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Guidelines for Curricula in Computer Graphics in the Visual Arts

By Barbara Mones-Hattal, Ken O'Connell and Deborah Sokolove

This is a preliminary report on guidelines for curricula in computer graphics
in the visual arts. 1he authors solicit comments, opinions and suggestions
as to how it could better serve post- secondary institutions currently
offering or planning to offer courses, programs, certificates and/or degrees
in this field.

The document was prepared under the auspices of the ACM SIGGRAPH education
committee. In March l990 a two-day intensive workshop was held to consider
the responses to the dream curriculum survey, which the authors circulated
in early l989. The mandate of the workshop was to draft a set of guidelines
for curricula in computer graphics in the visual arts which could be supported
by ACM SIGGRAPH and by accrediting agencies such as the National Association
of Schools of Art and Design. The dream curriculum survey was designed
to collect curriculum information with ideal programs in mind. We have
attempted as a result of our workshop to develop recommendations for guidelines
based on what we believe to be within the current scope of post secondary
schools. The following people participated in the workshop and contributed
to the writing of this document:

Tim Binkley, School of Visual Art
Sharon Ford, Rancho Santiago Community College
Craig Hickman, University of Oregon, Eugene
Samuel Hope, National Assn. of Schools of Art and Design
Gail Jamieson, Phoenix College
Tony Longson, California State University, Los Angeles
Barbara Mones-Hattal, George Mason University

Ken O'Connell, University of Oregon, Eugene

Anne Seidman, Moore College of Art
Deborah Sokolove, George Mason University
Joan Truckenbrod, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

I. Introduction

A. Computers and visual medium

Computers have revolutionized the way many people work. Artist. have also
been affected by this change. The previsualization and visualization of
artworks has been effected by the development of new tools. Historically
artists have been interested in utilizing computers to investigate imaginary
and concrete worlds through visualization.

B. What has happened? What is likely to happen?

A most interesting outcome of artists working with computers is the development
of hybrid techniques, imagery and partnerships in the areas of the physical

As a result of the development of an interdisciplinary artistic network.
institutions have been developing programs of study addressing a variety
of visual and aesthetic interdisciplinary concerns.

C. The roles of educational institutions

The role of the institution is to provide an environment conducive to the
investigation of visual and interactive applications of these newer technologies.
The institution must also allow for the new technologies to become assimilated
as tools for use in art-making and curriculum support.

Educational institutions can accelerate the integration of new technologies
into the art-making process by encouraging exploratory and interdisciplinary
research. Universities can play a major role in the dissemination and ultimately
the creative development of future research projects.

The process of teaching as well as the process and product of making
artworks is already being affected by the integration of computers into
the classroom. The efficiency and interactivity that computers offer allow
instructors to teach course material with their use as tools of instruction.

D. Purpose of document

The purpose of this document is to introduce educational institutions to
current curricula utilizing computers in the arts. In addition, specific
(preliminary) guideline recommendations are offered for many curriculum
application areas.

In the interest of the development of uniform levels of expertise among
students, two competency levels have been defined. Competency levels are
suggested as a workable solution to the diverse functions and requirements
that individual programs and courses play within the context of the educational
institution as compared to other institutions. It is our goal to facilitate
a comprehensive resource for administrators, instructors and students.
It is not our intention to dictate what must be taught in any particular
course but rather to offer guidance.

II. How to use this document

A. How document is organized

This document is divided into six parts. The first part consists of introductory
material. The second is this section on how to use the document. The third
includes basic, general information regarding the relationships between
the visual arts, computer graphics and higher education.

Part four deals with specific operational considerations. These include
determining goals and objectives in regards to computer graphics in the
visual arts; relating these goals and objectives to students served by
the program, to faculty, and to available or projected facilities and finances;
working with the institutional library; evaluating and planning; and program

The fifth part gives specific guidelines for academic programs. It lists
the application areas of computer graphics within the visual arts; relates
these application areas to curricula; defines terms and objectives for
the curriculum recommendations; and finally discusses recommendations for
a common body of knowledge and skills which could be assumed to have been
learned by students at beginning, intermediate and advanced levels of study
in computer graphics in the visual arts.

Part six discusses projections for the future, the role of art history
and criticism in the teaching of computer graphics in the visual arts and
research and advanced programs. Appendix I is the dream curriculum survey
summary; appendix II is the computer graphics arts directory.

B. Using the document to determine and revise objectives

This document is intended for use by post-secondary institutions which
currently offer or plan to offer courses, programs, certificates and/or
degrees in computer graphics in the visual arts. Institutions which currently
offer such courses, programs, certificates and/ or degrees may wish to
compare the content of their offerings with the competency statements in
part five, They may also wish to review their goals and objectives, referring
to the questions and considerations in parts three and four.

C. Using the document to plan

Institutions which are planning to add computer graphics to existing visual
art programs need to carefully consider where computer graphics fits into
their current offerings. They should pay special attention to the section
on operational considerations (part four), as well as the delineation of
application areas and competency statements in part five.

III. Basic information

A. The visual arts

Art is a way of knowing. It is a way of apprehending the world first through
perceiving what exists, and then re-ordering that perception for communicative
purposes. Most of all, art is about seeing: seeing the physical outer world;
seeing the inner, psychological dream world; seeing the artist's vision
externalized into paint or clay or bronze or graphite or ink or any of
the other media and materials that have found their way into artists' hands.
Art has always relied on the technology of the times, from cave paintings
done in earth pigments ground into fat, to modern synthetic pigments suspended
in acrylic medium. In every era, the art that is made is influenced by
and conditional on the available technologies. The revolution in seeing
during the Renaissance relied as much on the recently developed techniques
of oil paint as it did on a changing world view. Conversely, art and artists
affect technology, as the needs of artists to convey a particular vision
lead to inquiries into the properties of materials and media.

