney never forgot this generosity, and he was also deeply impressed with the quality of work demonstrated by Chouinard graduates. When both the Conservatory and Chouinard ran into financial difficulties, Disney orchestrated the merger, which established CalArts as the first degree-granting post-secondary school in the U.S. founded specifically for both the visual and performing arts. Today CalArts awards bachelor of fine arts and master of fine arts degrees in both disciplines, as well as a doctorate in music via its Herb Alpert School of Music.
The spirit of generosity that led to the establishment of CalArts is still alive and well. In 2013 there are plans to hold two conferences with other art schools. The goal is to get more schools on board with similar programs. And as a special incentive, all course materials for the course—including code examples, curriculum and assignments—will be accessible online.
“Our real goal is to have this across the disciplines in art schools,” says Cook, “and when I say art schools, I mean beyond CalArts.”
Uncle Walt would be proud!