Brian Reeves in the classroom
We recently had a chance to ask Brian Reeves, a Graphic Arts faculty member, to tell us more about Graphic Arts and what it’s like to study in this area at SMFA.
How did you get involved in Graphic Arts; what’s your background?
I’ve always made publications of some sort to give away or to sell. I started out with ball-point pens on stray paper, and then graduated to Xeroxes and traditional printmaking. When computers arrived in my classrooms, I began using them to design and color-separate what would have otherwise still been hand-pulled prints. I soon started adding type to those prints and using inkjet and professional offset printers, where appropriate, to make some of the publications, which increasingly incorporated my written ideas. During that time, the World Wide Web was born (!). All these delivery systems have allowed me to share work—in all media, including interactive work with video, sound, 3D models, and programming—with an audience broader than could ever be found in an art gallery.
I’ve also worked for various companies, newspapers, and magazines as a designer and illustrator, so I use the skills and sensibilities gained through those experiences toward making my (capital-A) Art more engaging and accessible.
What classes do you teach?
I teach Print Matters, Art Commercial, and net.art: Intro to Hacking.
Tell us a bit about your students.
My students tend to be brilliant and driven, each in their own way. They come from so many directions, so many different parts of the world, and possess a wide range of visions for what they want to accomplish. Many arrive in my classes with a desire to put the artwork that they created in other media (photographs, drawings, comics, music, video, performance) to work in print or web media. Others find specific inspiration in each individual medium we explore, such as the cheap flyer, the sticker, the postcard, the pamphlet, the label, or the interactivity made possible only by the computer.
Some are particularly interested in using the web to more efficiently engage people, and some are motivated by the promise of making their own custom solutions using open source software and hardware tools. A few examples that come to mind are an automatic document redactor, Bob Ross happy-little-cloud painting application, a randomly timed lock-box for one’s mobile phone, custom programmed musical instruments and a 3D printed orb that reacts with colored lights to light, tilt, and temperature.
Some arrive with little or no experience with digital tools, but have a solid drive for bringing their visions to life—by the end of the class most seem to have gained a level of comfort that took me years to achieve on my own. They rightly seem to see technology as merely a means to accomplish the end goal—which is the art.
If I were a new student at SMFA, what would make me want to try one of your classes?
You’d get to focus on establishing or expanding upon your public voice beyond the confines of the art gallery.
All three of the classes I’m teaching involve “hacking” existing systems of distribution, not as in breaking and entering, but as in being playfully clever, to use Richard Stallman’s definition (see his short On Hacking essay). Naturally that’s a big part of the focus of the Intro to Hacking class where students use the web and other tools to deliver quality experiences.
If you were in the Print Matters class you’d be asked to indulge in making work to disseminate via the freebie dispensers seen last year in the School’s entryway. For that, you’d develop your own Xerox-able, agenda-laden “image viruses,” stickers, and feedback inducers. Last semester you’d also have collaborated to conceive and publish a mini-magazine, the T Times, as a response to the challenge of figuring out what type of public service to place between the ads. In that case, the ads were primarily created by students in the Art Commercial class.
Students in Art Commercial are tasked with giving some of their own artwork the mainstream commercial marketing treatment, applying the tools and gimmicks associated with more dumbed-down commercial work to support their very own less-pedestrian visions—crafting logos, print and web ads, packaging, writing manipulative copy and press releases, etc. It’s a short class, but when they’re driven to work they can do incredible things.
Tell me about the concentration in Graphic Arts—what can a student expect?
In my classes students can expect to heighten their grasp on the technical, conceptual, and formal concerns, all in service of developing their capacity to communicate. They’ll be asked to ponder their definitions of “commercial art,” and whatever its opposite is, and they’ll probably realize that those distinctions aren’t really as clear-cut as we’ve all been led to believe. The Sistine Chapel ceiling is a favorite example, where you’ve got so-called “fine art” that is actually a client-based illustration job!
Students can expect to work hard, to get better at learning to use these evolving tools, and to cultivate their sensitivities to typography and other aspects of design and digital production. They’ll engage in rigorous critique of their work and be asked to provide that to their peers. Technically the focus isn’t to learn how to use a particular piece of software, but to get accustomed to learning new tools, adapting to new modes of communication. And the focus isn’t on commercial client-based work, as many might expect. Instead, students in my classes and many others in the Graphic Arts area get to focus on putting these digital tools and communications platforms to work to spread their own ideas and to ask their own questions.
In other classes students make books, both the more sculptural one-of-a-kind in Peter Madden’s courses and the electronically published multiple, as in Chantal Zakari’s Publish!, where they focus for entire semester on creating content and design for a single book that is ultimately made available in print and electronically via a service like Lulu.com
And there’s a great deal of crossover into other areas. Students working primarily with any media, be it sculpture, video, sound, print, drawing, painting, ceramics, performance, all want and/or need to represent their work in print and online, so I’d dare to say the kind of sensitivity and skill sets we cultivate in Graphic Arts is relevant to just about everyone.
What do you think is really interesting and engaging about the concentration right now?
More than ever, the tools we use are more mainstream—and as the novelty of using them dissipates, we get to really focus on the ideas that we’re trying to communicate and the true revolution of media and efficiency in reaching an audience that they deliver. The School’s new acquisition of laser cutting and 3D printing technology will be a great stride in this direction. Also, the arrival of Graham McDougal teaching, among other courses, the new Mixed Messages: Text-Based Studio Practice sounds like it will be a rich opportunity to focus upon just text as content.
One other aspect of the area that’s been particularly engaging: I started a Tuesday lunchtime meeting called Pro-Activity Lab which is a time and place where students and faculty interested in using programming, be it for the web, using the open source tools Processing and Arduino, found hardware, or whatever else, can come work and share ideas and help one another solve problems that arise in that spirit of playful cleverness. Some have come in to have us try to solve installation requirements, like triggering sound files when a person enters a space. I look forward to doing it again this year and meeting more students and faculty interested in the power of programming for art’s sake, regardless of what “wet” media they’re using.
What sort of career can someone have with a concentration in Graphic Arts?
Job titles include artist, designer, illustrator, art editor, art director, publisher, programmer, pre-press specialist, provocateur. There’s also more specialized set of jobs that have emerged with the web, including interaction and user experience designer. With such an emphasis on problem solving, content creation, communication, and collaborative efforts, experiences in this area can take off in many different uncharted directions. It all depends upon what, and where, the students choose to focus and develop their energies.
Thank you, Brian!
Graphic Arts at SMFA
Contact Brian Reeves or Chantal Zakari for more information.