B. The computer

The computer is a fact of everyday life. It is used in banks, offices,
manufacturing plants, telephone and television, music, cars and microwave
ovens. Some people see computers as a dehumanizing threat, ready to supplant
humans and human values in every area they enter. Others see computers
as liberators, freeing humans from drudgery and allowing them to be fully
creative "at the touch of a button." The truth is somewhere in between,
as computers take over some tasks, reshape others and make new ones possible
and/or necessary. The computer has been likened to both tool and medium,
depending on how it is used. By itself, it is simply electronic circuitry.
Coupled with appropriate software (programs) and input and output devices,
the computer is a protean system that can mimic the traditional operations
of any number of tasks. It has been likened to a "meta-tool," a tool which
creates tools; a meta- medium, a medium which creates media,

C. The computer and the visual arts

In the hands of an artist, the computer is a tool that can be used in conjunction
with off-the-shelf software and a variety of input and output equipment,
both to mimic traditional methods and to interact efficiently with them
in the areas of, for example, print, textile design, interior design, printmaking,
photo- manipulation, film and video and graphic design. The computer is
also a tool that, with the aid of a programming language, helps to create
an environment of unlimited sets of visual possibilities, making possible
new kinds of art that were not possible before. Computer graphics is quickly
becoming essential to many professional artists. Through software that
allows for electronic page layout, typesetting, image manipulation and
color separation, computer graphics has become an integral component of
graphic design. Drafting and drawing programs, as well as some 3D modeling
and rendering software, are quickly moving from "acceptable" to "required"

in architecture, interior, industrial and packaging design, and other fields
in which it is necessary to bridge the gap between flat plans and elevations
and a fully three- dimensional model. Animation programs help artists to
create sophisticated animated sequences in everything from commercials
to feature films.

The computer is also becoming increasingly important in the fine arts.
Sculptors use the same kind of 3D modeling software finally available to
industrial designers to explore forms and ideas before (or instead of)
building maquettes. Painters, printmakers and photographers move images
back and forth between physical media and the computer to discover and
refine visual imagery difficult or impossible to realize in other ways.
Other artists are exploring the interaction between the unique natures
of the computer and of (he creative process to create new artforms that
depend on the computer for their conception and existence.

D. Computer graphics and higher education

1. Overview of size, scope, nature of institutional involvement.

Approximately l75 to 200 art schools, two- and four-year colleges and universities
offer degrees, certificates, programs and/ or courses in computer graphics
in the visual arts. These courses and programs are offered through art
departments which may specialize in fine arts, graphic design or both;
computer science departments, which may cooperate with art departments;
separate departments of computer graphics, which include both art and computer
science components; other departments with an interest in visual communication
such as communications, journalism, film and video, theater, architecture,
interior design, etc; and interdisciplinary programs in computer graphics,
which combine the resources of a variety of departments.

2. Issues.

There are some fundamental issues within and among these various programs
in regard to computer graphics education in the visual arts. One area,
in which passions tend to run high, is the question of whether artists
should learn to write computer programs or use off-the-shelf hardware.
In general, most interdisciplinary and many fine arts programs tend to
favor the artist-as-programmer approach, while most graphic design-oriented
programs favor the artist-as-user approach.

Another issue is the place that computer graphics has in the overall
art education structure. Some argue that it is necessary to teach the basics
first, with the customary tools and media, leaving computers for more advanced
work. Others believe that as computers are becoming a ubiquitous tool in
the visual arts, computer graphics deserves a place in the general foundations
courses for all art students, along with graphite, charcoal and paint.
They find that computer systems provide a natural vehicle for teaching
students design principles, color theory and for stimulating creative thinking.
Computers provide immediate feedback and can be used in a spontaneous,
fluid manner for exploring the visual dynamics of a composition. Increasingly
students are familiar with how computers work and can use them effectively
in the learning process. More important, however, is the significant potential
of the computer in the evolution and development of new modes of artistic
expression. The computer is a multi-dimensional medium that provides the
artist and designer with different modes of communicating or expressing
concepts or ideas. These modes include visual imagery, text, sound or music
and movement or animation. No other tool or medium provides this diversity
of expression in one device. The computer studio allows the artist and
designer to work in these different dimensions of human experience individually
or simultaneously.

Among those who believe that an introductory, foundation course is essential
to introduce all artists and designers to the potential of computer systems
and to provide the understanding and skills necessary to integrate computers
into the creative process in upper level courses, there is a difference
of opinion as to whether computer graphics should be taught within the
regular foundations course, or required of all students but taught in a
separate course.

A third area of difference lies in the question of whether computer
graphics can or should be a separate major, a specialization within the
art major or simply integrated into courses as appropriate. Another area
involves the physical location of and jurisdiction over facilities: should
each department or specialty have its own computer graphics equipment,
or should computing come under an institutional central administration?
Other questions will assuredly arise within and among institutions.

Philosophical differences should be welcomed in a field where there
is a crossover, due to the potential of developing new hybrid concepts
and techniques. While each institution has to define its own answers to
these and other questions, it is important to keep in view the integrative
nature of computers, and keep alive the possibility that different answers
may emerge at a later date.

a. Basic decisions.

The first decision to be made is whether or not to add computers to
the existing art curriculum. If an institution plans to offer anything
other than a traditional fine arts program, it would be difficult to do
so without computers. This is particularly true at institutions which emphasize
graphic design, industrial design, textile design or other more commercial
areas, in which the computer is increasingly becoming a standard professional

Once the decision is made to computerize, a several year plan should
be developed. This plan should include, as much as possible, the foreseeable
place and extent of computing in the visual arts curriculum, the purposes
to which it will be put and the speed of implementation. It should be based
on clear decisions in regards to the above-mentioned philosophical positions.

