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I am an undergraduate student in computer science in an area of the USA that doesn't have much going for it (Nebraska), and I spend most of my time working on projects using Processing, Arduino, openFrameworks and more for fun. I even secured a grant last year to bring technologies like these into my university, and am actually going to be teaching a course this semester on interactive and generative art.

But in May, I graduate, and I really want to keep going, applying myself in the field of interaction design, as close to the edge as possible. But it SEEMS like all of the 'fun' interaction design work going on in the world right now is happening in design schools, and whenever I ask advisors from these schools about attending, they all tell me that with a degree in computer science, I'm screwed. Everyone I've talked to insists that I must have extensive art history knowledge and an art portfolio to rival any of their own undergraduate art students.

In effect, it feels as though theres a monstrous wave of creative development going on right now (3D printers, interactive installations, experimental music, and so much more), but I'm not "allowed" to participate!

I hate the idea of being a "weekend warrior" where I only toy with tech on nights and weekends between a crappy full-time cubicle job, so does anyone have any advice for me? Do you know of any graduate schools that are 1) doing creative, interesting work and 2) will take a wide variety of students into their program? Does anyone want to give a hyper-ambitious Midwest hacker a chance in their interactive design firm? Any discussion will be appreciated!
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Surely there are schools doing the "interaction design" thing from the technical side in addition to the "art" side.  MIT Media lab springs to mind; they can't be the only one.  What does the school you're currently at have?  If they're having you teach a class in "interactive and generative art", they seem to be pretty impressed with you - perhaps you can stay there and come up with one of those "custom" MS degrees in "art technology."
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There must be, but I have not found any that would take me. My university created their own "computer science" program that cuts out a lot of math required by grad schools (how an 18 year old is supposed to know that, I don't know), so CS programs haven't been too interested in me either. Schools like MIT, NYU and Carnegie Mellon are doing tons of great stuff, but I have no chance of getting in (relatively low GPA, deficient in math courses, no publications to my name). At least thats why my advisors have told me.

The school I'm at currently has nothing. And I literally mean nothing. No one at my school knows what Arduino is, or Processing, or even know about the wave of creative technologies going on right now. I work closely with the chairs of CS and physics at my university, and am also undertaking an independent study with a professor from the graphic design program explore the technologies from that perspective. But more often than not I find myself having to educate everyone around me about what I'm using, and I am left with not a lot of time to actually DO these crazy kinds of projects.

I want to go to a bigger school like MIT so that I can be surrounded by like minded people and immersed in a creative atmosphere where I can be pushed to learn things far beyond what I am able to on my own. But in my experience, the schools I want to get into look past my actual work and experience in the subject matter and grill me on my GPA and the 'quality' of my degree from an academic perspective.

Do I really stand any sort of a chance getting into a bigger school like MIT based mostly on my enthusiasm/amibition and non-traditional work? I have the sense that I'm 'competing' with hordes of wealthy, extremely intelligent students who have been given many more opportunities than I have to get into such a school smiley-sad
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I am an undergraduate student in computer science in an area of the USA that doesn't have much going for it (Nebraska)

I think you may be selling your state short; I could say the same thing about Arizona, if I knew it wasn't false.

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and I spend most of my time working on projects using Processing, Arduino, openFrameworks and more for fun. I even secured a grant last year to bring technologies like these into my university, and am actually going to be teaching a course this semester on interactive and generative art.

Good for you - use this time well, because when you get out into the real world, paying bills, having a relationship and a mortgage, there won't be many opportunities to explore in the same manner.

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But in May, I graduate, and I really want to keep going, applying myself in the field of interaction design, as close to the edge as possible. But it SEEMS like all of the 'fun' interaction design work going on in the world right now is happening in design schools, and whenever I ask advisors from these schools about attending, they all tell me that with a degree in computer science, I'm screwed. Everyone I've talked to insists that I must have extensive art history knowledge and an art portfolio to rival any of their own undergraduate art students.

Personally, I would quietly say to myself (or loudly to them - whatever you feel as an artist) "screw you". Then I would plan a trip to this year's Burning Man, and meet up with people doing real interactive art.

