Assistant Professor of Art and Digital Studies

Digital Studies and Digital Art students at Davidson making cyborg interfaces with Makey Makeys and toys.

The Digital Studies program at Davidson College is growing! We now offer an interdisciplinary minor and, through our Center for Interdisciplinary Studies (CIS), an interdisciplinary major. Last year Digital Studies and the History Department partnered on a tenure-track search—leading to Dr. Jakub Kabala joining Davidson as a digital medievalist with a background in computational philology and digital spatial analysis.

I’m delighted to announce that Digital Studies is collaborating once again on a tenure line search, this time with the Art Department. Along with Jakub and myself, this position will form the core of the Digital Studies faculty. My vision for Digital Studies has always emphasized three areas: (1) the history, practice, and critique of digital methodologies; (2) the study of cultural texts, media, and practices made possible by modern technology; and (3) the design and creation of digital art and new media, which includes robotics, interactive installations, and physical computing. Roughly speaking, I think of these three areas in terms of methodology, culture, and creativity. This latest tenure track search addresses the last area, though of course the areas blur into each other in very interesting ways.

Here is the official search ad for the digital artist position. Please share widely!


Davidson College invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Art and Digital Studies, with a specialization in interactive installation, transmedia art, robotics, data art, physical computing, or a similar creative field. Artists must demonstrate a distinguished record of creative work and a commitment to undergraduate education. Preference will be given to artists with a broad understanding of contemporary trends in Digital and New Media Art, including its history, theory, and practice. MFA by August 1, 2016 is required.

This tenure-track position is shared between the Art Department and Digital Studies Program. Art and Digital Studies at Davidson explore the contemporary technologies that shape daily life, focusing on critical making and digital culture. The successful applicant will teach in both Studio Art and Digital Studies. The candidate’s letter of application should highlight experiences that speak to both roles. The teaching load is 5 courses per year (reduced to 4 courses the first year). Classes include introductory and advanced digital art studio courses, as well as classes that focus on digital theory and practice.

Apply online at http://jobs.davidson.edu/. A complete application includes a letter of application, CV, artist’s statement, teaching philosophy, and a list of three or more references. In addition, submit links for up to 20 still images or up to 7 minutes of video in lieu of a portfolio. The application deadline is December 1, 2015. Do not send letters of reference until requested.

Davidson is strongly committed to achieving excellence and cultural diversity and welcomes applications from women, members of minority groups, and others who would bring additional dimensions to the college’s mission. Consistently ranked among the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, Davidson College is a highly selective, independent liberal arts college located in Davidson, North Carolina, close to the city of Charlotte. Davidson faculty enjoy a low student-faculty ratio, emphasis on and appreciation of excellence in teaching, and a collegial, respectful atmosphere that honors academic achievement and integrity.

Art and Terror in the Arctic

It’s a good thing that August had record temperatures—seemingly endless days over 100 degrees—because I spent a better part of the month reading Dan Simmons’ leviathan of a novel The Terror, a semi-historical account of a failed bid in the 1840s to chart the legendary “northwest passage” through the frozen arctic.

Simmons accomplishes much in his 800 pages—supernatural beings stalking the ice, arrogant British explorers ignoring nature and common sense, a landscape both barren and hostile, sailors succumbing to scurvy and cannibalism—but what stands out is the cold.

A hundred degrees below zero cold.

The painting on the cover of the hardback edition of novel (shown above) goes a long way toward capturing this alien, frozen wasteland and the suffering and wonder it provoked. The painting is Magdalena Bay, by the 19th century French artist Auguste François Biard (larger image). The painting, which is now in the Louvre, shows the aurora borealis from a bay on the Arctic island of Spitzbergen. In the foreground are five figures, presumably explorers, who are either dying or dead:

Biard painted this fantastic, morbid scene after he participated in a scientific expedition to the Arctic in the 1830s (in which nobody died), and he seems to foreshadow, in an oddly Romantic style, the ill-fated journey of the HMS Erebus and Terror in the 1840s (in which everybody died). It is quite easy to imagine that the men in Biard’s painting are the same men who Simmons has dying by the dozens…from exposure, from botulism, from pneumonia, from tuberculosis, from scurvy, and from murder.