When developing such a plan, adjustments to the artistic climate, technological
advances and new developments in academic interests should be expected
and welcomed. The plan should be flexible, in order to take these changes
into account.

b. Resource factors: personnel

Several factors need to be considered in the development of a plan for
adding computer graphics to an art program. These factors include the availability
of financial and personnel resources to implement such a plan. It would
be appropriate for an institution to integrate all faculty in the development
and allow for the literacy and development of all programs of study. In
general, however, one person is primarily responsible to develop and implement
a new program such as computer graphics. Is there someone on the faculty
who is already knowledgeable about computer graphics, and is willing to
take on the major responsibilities of writing and teaching the new curricula,
specifying hardware and software and possibly maintaining a lab? If not,
is someone willing to learn, so as to be able to take on these responsibilities?
Alternatively, is the institution committed to hiring someone whose mission
is specifically to develop the program? Furthermore, is the institution
committed enough to the program to hire adequate support personnel, maintain
and update hardware and software and provide the institutional recognition
for service for the faculty member or members who create and implement
this plan?

c. Resource factors: computers.

Another major factor to consider is the availability of computing resources
both within and outside the department. Many schools have a single computing
facility which serves many departments. Other schools have the resources,
and are willing to use them, to establish specialized computer graphics
laboratory/studios in each department that wants them. Another scenario
provides some particularly expensive or specialized equipment at a central
location, or at the location which most requires its services, with more
general, less expensive equipment more widely dispersed. Still other institutions
may require students to provide their own basic personal computers, with
some graphics capability; more specialized technology would then be provided
by the institution in one of the ways mentioned above. Decisions in these
areas are not just a question of financial resources, but a question of
how the institution at large sees its mission, and the accommodations the
institution is willing to make to the unique design process of artists.

d. Other factors: artistic and pedagogical.

In addition to resources, there are artistic and pedagogical factors
to consider when planning to add computing to the arts curriculum. There
is a long learning curve associated with acquiring more than a rudimentary
computer literacy. Students must often familiarize themselves with tools
and processes before they can concentrate on aesthetic problems. This is
similar to the problems encountered in photography, printmaking or other
fields in which technical mastery and aesthetics combine.

A factor which is unique to computer graphics is the extent to which
the artistic outcome is dependent on factors outside the artist's control.
This is particularly true in the case of output devices, such as film recorders,
plotters and printers. In general, these devices are made for the needs
of industry rather than of art.

Issues of resolution, color fidelity. color longevity and archival process
so far have been insufficiently addressed by the manufacturers of computer
graphics equipment. Institutions need to consider providing a variety of
output devices so that students can be made aware of their strengths and
limitations, and use these capacities to enhance their work.

e. Impact of decisions on programs.

The ways in which these philosophical and logistical questions are answered
will have a large impact on the extent to which the computer will pull
together separate parts of an institution and to what extent it will disperse
them and on the kind and quality of instruction offered. This is true both
within a given department, and between departments. The availability of
computing resources affects the ways that courses in computer graphics,
or which make use of computer graphics, can be taught. Conversely, the
decisions made regarding the place that computer graphics has in the arts
curriculum affects decisions about resources. When computers are easily
available, and when computer graphics is incorporated into the general
arts curriculum, students are more likely to consider incorporating computer
graphics into a variety of projects. Whether this is considered an asset
or a liability lies in the institutional attitudes towards computer graphics
in general, and the place that computer graphics holds within the overall
objectives of the visual art program.

IV. Operational considerations

A. Determining goals and objectives

To use computers in the arts as a tool of inquiry and expression will take
considerable commitment of time, resources and faculty development. The
investment will need to be continuous as hardware and software develop
and new applications appear.

The focus should be on teaching principles as well as techniques on
the computer. The goal of the institution should be established before
any specific plans are made. Does the school want to create literacy and
integration into existing programs of study and go no further, or does
it wish to not only integrate but also to establish a program with a commitment
to research and development of an aesthetic in the area of computers and
related technologies?

Specific software and hardware are not as important as the ideas and
their development. If resources are limited, then one complete workstation
would be a better investment than several limited units.

After goals are established a flexible supportive structure of faculty,
staff, maintenance and resources should be organized and established with
goals in mind. Regular evolution of the program and equipment needs to
be balanced with the most effective methods of teaching this new technology.
Small group teams, workshop setting, interdisciplinary subjects and interactive
demonstrations should all be considered in finding the best balance of
facilities and teaching styles.

B. Students, faculty, facilities, finances

1. Students.

Computer graphics can be used as an integral part of other majors or areas
of art and design, as a content area within other majors or as a major
on its own terms. All art students should have access to basic literacy
on computers just like all students should know how to use a camera or
sketchbook. There will be students who focus on the computer as their primary
medium, but such use of the computer must grow out of the principles of
inquiry and expression in art and design.

All students entering level I courses in computer graphics, or work
in an area of art and design that incorporates level I competencies, would
be expected to have completed a foundation level introduction to computers.
Similarly, students entering courses at level II would be expected to have
mastered the level I material. A major in computer graphics should include
math, programming, aesthetics and art history as well as computer literacy.

There is an integral relationship between the objectives, resources
and content of courses and programs, and the number of students that can
be accommodated in such programs. For example, the size, expertise and
other program commitments of the faculty influence the number, levels,
frequency and sequence of course offerings. The number of workstations,
the hours of availability to art students and the amount of technical support
also influence which students and how many can be admitted to these programs.

Within any program, there is a community of faculty and student artists;
a critical mass of individuals, both students and faculty, who are committed
to the success of the program. This critical mass must be large enough
to continue the program as some members leave and others are added and
as facilities change, but not so large as to overwhelm the available resources.

2. Faculty.

Faculty who teach computer courses for artists need to understand art processes.
It is best if the teachers are themselves artists and designers. Sometimes
collaborative teaching among disciplines is appropriate.