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In effect, it feels as though theres a monstrous wave of creative development going on right now (3D printers, interactive installations, experimental music, and so much more), but I'm not "allowed" to participate!

Define your own limits - don't let other define them for you.

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I hate the idea of being a "weekend warrior" where I only toy with tech on nights and weekends between a crappy full-time cubicle job, so does anyone have any advice for me?

Hey - that sounds like me; except I love my job, and I don't work in a cubicle currently. My advice, though, is to realize that sooner or later, schooling will stop (though your education can and should continue!), and you just may end up in a "crappy full-time cubicle job". From what I have seen, its either that, or living as a "starving artist in a rented bohemian flat with a lot of roommates" (and/or still working a "crappy cubicle job" to pay rent). Ultimately, its a choice you'll have to make (and by all means, there are other options - so while you have the time, look into all of them, because sooner or later you'll have to pick one).

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Do you know of any graduate schools that are 1) doing creative, interesting work and 2) will take a wide variety of students into their program? Does anyone want to give a hyper-ambitious Midwest hacker a chance in their interactive design firm? Any discussion will be appreciated!

No idea here - its completely outside my frame of reference; I do know, though, that some of most interesting and technically challenging artwork I have -ever- seen (whether in technology, scale, or both), was at Burning Man. If you really want to be on the "cutting edge" (or the flaming edge, as the case may be!), you want to find the people involved; whether there are many in Nebraska I don't know - but I am sure there are at least a few Burners there.

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There must be, but I have not found any that would take me. My university created their own "computer science" program that cuts out a lot of math required by grad schools (how an 18 year old is supposed to know that, I don't know), so CS programs haven't been too interested in me either.

I never went to a university, but to me a CS program without advanced math seems more like a "how to operate a computer" type coursework. Let me guess - plenty of "how to program in Java and/or .NET" type courses are available, but not much on lambda calculus?

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Schools like MIT, NYU and Carnegie Mellon are doing tons of great stuff, but I have no chance of getting in (relatively low GPA, deficient in math courses, no publications to my name). At least thats why my advisors have told me.

It sounds like you aren't sure exactly "what you want to be when you grow up"; which is OK - I certainly didn't envision myself being where I am at today when I was young, but it is what it is.

You seem to see yourself working/creating/doing these "creative technologies", as you put it. With what you have noted, though, getting into the grad programs at other Unis doesn't sound possible. Have you thought about continuing to be an undergrad at one of those Unis (are your grades good enough for that?), and then applying yourself hard-core to the areas in which you lack knowledge (and writing the papers, publications, etc)? That might be one route, and you sound like you are young enough that you have plenty of time to do so (though money might be a concern)...

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The school I'm at currently has nothing. And I literally mean nothing. No one at my school knows what Arduino is, or Processing, or even know about the wave of creative technologies going on right now. I work closely with the chairs of CS and physics at my university, and am also undertaking an independent study with a professor from the graphic design program explore the technologies from that perspective. But more often than not I find myself having to educate everyone around me about what I'm using, and I am left with not a lot of time to actually DO these crazy kinds of projects.

Perhaps more doing and less explaining might be in order?

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I want to go to a bigger school like MIT so that I can be surrounded by like minded people and immersed in a creative atmosphere where I can be pushed to learn things far beyond what I am able to on my own. But in my experience, the schools I want to get into look past my actual work and experience in the subject matter and grill me on my GPA and the 'quality' of my degree from an academic perspective.

I understand your thinking, though at a different level; I wish I could be in your position right now. If I only had a benefactor who could pay my regular bills, I have the money to go back to school; but then again I am nearing 40 years of age, so I am not sure what good it would do beyond my own edification.

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Do I really stand any sort of a chance getting into a bigger school like MIT based mostly on my enthusiasm/amibition and non-traditional work? I have the sense that I'm 'competing' with hordes of wealthy, extremely intelligent students who have been given many more opportunities than I have to get into such a school

Maybe?

Quit comparing yourself against others and their "talents", for starters. When you stop competing with others, and instead start competing with yourself, different opportunities can arise. Maybe you could start your own "hacker space"; maybe there are others out there, right now at your school, that feel the same way? Maybe there is a Nebraska corn farmer looking to automate his tractors who would employ you? Who knows!

