Dr. John Antoine Labadie's students don't get paint on their clothes anymore. For this UNC Pembroke art professor's students, a computer screen is their new canvas and a mouse is their paint brush.
The computer, Dr. Labadie says, is the first radically new technology since photography for making two-dimensional art. Although trained in more traditional art forms such as painting and photography, this artist's enthusiasm for digital art is growing as fast as digital technology itself.
During his five years at UNCP, Dr. Labadie's impact is evident. A typical senior art show now routinely includes digital art works. And, in the 1998-99 academic year, the Art Department is offering digital art as a concentration alongside painting, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking and art education.
Art Department Chair Paul Van Zandt said the recently added concentration gives students valuable exposure to new technology while giving them new outlets for artistic expression.
"This puts us in a new ball game," Mr. Van Zandt said. "The new program gives the students the opportunity to be exposed to current and future technology to further their artistic expression."
Both Mr. Van Zandt and Dr. Labadie say student response to the new art concentration has been strong.
"It's the hottest thing going," Mr. Van Zandt said. "The computer is the late 20th century brush and color palate."
"The students have been very enthusiastic," Dr. Labadie said of the interest in the program. "If the student numbers hold up, digital art may soon be the largest concentration in the Art Department."
As the program develops, there is no shortage of new directions, he said, including animation, multimedia, computer assisted design (CAD) and 3D digital art. Like the art itself, the field is wide open and changing quickly.
Both Mr. Van Zandt and Dr. Labadie caution tht computers don't create art, people do, they say.
"The artist must still have a picture in his head," Dr. Labadie said.
Digital art is a new form that appears to be limited only by the imagination and talent of its users. However ethereal it may seem, digital art may be the most accessible art forms ever created. A virtual gallery of Dr. Labadie's works can be seen at WNCP-TV's Internet site at http://wncp.uncp.edu/ArtGal.html
To display his work in a more conventional setting, Dr. Labadie has shown his work at Campbell University, the Toledo Museum of Art and several art galleries in the region. To sell digital art presents another set of questions. "I believe digital art may be sold as limited edition prints," he said. "Each collector would receive a written and notarized affidavit saying that only a certain number of prints were produced before the digital file is destroyed."
This fall, with the new digital art concentration added to the UNCP Art Department, with several wins in juried art shows and with stacks of newly framed work lining his office, Dr. Labadie is more confident than ever that the future is looking bright for this new art form.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time that such a pervasive technology as computers invaded the world of art. It has come to UNCP's Art Department as well.
"There are a lot of very good things going on here at the university," he said. "We have a great art department here with an atmosphere that is alive with creativity."
Dr. Labadie believes these technologies provide a necessary link to the future for UNC Pembroke students. "In my view, we need to work in new art forms using the very edge that high technology can provide us," he said. Dr. Labadie emphasizes that the work done by students to prepare personally expressive works is virtually identical to that needed to work for a commercial image maker such as an advertising agency. Graphic design is one of the fastest growing job fields in the nation.
"With the way we are working with our students here, it is possible for them to make personal statements through the employment of digital technologies while at the same time developing skills that will serve them well in the potentially lucrative graphic design industry," he said.