The academic load of a faculty member teaching computer graphics should
take into consideration the time spent maintaining equipment and researching
in a continually developing field. Faculty and staff should be encouraged
to attend conferences in order to take advantage of new information.

Classes need to be limited to an enrollment of l6 to 20 to maintain
the interactive nature of teaching in the arts. Class sizes over 10 should
be provided with teaching assistants to help students with technical problems.

In addition to full-time faculty, consideration should be given to inviting
professional artists and designers in the community who use computer graphics
in their work, to teach individual courses. Since computer graphics is
such a large and complex field, this is especially important in those areas
where the full- time faculty member might be less knowledgeable.

3. Facilities.

The following is a comprehensive environment for providing knowledge and
skill building in a computer-assisted visual arts curriculum. While some
programs may begin at a modest level of exposure to the technology, the
progression of the student toward higher levels of proficiency is dependent
on the environment provided. It is assumed that some environments will
be primarily programming oriented while others will depend on available
software products. It is further assumed that some environments will be
specialized in one or more of the specific content areas of computer graphics,
and will need to adjust these lists accordingly.


  1. Monochrome or low-cost color computer systems
  2. Medium resolution
  3. Paint, draw and type-oriented software
  4. Black-and-white hardcopy output: printer, plotter
  5. Simple color hardcopy output (optional)


  1. High resolution color computer systems

  2. Page layout software
  3. 3D modeling software
  4. Animation software
  5. Image capture and processing capability
  6. Color hardcopy output: videotape, film recorder, printer
  7. Video editing facilities


  1. Hypermedia, authoring or scripting programs
  2. Video disk capability

  3. All inclusive lab facilities to support a program for 2D, 3D, animation
    and interactive processes

4. Financial realities and considerations.

Computing, especially computer graphics, is expensive. In addition to the
high costs of establishing facilities, it is necessary to provide an ongoing
budget for maintenance and upgrades. This includes providing a budget for
technical staff for on-site repairs and installations; maintenance contracts
with reputable suppliers in case of major hardware failures; expendable
media and supplies such as disks, printer toner cartridges and inks, plotter
pens, special papers, blank videotapes, film and processing for film recorders;
software and hardware upgrades as new technologies become available.

Many schools fund labs through special technology fees. Others believe
that computing time and facilities should be part of the institution's
normal support facilities, as free to students and faculty as the library.
Most expect the students to supply their own expendable supplies.

C. Library

At the most basic level there should be books and magazines in the collection
that cover computer graphics in art, design, animation and architecture.
The collection can be further developed by selected videotapes from the
SIGGRAPH Video Review. These cover many applications of computer graphics
and animation and have a great deal of the history of the subject. Titles
for computer graphic reference materials are sometimes located in sections
on science and education.

Faculty, staff and students need to be aware of reference material,
videotapes and conferences to keep up with developments in the field. A
member of the library staff should be in charge specifically of acquisitions
in the field of computer graphics, and should be able to direct students
and faculty to relevant research areas. It is important to maintain good
contact between the library and faculty members, each of whom may have
access to different information sources.

D. Program evaluation and planning

It is important to evaluate, on a regular basis, the existing functionality
of the existing program concerning the effectiveness of the classroom,
the effectiveness of the resource center and the effectiveness of the teaching
aids (textbooks, manuals, slides, videotapes, etc.).

Planning needs to be updated and revised each year as software is rapidly
expanding and improving. Long-range planning can focus on location of labs,
equipment upgrades, technical support and the establishment of budgets.

Self-evaluation and review based on consultants and visiting computer
artists will be helpful in planning the size, scope and nature of the direction
of the program.

E. Administration and administrative support

The administration needs to be regularly informed of developments, achievements
and needs in the area of research and teaching of computer graphics.

An internal administrator or coordinator needs to be supported to keep
the program current, to attend one national conference a year and to help
educate and assist faculty wanting to know more about the use of the computer.

V. Academic programs

A. Computer graphics applications

l. 2D applications

  • Cartooning
  • Drawing
  • Graphic design/visual communication design

  • Handcrafts; embroidery, cross stitch, beadwork, quilts
  • Illustration
  • Image processing
  • Painting
  • Photography
  • Printmaking
  • Textile design
  • Weaving

2. 3D applications

  • 3D design
  • Apparel/fashion design
  • Architectural design
  • Ceramics
  • Environmental design
  • Holography
  • Interior design
  • Neon sculpture
  • Product design
  • Sculpture
  • Scientific visualization

3. Animation

  • Dance
  • Entertainment
  • Film
  • Light sculpture
  • Multi-media
  • Performance
  • Rea1time animation
  • Sound design

  • Theater
  • TV graphics
  • Video
  • Video/dance

4. Interactivity

  • Hypermedia
  • Interactive installations
  • Interactive environments
  • Kinetic sculpture
  • Virtual environments

5. Interdisciplinary works

B. Computer graphics applications and curricula

1. Acquiring computer graphic skills.

The computer provides a unique studio environment that allows the artist
and designer to work creatively with imagery, text, sound, music composition,
movement or animation and the concept of interactivity. The computer is
the hub of a wheel in which artists and designers express concepts and
ideas in various dimensions of human experience such as sound or image,
or in a multi- dimensional manner involving sound, image and animation.
The computer can provide the vehicle for integrating different modes of
expression. In addition computers provide the unique opportunity for creating
interactive projects that allow the artist or designer to create systems
that stimulate participation from the viewer. The computer is a multi-dimensional
media. It is essential to educate students to think creatively in a variety
of media. Artists and designers can create in an interdisciplinary mode
using computers.

