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Building connections between art and science

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink   |   Spotlight

For just a few dollars, you too can build your own personal artbot.

Basically a robot, an artbot takes it one step further by blending art and technology into a lesson in creativity. Plus, it can draw by itself or give life to your favorite sculpture. Teachers giving the lesson to their students are only limited to their imagination and the materials in the classroom.

Art Bot, scrub brush

"What I want to do is expand the cannon—instead of making a Lego sculpture, how can we add a motor and a light? We're adding another layer of complexity," said Jeremy Blair, a visiting assistant professor of art education at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia. Blair, who taught art in schools around Savannah before coming to UGA earlier this year, challenges his students to push beyond the boundaries of a typical art class. "We're taking art skills and adding technology so we can develop our art in another direction."

On a recent afternoon, Blair challenged his art education students to create artbots as part of a collaboration with local Athens nonprofit The Hatch, which promotes creativity and technology. His students are part of the art education program, which is coordinated through the College of Education for teacher training and certification. Like music education and agricultural education, the disciplines rely on cooperation between multiple colleges at the University of Georgia to train specialized teachers. All of Blair's students are on track to become certified teachers in Georgia.

The challenge to make artbots was one more way Blair pushed his students to go beyond the traditional teaching mold. For this project, for example, Blair tries to pull from materials readily available to a typical teacher—Legos, a 9-volt battery, Play-doh and a cooling fan from an old computer.

The result? One student created a rotating Lego head by replacing the fan's blades with blocks. Another took a sculpture by a favorite artist, Andy Goldsworthy, and made it rotate using the same kind of computer fan. Another hooked a battery up to a buzzer, playing with the juxtaposition of its ear-splitting noise with a photo of a movie star. ("How can something so beautiful be so annoying?" read the caption.)

"We need to utilize what we have," said Blair. His work in schools and in teacher training encourages using regular classroom materials to incorporate art and science into lessons. He makes a green screen out of green craft paper rather than spending hundreds of dollars for a real one. He uses Play-Doh, with its high salt content, to conduct a current as a replacement for wires. When he teaches animation, he uses the programs already installed on school computers rather than having teachers invest time or resources to download something new.

Art Bot supplies

And that's the lesson he had for teachers as he worked with Erica Parson, founder of The Hatch, as they prepared for a day of local students to come try their hands at artbots. Set up in the conference room at the Georgia Museum of Art, Blair and Parson had stations on paper-covered tables where kids could play with the Hatch-made artbots: dish scrubbers filled with paint, with vibrating Wii game controller electronics hot glued to their sides. Parson said the vibrating mechanisms were purchased for a few dollars at a video game store, and she used 3.7-volt batteries attached to Radio Shack connections to power the motor.

Constructing the dish scrubber artbots was an experiment in mechanics. Too many bristles and the artbot wouldn't move; too few, and it might flip over. The paint was an experiment too, since it needed to be watered down to drip through the hole usually made for dish soap.

"You can teach so many things with this," said Parson. "It teaches critical thinking — you can't just put the thing on a scrubber, you have to know your water-to-paint ratio, and you also need to remove bristles from the robot, so it enables you to have control over the randomness.

"So students are able to go through the basic creative process, and there's a scientific element too."

The collaboration that created the artbots will continue into the school year, as art education students prepare to work in Athens-area classrooms as part of their studies. This is a new facet of the art education program, and one that involves collaboration with the University of Georgia College of Education. The Hatch printed instructions on how to make the dish-scrubber artbots, which Blair will give to his students to share with classes and teachers.

In fact, Blair added, the entire artbots lesson can translate to any classroom, since it not only involves creativity but also critical thinking and problem solving. And movement, building and circuitry.

"Don't think that you need to be an art teacher to do this," he said. Rather, any teacher can incorporate these ideas into a lesson. "It's open-mindedness. All I want is to show that you don't have to be locked into this one mindset. If you're experienced in the arts, you can take things apart. The artist mindset works well with technology."

<img src="/assets/for-imgix/news/Artbot3.jpg" alt="Art Bot supplies"">

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