What you may need to do - beyond bettering your skills in your deficient areas (math, and maybe general CS) - is develop a portfolio of projects. Ideally, these projects would address potentially novel solutions to existing problems, perhaps ones which are endemic to your current environment (Nebraska - and corn). What if you managed to make an Arduino-controlled mini-ethanol still? Or what if you could apply your CS skills toward the challenge of increasing corn yields? See what I am getting at?

Once you have this portfolio (plus your better skills and hopefully grades), then maybe you can shop it around to the schools you are interested in.

Worst case scenario - you'll have a good portfolio for your resume in order to get a "crappy full-time cubicle job" when you join the real world and pay a mortgage (and your student loans)...

 smiley-wink
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Thanks for the thoughtful post! Not a lot of people take the time to honestly try to help a stranger out like that!

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I think you may be selling your state short; I could say the same thing about Arizona, if I knew it wasn't false.

I would love to be proved wrong, I have been keeping my eyes and ears open and I only know of one person who does work I'd be interested in learning more about, but he's a professor and told me flatly that without an undergraduate degree in art, I have no business applying to his school.

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Personally, I would quietly say to myself (or loudly to them - whatever you feel as an artist) "screw you". Then I would plan a trip to this year's Burning Man, and meet up with people doing real interactive art.

I feel that education is important, because it brings with it opportunities. No one is going to give you grants or funding if they don't know who you are and what you're doing! Burning Man sounds interesting, but seems like theres a lot naive, idealistic LSD junkies that like to go, lol.

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Define your own limits - don't let other define them for you.

I wholeheartedly agree with this! But the reality is that these schools that are doing so much progressive work have the authority to say, 'you must have taken courses A, B and C and no substitutions are allowed.' Those are the kinds of limits I was referring to.

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Hey - that sounds like me; except I love my job, and I don't work in a cubicle currently. My advice, though, is to realize that sooner or later, schooling will stop (though your education can and should continue!), and you just may end up in a "crappy full-time cubicle job". From what I have seen, its either that, or living as a "starving artist in a rented bohemian flat with a lot of roommates" (and/or still working a "crappy cubicle job" to pay rent). Ultimately, its a choice you'll have to make (and by all means, there are other options - so while you have the time, look into all of them, because sooner or later you'll have to pick one).

I guess I'm still young and naive, I don't really believe that those are the only two options available these days - they are just too depressing to be worth aiming for.

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No idea here - its completely outside my frame of reference; I do know, though, that some of most interesting and technically challenging artwork I have -ever- seen (whether in technology, scale, or both), was at Burning Man. If you really want to be on the "cutting edge" (or the flaming edge, as the case may be!), you want to find the people involved; whether there are many in Nebraska I don't know - but I am sure there are at least a few Burners there.

I'm less interested in pure art as I am in design and things with a little more functionalism and utilitarian roots - the creators of Arduino, Processing, openFrameworks and many other formative technologies were students at design schools!

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I never went to a university, but to me a CS program without advanced math seems more like a "how to operate a computer" type coursework. Let me guess - plenty of "how to program in Java and/or .NET" type courses are available, but not much on lambda calculus?

Haha, just about! The professors here take pride in strictly adhering to ACM recommendations for courseware, but they also give students the option to substitute many of the higher-level math courses with a minor of their choosing. And I chose physics, because it lead to electronics!

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You seem to see yourself working/creating/doing these "creative technologies", as you put it. With what you have noted, though, getting into the grad programs at other Unis doesn't sound possible. Have you thought about continuing to be an undergrad at one of those Unis (are your grades good enough for that?), and then applying yourself hard-core to the areas in which you lack knowledge (and writing the papers, publications, etc)? That might be one route, and you sound like you are young enough that you have plenty of time to do so (though money might be a concern)...

Perhaps, but this is a scary idea to me. To start another undergraduate program somewhere else is essentiall admitting that the last 5-6 years of my life have been useless and don't count for anything. I'm sure you'd say, 'it is what it is,' but on a personal level thats really frustrating.

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Perhaps more doing and less explaining might be in order?