There have been many software and hardware developments that support
these applications (see section V. a). At this time, there is tremendous
diversity among the equipment that various educational programs have selected
in order to support their curriculum, reflecting the variety that exists
in the marketplace. For this reason, it is crucial that the equipment selected
to support a computer related course be based on the theoretical content
of that course so that the information remains transferable from machine
to machine. It is often useful for a student to experience many different
types of machines and software applications. Thus the student will be able
to apply this theoretical and practical information in a way that both
supports a broader understanding of the field and prepares herself/himself
for the jobs that will come later.

As with the development of any creative work in the classroom, the problem
solving process will vary from student to student and project to project.
Within the arts, some students may prefer to develop sketches on paper,
others may prefer to do preliminary work on the computer. Some students
may spend most of their time exploring options on the computer and accomplish
their finished work in the time remaining. Others may spend little time
exploring and a lot of time refining their work. Also if the working environment
includes curriculum and/or expertise in areas outside of traditional art
curricula, then other factors should be considered such as working styles
appropriate to accomplish those projects. For example working needs will
vary within an environment where some students are performing extensive
programming projects along with students who are utilizing paint packages.
Exploration for any tool, and especially one as complex as a computer,
deserves adequate working time and appropriate working conditions.

It is useful to plan for these different modes of working in order to
accommodate as many working styles as possible and encourage the highest
quality products. This will affect the access students have to the lab,
the amount of time allotted per session, and the ergonomics of the working
environment such as privacy and the size and comfort of the workspace.

2. Nature of basic competence with common body of knowledge and skills
necessary for traveling into specialities and sub-specialities.

The foundations course establishes an interdisciplinary mode of thinking
and creating using computers. Whether the program chooses to have a separate
foundation level computer graphics program or integrate computer applications
and techniques into many existing foundation courses, basic aesthetic and
technical skills are important to master so that students can approach
the application areas awaiting them. The following sections describe more
specific recommendations for foundation level competencies as well as a
first and second level of sequential curriculum recommendations in specific
curriculum areas utilizing computer graphics. Some experience with applications
in two-dimensions, three-dimensions, animation, interaction and an introduction
to the potential of interdisciplinary work in computer graphics will prepare
them for the many job options available currently or emerging in the near
future. Job possibilities are developing within the arts as well as with
interdisciplinary teams. In many cases, projects involving groups of students,
investigating an interdisciplinary problem will prepare students for jobs
and research projects in the field of computer graphics.

Interdisciplinary issues and challenges are at least partially determined
by the disciplines defined within the educational institution. As institutional
structures differ among professional art schools, two-year colleges, four-year
colleges and universities, the word "interdisciplinary" will refer to different
issues and problems. Interdisciplinary issues by nature are a result of
collaboration between disciplines. Because computer use has fostered new
disciplinary relationships between and within many areas, possibilities
are available for students and professionals to develop skills and knowledge
that cut across disciplinary boundaries and to communicate and collaborate
with others of differing but complementary expertise. This has affected
the role of the artist. Computers are inviting artists into the mainstream
of society and many schools have re-evaluated their current curriculum
in order to accommodate and encourage these inter- disciplinary, cross-disciplinary
and collaborative arrangements.

C. Justifications and teaching strategies

1. The importance of the use of computers in art and design

  • The computer provides a tool for conceiving two- and three- dimensional
    objects, for representing them and (to some extent) for realizing them
  • The computer allows a unique platform for experimenting with form and surface
  • The computer encourages and enhances our ability to think in three-dimensions,
    it provides an open ended tool for investigation of 3D form in which changes
    can be made easily, without the expense of materials or fabrication costs

  • The computer is able to return information from a 3D design which will
    help in the fabrication process, such as size, amount of material, stress
    and structural characteristics
  • The computer is able to manipulate virtual objects as though they were
    real; it can represent objects which could not exist in the real world,
    and it can simulate environments in which to place these objects; it allows
    the creation of impossible forms, where real world constraints, such as
    gravity, scale and engineering criteria, do not apply
  • The computer provides a learning tool for the concrete expression of abstract
  • Several commercial applications of computers in 2D and 3D design are emerging,
    such as product and package design, architectural and interior design and

2. Drawbacks to using the computer in art and design

  • The equipment and software is expensive
  • The learning curve is long
  • Output devices are limited and/or expensive
  • The computer has to represent three dimensions in two dimensions using
    movement or multiple views to enhance comprehension
  • The representation of the object lacks tactile qualities, and is ambiguous
    in scale

3. Suggested strategies for teaching

  • Start with simple concepts, isolate ideas
  • Always start with creative problems, and initially hide technical issues
    which may be a barrier to creativity
  • Provide tools which allow for open ended exploration, and which encourage
    investigation of ideas
  • Introduce technique as an adjunct to the creative potential of the machine
    or software
  • Emphasize the potential of the machine, use the limitations of the machine
    as a generative contribution to ideas
  • Provide a historical context for ideas (not necessarily confined to examples
    of art and design which use computers)
  • Encourage the use of traditional materials and processes, and integrate
    them with the use of the computer
  • Encourage the interplay between ideas explored on the computer and those
    explored in the studio or workshop
  • Hold ongoing critiques of work emphasizing the aesthetic value of the work,
    its content and the extent to which the computer is providing a special

D. Definitions

The following recommendations focus on content and functions, not teaching
methodologies, specific courses or curricular plans. They are organized
on principles with long-term applications, recognizing that new ideas and
capabilities will influence specific implementations of these principles.

