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Defying Categorization


Story by
Nancy Joseph

If you ask Richard Karpen about the new Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS), prepare to be overwhelmed. Karpen, who established DXARTS in 2001 with support from the University Initiatives Fund, is almost evangelical as he describes the Center.

And with good reason. DXARTS is stretching the boundaries of art in exciting and unexpected ways. 

Richard Karpen at the future site of the Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media.

Richard Karpen at the future site of the Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media.  Media credit: Karen Orders

“What we’re about is a synergy between artists and technologists, working together to invent new ways of experiencing ourselves in the universe,” says Karpen, professor of music and director of the Center. “We’re creating the hardware, the software, and the art that utilizes them.”

DXARTS was created as an independent program, not directly affiliated with any one department at the University. “There is no other program nationally that is an autonomous unit standing alongside other disciplines,” says Karpen, “but we felt this was essential. Often students spend most of their time with students in their own discipline. I don’t think that’s the best way to become a great artist. I think the way you become a great artist is by challenging yourself on the outside, meeting people with different perspectives. That’s where the new ideas come from.”

The DXARTS program will have its own bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. program. To ensure that students interact with others outside the discipline, Karpen plans to limit the number of majors in each class to 60 percent. 
Last year the Center began offering courses; this year its faculty will teach 15 courses including a “gateway” course that will serve as a prerequisite to the major.

“We have 75 students enrolled in the gateway course this quarter,” says Karpen. “More students were interested, but we limited it since we’re still experimenting with the curriculum. We’ll probably end up with 150 in that class next year.”

Students can also expect to take courses in the sciences, as their professors have. Karpen has studied cognition and psychoacoustics to understand how his work might manipulate a person’s nervous system. DXARTS Associate Director Shawn Brixey integrates complex physics into his work. And nearly every project involves emerging computer technology.

The Center moves into its permanent space in Raitt Hall in December, complete with a media classroom, faculty offices, studios, a large computer lab, audio classrooms, and graduate student offices.

Karpen is eager for the move, but he’s more excited to see how DXARTS students—particularly Ph.D. students—break new ground in the arts.

“There have been no Ph.D.s in the visual arts in which the dissertation is primarily a large, research-oriented creative project,” says Karpen. “Our Ph.D. will be more like a science Ph.D.—the documentation will be extremely important, but it’s not a book, it’s the project. The final project will have to be something that is pioneering in the arts. It will do things that haven’t been done before.”