If I didn't explain anything I did, then the professors wouldn't be interested in funding my projects! Its kind of a Catch 22 - sometimes you need to excite other people enough to give you some opportunities to do work. But then you need to keep explaining your work to keep the ball rolling!

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Quit comparing yourself against others and their "talents", for starters. When you stop competing with others, and instead start competing with yourself, different opportunities can arise. Maybe you could start your own "hacker space"; maybe there are others out there, right now at your school, that feel the same way? Maybe there is a Nebraska corn farmer looking to automate his tractors who would employ you? Who knows!


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Worst case scenario - you'll have a good portfolio for your resume in order to get a "crappy full-time cubicle job" when you join the real world and pay a mortgage (and your student loans)...

I've been working crappy cubicle jobs for about 6 years now, there is no way I can handle an entire lifetime of that. I think thats the crux of the issue - I took a year off and joined the 'real world' work force and it was incredibly sad and stagnate. I want to do something fresh that helps society, not just perpetuates it.
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There ought to be a lot of colleges that are in between "Nothing" and "MIT".  Something that's been advertised on the radio a bunch here is http://www.expression.edu/ (how do you feel about a second bachelors degree?)

(I don't remember CS using particularly High math, though I was an EE major.  I'm more surprised that you got a physics minor without the higher math...)
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No one at my school knows what Arduino is, or Processing, or even know about the wave of creative technologies going on right now. I work closely with the chairs of CS and physics at my university, and am also undertaking an independent study with a professor from the graphic design program explore the technologies from that perspective. But more often than not I find myself having to educate everyone around me about what I'm using, and I am left with not a lot of time to actually DO these crazy kinds of projects.
I you can get the graphics design prof to support you (custom designed major in return for bringing over some of that technology for them to use), you could end up in a pretty good place.  Teaching is a wonderful way of learning, and these cross-disciplinary subjects are all the rage at the big universities (at least if they think they can hit big money by combining engineering and sociology and figure out how to create "social network" successes like Facebook "on demand.")

Hopefully some of the other people with closer ties to actual university programs will chime in as well.
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Not sure if this is late, but I can give you some useful and meaningful advice.

1) Do not be too hung up on technology if tech is already your background. The world of conceptual art is quite frivolous and whimsy and history play an interesting role.
2) Get some books about these topics. There are some very good ones. You have heard of John Maeda - you may bot get to study with him - but read his books. There is a great book - i will look it up later - it is something like 'Artists in their own words' - it is about 600 pages of artists writing about their own work. this is an important and hard to find perspective. Find this book. It has more than a few digital and new media artists.
3)Schools: There is not just MIT or community college. There are some notable in-between design schools. Many of them have open admissions and will take anyone who can get financial aid. A good place to start your hunt would be www.colum.edu - columbia college in chicago - they have all the sorts of special classes and professors you want - and with a CS degree, you will be surprisingly welcome.

4) DO SOME WORK! MAKE ART - DOCUMENT IT. That little thingie you made is not a little thingie - it is 'EXPLORATIVE SEMIOTICS OF 8-BIT RECIDIVISM' Subtitled 'SENSE OF WONDER'. You did not show it to your friends, it was 'EXHIBITED AT PRIVATE VIEWING SPACE'(kitchen).

5)Really - make some work. The frameworks and open source initiatives you admire are interesting - but surely you see it is not quite the scale for someone who has not done any major projects.

To find schools, start googling. Be ready to move away from nebraska - but also look into the state schools. Many state schools have surprisingly diverse sub-groups.

I am from chicago, so I know about schools here (hence mentioning columbia) - but there are many all over america with programs that may fit your interests. UIC in chicago is an example of a 'normal' school that still has a diverse and thriving art department with real work being done.. Check it out.. Do some art work..Even if you know you will not be happy with it at first. Otherwise you will have no idea what you are saying when trying to get universities to look at you.

Remember, art - not tech. Tech, not art. Quite a tightrope.