The following terms are to be understood as follows:

  • Application, application area: an area of content in which computer graphics
    is used. Not a specific type of software, but a field of artistic endeavor
  • 2D, two dimensional: those computer graphic tools, processes, techniques
    and products which utilize a two-dimensional virtual universe within the
    computer system
  • 3D, three dimensional: those computer graphic tools, processes techniques
    and products which utilize a three-dimensional virtual universe within
    the computer system
  • 4D, four dimensional: those computer graphic tools, processes, techniques
    and products which incorporate time as an aesthetic element
  • Interactive: the use of text, graphics, sound, music, animation and video
    in the presentation of ideas or information, where the user or viewer of
    the information is, to some extent, in control or plays a role in the sequence
    of the presentation of the information, ideas or concepts
  • Foundations, foundation studies: beginning levels of study; general skills
    and information which are preliminary to focusing in an area of interest
    or specialization
  • Level I: intermediate skills and abilities within a focused area of interest
    or specialization
  • Level II: advanced skills and abilities within a focused area of interest
    or specialization
  • Skill, ability: demonstrated proficiency in using a computer graphic tool,
    process or technique in solving a visual or conceptual problem
  • Understanding: theoretical knowledge about a tool, process or procedure,
    with no assumption of corresponding skills in using the tool or carrying
    out the process or procedure
  • Orientation: exposure to an idea, tool, process or procedure, with no assumption
    of deep understanding Individual institutions will want to tailor (heir
    programs and course offerings in accordance with the overall goals of the
    visual arts curriculum, the needs of their student populations and the
    availability of resources.

E. Common body of knowledge and skills

l. Introduction.

We have chosen to propose a set of foundation skills, whether they are
presented as part of the general arts foundation or separately. When computer
graphics foundations are taught separately from the general arts foundation,
specialized application areas can be isolated.

After completion of the foundation program, it is assumed that the student
is actively engaged in the pursuit of a major in the arts. Curricular recommendations
for level one and level two of computer graphics study cover different
areas of specialization, with an emphasis on dimensional differentiation.
Recommendations include 2-D, 3-D, animation and interactivity. Special
emphasis was placed on the following application areas, acknowledging that
this is not an exhaustive list: 1) graphic design, 2) photography, 3) animation
(film and video), 4) sculpture, 3- D modeling and design, 5) interactive
and interdisciplinary art.

2. Foundations.

The foundations recommendations are intended to be part of the general
foundation year curriculum for all art students, not only those whose intended
specialty is or will be computer graphics. They are understood to be a
central, minimal core of information regarding computers and computer graphics
in the visual arts.

  1. Basic understanding of computer vocabularies, terminologies and concepts
    including an overview of types of hardware and software, programming, storage,
    networking and the nature of technological development of computers and
    computer graphics.
  2. Basic skills in use of computer graphic tools, related technologies and
    interactive processes.
  3. Orientation to achievements and prospects in computer production of work
    in 2D, 3D, animation, sound and interactive environments.
  4. Orientation to theories and conceptual organizations concerned with light
    and color, input and output devices and interactive devices.
  5. Ability to solve simple visual problems using the computer and peripheral

3. Level I and level II competencies.

The level I and II competency recommendations are the result of working
groups whose focus was in the following areas:

a. Photography, animation, film and video

b. Graphic design

c. Sculpture, 3D modeling and design, interactive and interdisciplinary

a. Photography, animation, film and video.

The following competencies at level I and level II come from the working
group which considered computer graphics from the point of view of photography,
film and video and animation. Some of these competencies will be more applicable
to one or another of these fields. Individual programs will need to adjust
the competencies according to their specific needs.

Level I

After completion of the foundations course, it is assumed that the student
is actively engaged in pursuit of a major in the arts. The next level of
study in computer processes would address the following issues. Level I
competencies are understood to be skills and concepts which could be integrated
into a film and video, photography or animation program which concentrated
on computer graphics animation. This is understood as a minimum, a core
body of knowledge which could reasonably be assimilated by intermediate
students, following and building upon the skills and concepts of the foundation

  1. Understanding of the nature of the computer medium in relationship to other
  2. Understanding of the history and criticism of computer assisted art works.
  3. Understanding of and basic skills in using high level programming languages
    (such as C, Hypertalk, etc.)
  4. Ability to use still 2D image processing and creation techniques on the
    computer, such as digital collage, paint and image capture.
  5. Understanding of 3D coordinate systems and ability to build 3D models in

  6. Ability to develop critical ideas for the surface treatment, lighting and
    motion of 3D models.
  7. Ability to develop animated sequences and understand the function of dynamic
    imagery to solve common visual communications problems.
  8. Ability to continue the perceptual and conceptual exploration of' personal
    image development.

Level II

Level II competencies would extend and develop those skills and understandings
acquired in level I as follows.

  1. Ability to integrate computer and traditional art processes
  2. Further conceptual development on personal themes
  3. Ability to develop a cohesive body of work

b. Graphic design.

The following guidelines for competencies at level I and level 11 were
submitted by the working group which considered computer graphics from
the point of view of, primarily, graphic design. Many of these competencies
will be applicable in a variety of fields which work primarily with two-dimensional
media including, for example, printmaking and textile design. Individual
programs will need to adjust the competencies according to their specific

Level I

Level I competencies are understood to be skills and concepts which could
be integrated into the traditional graphic design curriculum. This is understood
as a minimum, a core body of knowledge which could reasonably be assimilated
by students within the first year of a graphic design course of study,
following and building upon the skills and concepts of the foundation level.

  1. Ability to relate basic graphic design vocabulary and processes to the
  2. Understanding of the basic theories of resolution, including input relationships,
    bit-mapped and structured (object-oriented) drawings and output relationships.
  3. Understanding of the nature of the computer medium in relationship to other
    media, sufficient to explore how the choice of medium influences design
    decisions, and to judge what medium is appropriate for specific tasks.
  4. Ability to input images, including such skills as scanning, digitizing,
    frame-grabbing and drawing.
  5. Basic skills in image processing including cropping, transformations (translation,
    rotation and scaling), color manipulation and color enhancement.
  6. Ability to output basic work including an understanding of conditions inherent
    in designing in a medium different from the final product (e.g., designing
    on a screen what will be realized on paper), distinctions between desktop
    and professional equipment capabilities and concepts and methods of color
  7. Ability to solve fundamental graphic design problems on the computer in
    areas such as page layout, grid development, electronic type; referencing
    and integrating the above knowledge and skills as appropriate, including
    the choice of appropriate tools for specific tasks.