In line with the humanistic outlook of the time, the French expedition team aboard the corvette La Recherche, included both scientists and artists. The hope was that the artists would create works that documented the expedition as well as inspired the citizens back home about the value of exploration and discovery. The artists had an implicit pedagogical mission: to teach people that scientific progress is worthwhile, that extending the limits of human knowledge is brave, vital, and beautiful. Of course, Biard’s painting would seem to suggest that it’s also dangerous, and that for prideful men, the drive to chart the uncharted can be pure folly.

There is a contemporary project reminiscent of the Recherche expedition’s melding of art and science: David Buckland’s Cape Farewell Project, which takes photographers, writers, sculptors and other artists on voyages in the arctic. A report on NPR described the origins of Buckland’s project:

Buckland had been talking with scientists about global warming–and he was convinced they needed help to communicate what they knew about the way the world’s climate was changing. Now, after three voyages to the Arctic for his Cape Farewell project, Buckland believes the artists have lived up to his expectations.

While I am a strong advocate of l’art pour l’art, I also believe in art with a mission, and I think Buckland and his fellow artists (which includes notables like Ian McEwan and Gretel Ehrlich) are following a noble purpose. I can only wish there were more collaborative efforts between contemporary artists and scientists. Instead of a teacher aboard the space shuttle, send a sculptor. Forget the reality TV camera crews on Sir Richard Branson’s latest exploit; send a sound artist. Don’t be satisfied with mapping an underground world, design one of your own.

Puff the Magic Cereal Box

A while ago I posted a few pics of my cereal box wall. I still occasionally come across a cereal box worth photographing, even if it’s not in wall form. Here is “Organic Wild Puffs”—one of the trippiest cereal boxes I’ve ever seen (larger version).

Decorated in faux-Aztec imagery, the box suggests a cereal that is part Fruit Loops, part mescaline hallucinogen.

And the box admits as much: not only is there a play on the word puff, there is also a play on the idea of addiction: the cereal is “habitat forming.” (The company donates a percentage of profits to the National Wildlife Refuge Association.)

In DeLillo’s White Noise, Jack Gladney calls cereal boxes “the only avant-garde we’ve got” in America. Looking here at the drug references, quetzalcoatl icons, and vivid coloring, I’d say he might be right.

Guernica, through a child’s eye

The Museo Reina Sofia is Spain’s modern art museum, and my son and I went there yesterday to see one thing and one thing only: Picasso’s Guernica, depicting the brutal aerial bombardment of the Basque city Guernica by the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War.

Showing the painting to my son was an antidote to our trip to the National Air and Space Museum in D.C in October.

Of course, an eighteen-month-old can’t be expected to have a sophisticated reaction to a powerful work of art about the monstrosities of the twentieth century.

But he comes close.

My son pointed at the mutilated bodies lying fallen on the ground and he said, “Uh-oh.” And then he made the hand sign for fall down.

Uh-oh is right.

I wonder if right now, somewhere in Falluja or Najaf, an aspiring artist is painting a successor to Guernica, honoring the 30,000 Iraqi civilians killed so far in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

If so, I hope my son sees that painting and is just as aware of suffering then as he is now.

Two Old Women Eating from a Bowl, Goya (1821-1823)


Two Old Women Eating from a Bowl, Goya
(Larger Image)
Posted to Flickr by samplereality.

Yesterday, while my wife was digging through national archives in Spain, my son and I went to the Prado, one of the great art museums of the world.

This was my third trip to the Prado, and every time, I make sure I visit a few key paintings. The Prado has, fittingly, the greatest collection of Goya work, and I am always haunted by his “black paintings.” His Saturn is enormously evocative, and I’ve referred to it before on SampleReality to talk about The Sopranos, of all things.

As long as you don’t use a flash, you may photograph the works in the Prado. I learned this the hard way, when I was almost thrown out a few years ago for accidentally using a flash on Velazquez’s Las Meninas.

So, with my son patiently watching from the stroller, I snapped a few shots, and you can see my Prado stream on Flickr.