You need a small portfolio to be considered for almost all graduate level design programs.. Start making one. Start a wordpress blog. Subscribe to a ton of trade magazine - start reading 'ART FORUM' and 'FRIEZE' magazines - these are both extremely good.
« Last Edit: January 19, 2011, 11:50:18 pm by moutonnoir » Logged

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There has been a lot of advice which I haven't read, but I tell you this out of experience (29 year old male, qualified Industrial Engineering Technologist - want to be in the movies): Don't get the idea that the piece of paper offered by a University or Collage is a reflection of what is going on in the world. If I could study again (and lets say not study Drama) I would study any and every subject that interests me whether its part of the same course or not. Even if I walk out of there with only a long list of subjects and subject courses that I passed but no official Diploma/Certificate/BA Sci something as determined by them and a governing body, I would be a richer person...and so would you.

So what if you got the official qualification that you have? Go for it...use it as background info or something that plugs into the normal way of making money. If you want to do artistic things then go and do artistic things. Attend a short course on aspects of art and art communication that you don't quite feel comfortable with...or visit a library...they still exist in most towns and cities.  smiley

Universities are businesses too...they sell you a product in the shape of a qualification.

Just my opinion.
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h4t, don't knock the Burning Man suggestion. I'm a 35yo straight laced married guy, don't do drugs, don't mess around, work in a cube as a webmaster and I went to burning man last year. It was a crazy and amazing experience. The art installations and art cars were amazing and really inspired me. In fact before I went I was just messing with electronics here and there (555 timers and LEDs) and when I got back I decided to buy an Arduino and really dive in.

Yes, you're going to find some "LSD Hippy" types but you could find them at college or an art museum as well. BM only get's that stigma cause they are the crazy ones who get a lot of camera time and stories told about them. You don't hear about the 45yo dentist I met who flew his Sesna in or the former #7 Yahoo employee who spent $10 grand on an art car covered in elwire, LEDs and had moving parts I rode on or the gourmet chef who cooked the best lamb and duck I've ever eaten and followed it up with liquid nitrogen ice cream.  There are a lot of good people you can meet through it.

There is a Kansas City group that might be near you. http://regionals.burningman.com/us_ks.html

Or here are more... http://regionals.burningman.com/regionalevents_10.html

Good luck in whatever you do.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2011, 11:56:09 am by biocow » Logged

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Hi h4t,

-  i attended the media lab; my undergrad degree was in physics from a less than prestigious state school.  my grades were very good, but i was told that my grades were not a factor; the important part was the portfolio of relevant work that i submitted.  i am only one data point, but i would encourage you to put together a portfolio of good, relevant projects no matter what program you apply to.

- the most important thing that i learned at the lab was that i could learn anything i needed to on my own.  seems silly to go to school to learn mostly that, but its true.  a degree might open some doors, and surrounding yourself with creative people engaged in similar fields will broaden your mind and inspire you.  the second most important take away from the lab was exactly this.  joining a local hacker/maker community would provide this as well.  in the art world, a few exhibits at good museums/shows is more meaningful than a degree, so you might be able to short circuit the process if you can get yourself an audience.  chicken and egg, no?  if you are looking more at going into industry than art, then a degree might be helpful (the paper part of it).

let me know if you have any questions-  you can reach me at csmith at junkfunnel point com.

casey
  
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Hey everyone, thanks so much for the fantastic responses! Lots of important points have been made.

I am currently planning to attend my cruddy little state college as a grad student, but actually spending all of my free time working on my art portfolio. I have had several friends go through the program and they all tell me that they only had to take about 2 or 3 'real' classes, the rest were substituted for independent projects and work they wanted to do.

I think spending the next 2 years building up an art portfolio sounds like the smartest option right now. I've already picked up a series of gigs at my local Children's Museum integrating Arduino and multi-touch tech into some exhibits, which is a ton of fun. In about two years I will send off an application to the MIT Media Lab and maybe a few others (like several of you mentioned).

Thanks for the help so far!
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Yes, you're going to find some "LSD Hippy" types but you could find them at college or an art museum as well. BM only get's that stigma cause they are the crazy ones who get a lot of camera time and stories told about them. You don't hear about the 45yo dentist I met who flew his Sesna in or the former #7 Yahoo employee who spent $10 grand on an art car covered in elwire, LEDs and had moving parts I rode on or the gourmet chef who cooked the best lamb and duck I've ever eaten and followed it up with liquid nitrogen ice cream.  There are a lot of good people you can meet through it.