Level II

Level II further develops basic concepts and skills from earlier levels.
At this level the student would gain knowledge from a variety of courses,
any or all of which might include a computer component. The graphic design
student should acquire the following computer graphics competencies in
conjunction with traditional hand skills and a developing aesthetic sense.

  1. Extend a theoretical understanding of graphic design vocabulary and processes
    with basic computer capabilities in 2D and 3D from earlier levels. An understanding
    of 3D coordinate systems and world models.
  2. Basic skills in 3D computer representation.
  3. Ability to use the comprehensive range of computer tools, techniques, processes
    and theories to develop advanced-level projects from concept to finished
    work in one or more design areas, such as typography, advertising, corporate
    image, signage, package design, publication design, illustration, textile
    design, etc.
  4. Acquire theoretical understanding of animation and hypermedia.
  5. Refinement of 2D printbased skills integrating digital processes.

c. Sculpture, three-dimensional modeling and design, interactive and
interdisciplinary works.

The following competencies at level I and level II come from the working
group which considered computer graphics from the point of view of sculpture,
three-dimensional modeling and design, interactive and interdisciplinary
works. Within this group, suggestions were made in two subsections. The
first subsection will cover sculpture, three-dimensional modeling and design.
The computer enables the artist to simulate real objects and environments
as well as represent objects and environments which are not intended to
exist in the real world. It allows the creation of imaginary forms, where
real world constraints such as gravity, scale and engineering criteria
do not apply.

The second subsection will cover interactive and interdisciplinary works.
Interactive projects provide the opportunity for the viewer to participate
in the process of accessing and ordering information and ideas. The participant
has the opportunity to explore a body of information, a narrative or a
sequence of images, text and sounds by choosing a path through the information,
or by making decisions about what directions or alternatives to choose.
Thus the viewers or participants create a unique experience that includes
their own ideas. Examples of these projects include HyperCard projects,
public information systems, games, interactive installations, kinetic sculpture
and interactive environments. Some of these competencies will be more applicable
to one or another of these fields. Individual programs will need to adjust
the competencies according to their specific needs.

Three-dimensional modeling and design, sculpture.

Level I

After completion of the foundations course, it is assumed that the student
is actively engaged in pursuit of a major in the arts. The next level of
study in computer processes would address the following issues. Competencies
are understood to be skills and concepts which could be integrated into
a sculpture or three- dimensional modeling and design program which concentrated
on computer graphics. Interactive and interdisciplinary works may be applied
within the context of other existing programs or offered as a separate
option. These suggested guidelines are understood as a minimum core body
of knowledge which could reasonably be assimilated by students within the
first level of study, following and building upon the skills and concepts
of the foundation level.

  1. An overview of the history of sculptural ideas and artforms.
  2. Understanding of the basic theories of resolution, including input relationships,
    bit-mapped and structured (object-oriented) drawings and output relationships.
  3. Ability to relate 2-D and 3-D basic design vocabulary and processes to
    the computer.
  4. Ability to input images, including such skills as scanning, digitizing,
    frame-grabbing, drawing and 3-D digitizing.

  5. Acquisition of basic skills in image processing including cropping, transformations
    (translation, rotation and scaling), color manipulation and color enhancement.
  6. Introduction to the development of artistic perspective underlying the
    creation of three dimensional artwork.
  7. Use of principles of good design balance, harmony, rhythm and proportion
    in development of 3-D objects, spaces.
  8. An exploration of the interrelationships of 2-D and 3-D including the integration
    of surface properties with form manipulation.
  9. The overview of basic mathematical concepts such as 2-D and 3-D coordinate
    systems, trigonometry, splines and voxels.
  10. Additive and subtractive methods of constructing forms.
  11. Ability to visualize, conceptualize in 3-D, 3-D space, 3- D environments
    including the use of motion or stereoscopy to enhance the impression of
  12. Basic concepts of constructing 3-D objects, spaces, environments.
  13. Basic concepts of transforming 3-D objects, spaces into new shapes and
    forms including rotation, scale, translation and shear.
  14. Use of principles of creative thinking to create unique shapes and forms.
  15. Ability to communicate ideas, with an emphasis on developing artwork through
    this medium. Use of 3D simulation and visualization as a vehicle for artistic
    expression - for exploring and developing sculptural ideas to be implemented
    in various sculptural materials.
  16. Understanding of three dimensional color theory and applications.
  17. Understanding of the nature of the computer medium in relationship to other
    media, sufficient to explore how choice of medium influences design decisions,
    and to judge what medium is appropriate for specific tasks.

  18. Understanding of fundamental computer programming concepts including algorithms
    for generating 3-D forms including transformations, rotations, viewing
    criteria, clipping, boolean operations, extrusions, hierarchical structures,
    viewpoints, perspective and other mappings.
  19. Aesthetic issues related to the perception of 3-D including composition,
    color, scale, content and visual communications.
  20. Study of environmental attributes including surface study, texture, color,
    lighting models, photo-realism and raytracing.

Level II

  1. Develop an awareness of the potential for expanding the process of artistic
    expression into new 3-D areas such as virtual environments, interactive
    installations and environments and the use of telecommunications as an
    artistic media.
  2. Use of advanced principles of creative thinking to create unique shapes
    and forms.
  3. Ability to communicate ideas, with an emphasis on developing artwork through
    this medium. Use of 3D simulation and visualization as a vehicle for artistic
  4. The ability to design for exploring and developing sculptural ideas to
    be implemented in various sculptural materials. The computer may provide
    quantitative information to aid in the fabrication of objects.

