Dr. Tom Hudson, L.L.D.: Catalyst for Change

Tom HudsonTom Hudson was an inspirational educator and a remarkable man who had a profound effect on the course of my life.

I am extremely proud to have known Tom and to have served as his research assistant and pupil over a period of about 4 years, from 1987 to 1991 at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design (ECCAD) in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Tom was the Dean of Education from 1977 until his “retirement”, and after that, as Dean Emeritus, he served as the Consultant for Special Projects.

Reputation and Role

In my mind, Tom held this authority as a kind of patriarchal figure among the ECCAD faculty. However, he was always warm and approachable to everyone, regardless of their age or station, right down to the Janitors. (Some first year students did not possess this kind of consideration, so I always appreciated his actions as a kind of social example to others.)

Right from the beginning of my first year, I was aware of Tom’s important role in the art college, and I quickly came to appreciate his lectures to the Foundation class for their directness, passion, and the sense of importance that Tom imparted in the subject matter. These were not simply academic lectures or mere recitals of historical facts. Tom’s lectures were usually more like appeals in defense of the artist as motivator of social change, or the inter-dependence of art, science, and technology in the modern world. He wanted to get a reaction out of us, and shake some of his audience out of their comfortable complacency.

Recruitment and Tutoring

Toward the end of my second year in April 1987, I began working with Tom on research into two-dimensional language and drawing systems using micro-computers. This work began on the college’s Commodore 64 computers using Koala Paint and small drawing tablets called Koala Pads. However, we quickly moved to the new Amiga computers recently acquired by the college through an Excellence in Education grant. Over the summer of 1987 and the next 12 months (from April 1987 to August 1988), I and fellow student Jeanie Sundland worked hard at researching, exploring, and developing our personal visual vocabularies, and finding out how far the resident computer technology could go; where the strengths and weaknesses were as both a research tool and an expressive medium.

Overall, I’d have to say that working with Tom on this “Computer-based Visual Literacy” research was a defining period in both my personal and professional development. The computer drawings and research that you see on camera in the “Mark and Image” series are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the quantity and depth of our investigations into two-dimensional visual literacy, and it was characteristic of Tom’s energy that even after we completed “Mark and Image”, he still had more to say. So much so in fact, that Tom, Jeanie, and I later completed our own video, specifically on the subject “Computer-based Visual Literacy”. Some of this research was also
included in two articles Tom wrote for the British Journal of Art and Design Education in 1987 and 1988. During this time, a 65 minute research video called “Computer-based Visual Literacy” was also produced by Tom, Jeanie and me at ECCAD, distributed in the UK by Sussex Video. It was Tom’s intention that an entire series of programs could be produced on this topic, aimed specifically at art educators, but unfortunately project sponsorship never materialized.

In 1988, Tom also wrote articles describing our computer-based visual literacy research for the Journal of Art and Design Education (published by the Int’l Society for Art and Education Design).

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Educational Telecourse Development

Taping an episode of 'Mark & Image' at ECCAD, 1987

Taping an episode of ‘Mark & Image’ at ECCAD, 1987

Between 1988 and 1989, in addition to my full-time course load, I also participated in research and production for the “Mark and Image” telecourse, which Tom wrote and presented for ECCAD/Open Learning Agency (OLA). The previous year of computer experience and lessons in visual literacy seemed to culminate in our participation in this innovative educational television series, which included a full class of students of varying ages and experiences working in traditional media, and Jeanie and I, the two computer students, working almost exclusively in the digital realm. Some of the graphics that you see us working on in the program were actually done or at least begun months earlier, and some images were indeed done live for the show, or in the off-hours between tapings. The studio tapings were done on the ECCAD campus, every Friday for ten weeks. Taping the studio portion of each one hour program usually took around 10 to 12 hours depending upon the complexity of the subject matter, script, etc.

My Classroom Experience, Learning to Tutor

Around this time, I also started working part-time as a Vancouver School Board “Artist in Residence” at John Oliver Secondary School. The art teacher there wanted me to help her use their Amiga more effectively in her Grade 11/12 Art class, and I was thrilled to get the opportunity to apply what I had learned with Tom to a live teaching environment. Using some lessons from the Mark and Image curriculum as a guide, I worked with one or two students at a time, teaching them Deluxe Paint, and later working with them to develop larger collage pieces incorporating their hand-drawings and print outs of their computer-generated images. Overall, it was a very challenging and rewarding first “solo” experience for me.

I would later return to teaching for the VSB as an Instructor in the Evening Studies Program, teaching people of all ages. The courses I designed and delivered included “Introduction to the Amiga”, “Using Deluxe Paint”, and “Amiga Desktop Video”. Teaching adults in night school was a real challenge (I was only about 23, with no formal training as an Instructor) but it was also rewarding when I got positive feedback from the students – whether they “got it” or simply enjoyed the experience. Over the months, I felt that I was slowly improving, and I learned a lot about where my strengths and weaknesses were as a facilitator and instructor.

