Integrating Elements: Media Arts Education and Experimental Media

The youth media movement began percolating with the introduction of the video Sony Porta Pac in the 60s, when artists began using the tools of television for self-expression, advocacy, storytelling and documenting their world. However, before the boom of youth media, artists were using the tools of film for the same purpose, bringing media to schools through the National Endowment for the Arts Film in the Schools program.
Since technology has become more affordable for youth, artists, and educators in the last decade, the youth media movement has taken off. As the field continues to evolve with new technology, we must re-introduce the artistic concepts of aesthetics and experimentation that preceded the movement.
The youth media field has clearly done a number of things well, mostly related to mass media, media literacy and cultivating supportive communities. However, it’s important to remember that youth media is not just a tool for communication, but also a vehicle for artistic expression. The youth media field can learn from artists and media art educators that apply a creative, inventive, and experimental aspect to the students’ voices. Those aspects benefit students, the audience, and the field itself.
As a founding member of Twin Cities Youth Media Network, I am encouraged by the dedication of non-profit youth media groups to conduct artist residencies in the schools. As I meet educators and artists passionate about teaching media arts as a unique art form, I understand the urgent need for leadership in this emerging field to bring the two groups together for more effective teaching practices.
Aesthetics and Creativity
In our global society, creativity is becoming increasingly sought after and embraced; yet, it is often not nurtured in an educational setting. Creativity involves a form of intelligence but not necessarily the kind that is tested in school. Increasingly, researchers are determining the importance of developing creativity in youth. In Howard Gardner’s book, Five Minds for the Future, he outlines specific cognitive abilities that will be sought and cultivated by leaders in the years ahead: the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind and the ethical mind—all essential to the teaching of media arts.
Aesthetics and experimentation by students in their media productions work toward the goals of youth media for many reasons. For one, it creates more interesting productions that capture an audience’s attention, build an audience’s interest, and helps viewers remember what they saw afterward. Educators could teach to aesthetics and guide youth to explore a variety of genres, styles, structures, techniques, image and text relationships, sequencing, rhythmic editing, and many other options to enhance the meaning of their pieces.

Creativity also encompasses elements of synthesis and revision and cultivates critical thinking. In addition, art making inspires self-reflection, which in turn helps students develop their own authentic, unique voices. Many, if not all, of these skills mirror those gained in youth media programs.
Specifically, art helps students learn to say what cannot be communicated with words. Art allows visual learners to take risks, think in abstract terms, and use their imaginations. Art saved my life. It could save one of your student’s, too.
Incorporating Media Arts Education in the Field
Youth media practitioners can incorporate aesthetics and experimentation into their practice by stretching the definitions of what is possible and what things mean. By providing numerous creative exercises prior to planning a more complex project, students build vocabulary, expand their bag of technical tricks, develop their ability to experiment while developing ideas, and have a chance to play.
Creating work in an experimental genre can allow students to study or investigate the elements of media arts in the purist forms as the early video artists did in the seventies. These experiments can later be applied to other genres of documentary, public service announcement or narrative structures—just as continuity and other traditionally narrative techniques can be applied to experimental work as well.

If youth media producers want to learn more about experimental and media arts approaches, I suggest looking at the Minnesota’s curriculum framework. These documents support authentic media arts experiences that could be integrated alongside youth media curriculum. Each document is provided as a PDF at the following links:
Minnesota Frameworks for Arts Curriculum Strategies or FACS (1997)
Minnesota’s Engaging Students in the Arts: Creating, Performing, and Responding (2004)
What makes youth media the best partner for media arts education is that both arenas value youth expression and creative thinking, two concepts that are not valued enough in American culture, but an important part of our intelligence and development as people.
Examples can be seen at the Perpich Center for Arts Education web site:

Nancy Norwood is a recipient of the 2008 Coca Cola/NFAA Distinguished Teacher in the Arts award, and the 2001 Surdna Art Teachers Fellowship. She has directed the Arts High School Media Arts Program for more than nineteen years, leading her students to over 200 national awards. Norwood has exhibited her own videotapes at such places as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and has received several grants for her work. She was on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) Arts Education Consensus Project Planning Committee and was chair of the Media Arts Standards Committee for Minnesota’s FACS (Frameworks for Arts Curriculum Strategies) Project. She received a MFA from State University of New York through the Visual Studies Workshop Program and BFA from Memphis College of Art.
Perpich Arts High School provided a laboratory for experimenting with media arts curriculum ideas, providing an environment that functions as a laboratory for teaching. The gifted students who were accepted to the program in conjunction with the state of the art technology offered the foundation for my experimentation. Once established, the curriculum has been shared in the form of media arts standards, teacher training, and consulting work with numerous school districts nationwide.