  5. The understanding that objects may represent real objects or virtual objects.
  6. Advanced algorithms for generating 3-D forms including fractals and particle
  7. An introduction to machines for fabricating 3-D objects that may be computer
  8. An understanding that if the object is a virtual object in a simulated
    environment, then the computer itself is the vehicle for the realization
    of the idea.

Interactive-interdisciplinary works.

Level I

  1. Understanding of the concept of interactivity in computer graphics. This
    would include the use of text, graphics, sound animation and video in the
    presentation of ideas or information, where the user or viewer of the information
    is, to some extent, in control.
  2. Understanding of the open-ended use of computers in interactive fine arts
    installations and environments.
  3. Ability to conceptualize the functioning of a 3-D environment, sculpture
    or installation.

  4. Ability to create a vehicle for unique and challenging interaction between
    the environment, sculpture or installation and the viewer or participant.
  5. Acquisition of appropriate programming skills in order to structure and
    define the interactive flow needed to design an interactive environment.
  6. Ability to use elements and principles of good design in the development
    of interactive works especially the physical aspects of the work.
  7. Ability to consider the relationship between the artwork and the participant
    including the creative use of time as a compositional element.
  8. Ability to explore and experiment with new media in order to develop new
    forms of art.
  9. Ability to study the relationship between the form and process of the interactive
    project, and the content of the artwork or design project. Ability to investigate
    the continuity between the interactive process and the content of the work
    or project.
  10. Consideration of human factors in interface design.

Level II

l. Ability to explore and experiment with new media in order to develop
new forms of art.

VI. Futures issues

A. Developing computer graphics in the context of programs in visual arts
majors at the undergraduate and graduate levels

1. Current applications.

While it is true that the computer is changing and integrating traditional
disciplines by interconnecting them, art education is still organized according
to them. The computer is impacting traditional art fields. It is transforming
graphic design and creating many new career opportunities for adequately
trained designers. Presentation graphics is another field in which it is
having a similar impact. The computer is essential in film/video and is
becoming so in photography. Applications in apparel design, textile design,
package and product design, interior and architectural design utilize computers
in the conceptual development and design process. The authors felt that
it was time to attempt to pull together experts from every post-secondary
level and many computer applications in the arts in order to assess current
curriculum content and issues.

The development of programs with curriculum incorporating these competency
level recommendations for art and design is a very complex process. New
computer applications for the arts are emerging continuously. Institutional
needs, goals and expectations vary from one educational climate to another.
Graduate programs are beginning to identify and address interdisciplinary,
cross disciplinary and complex technological development for visual communication
and self expression. Applications utilizing telecommunications as a form
of visual expression are emerging on the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Teaching and learning should be reexamined to ensure that advanced computing
and telecommunications equipment is used to increase the learning capacity
of students and faculty contact with students.

2. Projected applications.

Faculty and student expertise levels are gaining ground and subsequently
expectations for competencies at educational levels will change and, most
probably, render our "standards" obsolete within the next few years. More
sophisticated recommendations will follow. Incorporating emerging technologies
will continue to be an evolutionary process. Many industries, such as the
ones mentioned above, will continue to upgrade equipment to adjust to technical
developments in the field. New applications will emerge. Three-dimensional
design applications will become increasingly viable as a result of new
developments in three- dimensional input and output devices.

3. Experimental applications.

As telecommunications have become more sophisticated, society has become
increasingly networked. Capabilities for shared expertise without physical
proximity will enable students to develop projects with other "network
pals." Text and graphic files will be transferred over phone lines and
editing works may become very interactive. Projects involving cross disciplinary
and collaborative expertise may be accomplished via this network and output
devices networked and available at many locations may enhance the conceptual
and physical understanding of the solution to complex challenges. Potential
for the development of interactive virtual realities will offer powerful
expressive tools as well as environments for editing designs in three-dimensions
without the limitations of physical attributes. When iterative transitions
between virtual reality to physical reality become available to students
then information gathered from both sources will profoundly effect the
design process and product in three-dimensional work.

B. Art history and criticism in computer graphics

As new forms of visual communication develop and emerge, new methods for
display and dissemination become critical. Art museums and galleries have
been offered new and complex challenges in order to accommodate unusual
requirements for the display of these works. The interactive nature of
many of these new works makes classification, definition and therefore,
criticism, difficult. The principle methods of examining and interpreting
works of art as developed by art historians since the nineteenth century
need to be reexamined. New ways of looking at art through the use of such
computer tools as: expert systems, computer analysis of pigments and other
materials and electronic search and retrieval of archived documents will
be useful in an attempt to analyze the old and the new and the emerging.

C. Research and other advanced programs

Advanced programs are pursuing research in some of these applications:
artificial intelligence including expert systems; user interface design;
customized software tools; and investigations into hypermedia and authoring
tools. This research may be located in diverse areas within any given institution,
as it relies on expertise in many fields of knowledge. Significant resources,
both personnel and equipment, are optimum for pursuing such advanced research.

General curriculum areas might include:

Historical context: the historical basis for understanding the relationship
of science and technology to the visual arts.

Critical context: the analysis of critical discourses, including structuralist
and postmodernist thought, which formulate our understanding of the act
of visual representation. Of particular concern is how technology affects
these methods of visualization and influences the cultural and societal
expectations of visual representation.

Philosophical context: the moral and ethical problems associated with
electronic and digital media in the visual arts, its cultural impact as
visual media and the public opinion and policy which in turn influences
these media.

Applied/practical context: intensive studio experiences in the use of
electronic and digital processes as design tools for the graphic designer,
the visual communicator, the photographer, the videographer, the computer
artist or any other creative artist desiring the use of these technologies
for artforms.

Computer Graphics, Volume 24, Number 3, June 1990. pp. 78-86.