That's Burning Man alright. Wow - you make me miss the Playa. Haven't been back in while (time and money issues, mainly)...

 :'(

Anyhow - first year I went (2003), after a super-long caravan drive with others on a road trip from nowhere (ok, Telluride - after getting lost on a mountain searching for King Boletes during the 'shroom festival held around the same time as BM), we arrived really late, and set up camp in the dark. Jazzed but tired, we went to sleep. I woke up early the following morning to a beat of techno that didn't stop (not even while sleeping - I dreamed the Playa) until...well, never - its still with me.

I climbed a rickety scaffold and looked out over the city - seemed like something somewhere between Tatoonie and Blade Runner. Fantastic and wild doesn't begin to describe it. I watched a fur-covered couch drive down the road in front of our camp with George Jones blasting from hidden speakers, a guy with not much on except a cowboy hat and boots steering it.

Welcome to Burning Man.

I then was summoned outta nowhere to work on a polka-dotted fur-covered VW Jetta convertible whose fuel-pump shorted out the wiring. Got that working, was treated to an amazing ham sandwitch. Everytime I saw the group with the car, they whooped and hollered and thanked me with bows. Sadly, the car ended up burning later in the week near the Thunderdome (no injuries, fortunately); I guess it was destined to. Later - fire dancers, pole dancers, DJs, the Journey to Mars and a long time in a ball pit, tons of art (Temple of Gravity - woah)...

If you haven't been, nothing will prepare you. Its really something everyone who can should attend at least once. Eye opening, exhilarating, inspiring, awe inducing - all this and more is there, the vast majority of it created by ordinary people, who have ordinary lives. That isn't to say everything is puppies and rainbows at BM, just like any large group that grows larger every year, there are bad apples - but the vast majority of people there are good people who are in it for the community. In a way, its like a large family, with many of the same benefits and warts.

 8-)
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Going to burning man does sound really cool and interesting - but I am not sure I would look at it as 'an important step towards a career in the technical end of fine arts, or the artsy end of technical things'.. It may be a good place to see some really awesome stuff and people though.

I would suggest instead finding what is going on in Omaha. Omaha surely has a small art scene. Start going to the shows - both the artwalks in the established areas and find any smaller stuff - loft shows, coops, alternative galleries, small theatre, experimental theatre. Both established and less established gallery shows are a much more 'real' taste of the art world. Do not be too set on only finding physical computing\interactive\media work. In the idealized lense of art appreciation, I do think it is important for artwork to be judged and considered in the larger framework of ART.

Read up on some of the careers of field luminaries. Goto amazon.com and search for books about installation art. Not technical how-to books, but art books. I cannot stress research enough. Being able to have a coherent voice as an artist is usually important. Read some artist statements. Until you have read some artists statements, you do not really know what you are getting in to.

Volunteer for some of the framework\open source projects you admire.

It also actually sounds like you have some good stuff to put into an artists bio\resume\portfolio. Look at the websites of some artists who you admire. Look at their resumes and see how they present their accomplishments.

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Lernin' to tinker
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To be fair, I never said to go to burning man. (I will not go back but am glad I went.) I just said contact some of the people who do. They can be a good resource.
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10 PRINT CHR$(7)
20 GOTO 10

Holland
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Arduino likes cookies too
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they all tell me that with a degree in computer science, I'm screwed.
And here I was thinking it was the other way around.. the artsy people having fantastic ideas... and no skills to actually turn them into working things.
Art is in the eye of the beholder, function is in the hands of... well... everybody.

Lets take an example of my philosophy.. a skeleton watch. Which is a watch, usually mechanical (the mechanical ones are the best ones!).. with a glass cover showing the innards. There is beauty in technology and function! Art  smiley-razz
It is the one thing you can't teach, in my opinion.

PS: The initial 'artsy people having no skill to turn them into working things' was a stereotype remark (like tech people being unable to create anything that looks pretty).
« Last Edit: January 20, 2011, 07:44:43 pm by Imahilus » Logged

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