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After graduating from ECCAD in 1989, I immediately embarked on the next Telecourse project with Tom, entitled “Material and Form”. This series dealt with three-dimensional methods and materials, and was a much different experience for me in a number of ways. Firstly, I was no longer a student, so they had to pay me (a real live job!), and secondly, my role was now more of a graphic artist than student research assistant. There was a significant amount of work for me to do in developing effective visual communication techniques and still regular time consulting with Tom and “learning at the Master’s elbow”, which was always a motivational and rewarding experience.

Material and Form Animations

For Material and Form, Jeanie and I created probably seven or eight minutes of 2D and 3D computer animation to illustrate everything from working with wood, metal, and plastic and textiles, to the hydrological cycle and the eroding effects of wind, waves, and temperature. You will have to watch the series to see how these animations work in the context of the material, but in essence they were “animated diagrams” for the viewer.

Here’s a sample from my old demo reel:

They were also quite an effective use of low-cost micro-computer technology for educational television. Getting one tenth of this material produced commercially on a high-end system at that time would probably have blown away the whole animation budget, so it was a good choice to continue to use the college’s Amiga resources. Using a good quality Magni genlock as a video encoder, we were able to transfer them right to one inch tape at the Knowledge Network studio in real-time. I think that the animation work we did back then still holds its own today.

Moving on into Software and the Internet

When my contract on Material and Form ended in 1991, I finally had to make my own opportunities. I was starting to feel the need to explore my own interests and potential by this point, having been so closely associated with Tom and his work for most of my post-secondary education. I had decided to pursue freelance computer graphics instead of formally continuing on in art education, as I believe Tom might have liked me to do. I had a talk with Tom one day, specifically to tell him that although I felt Jeanie and I were kind of being “groomed” for careers in art education, my own feelings were a bit different. I enjoyed teaching but wanted to work as a commercial artist. Tom appreciated that I wanted to pursue my own path, and told me “My boy – you’ll probably make a million bucks!” I’m pretty sure his teeth were just a bit clenched as he said it though. He would never tell me, but I suspect he was a little disappointed that I didn’t choose a career in education. That’s the price of independence, I suppose.

Ironically enough, I was soon hired as an on-call Technical Assistant to the Computer Resources Dept. at Emily Carr College – so much for leaving the nest – but it did help to keep bread on the table, and me in familiar territory. I was also getting involved in small, local software development and graphics projects – usually for no money or for access to software or equipment that I felt I needed to learn.

Over the following years, I grew farther away from the college, and less involved in Tom’s projects, although Jeanie stayed close and kept me informed as to his activities.

I popped down to the college from time to time between ’92 and ’94 to see Tom and fill him in on my activities, particularly regarding the evolution of TVI Interactive Systems Inc., a company I had helped to create in 1993. At TVI, I was part of a team that developed the world’s first TV-based home banking system for VanCity Savings Credit Union. I was thrilled to have a chance to demonstrate TVI’s home banking system to Tom one day at ECCAD, and I think he found it interesting as well.

Tom returned to his native England in 1995 to be closer to his wife and family. I heard periodic news from Jeanie about his activities, and I started writing him letters to keep in touch. Tom’s letters mean a lot to me, and they always conveyed his typical strong character and vigour, even in the face of a pressing schedule of lectures and workshops, and his continuing health problems.

TOMLIVE1In 1995, I attempted to start a new project between TVI, Tom, Jeanie, and me, culminating in a meeting with Tom at TVI on his one trip back to Vancouver. The concept was essentially to create a Web site that would serve as a focal point for continuing research into computer-based visual literacy and issues in art education. Tom, Jeanie and I wrote a basic proposal for the project, which Tom presented to his contacts in the UK. With TVI’s support, I looked into legal and business implications, and Tom and I batted around a name for the non-profit society that would have to be formed to support the ongoing projects. Everyone tried enthusiastically to bring the project to life, but in the end, it needed much more attention and administrative overhead than any of us could really manage. So, perhaps it was a sign that things were supposed to go forward in a different way…

Tom, to me…

As I remember him, Tom seemed to revel in “the tough stuff” – a good fight, a struggle for survival, where the moral and idealistic man can
possibly prevail. His idealism was his greatest weapon against “the philistines” that only cared about making a buck. That lowest common
denominator was far too low to be anything but a source of frustration to Tom. He continually warned us of the reality of a culture where human values and enrichments are subjugated to the needs of business and progress”. I’ve been an artist in the business world (in the financial sector no less) since 1993, and I have learned that his fears are justified. It’s sometimes difficult to even define one’s human values against the backdrop of commercialism, much less to defend them. In Canada, the culture I live in is a kind of hybrid of capitalism and socialism. I just hope that we can preserve the best of both ideologies.

To me, Tom’s ultimate message is that a creative person cannot live in isolation from the implications of science and technology, and they can make a difference in the world by maintaining their personal integrity and staying true to their values.

Italian writer/philospher Umberto Eco once said that the relationship between professor and student is a cannibalistic one. “The professor consumes the student, and the student consumes the professor. They consume each other, but when it works, it’s a good lunch.” I feel that I am forever indebted to Tom for inviting me to his table.

Tom passed away on December 28, 1997 in Bristol, England. A scholarship has been started in his name at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

E. John Love
Vancouver, BC
February 11, 1998.

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tom-grainy “Tom Hudson began his career as an artist and educator in Britian where, together with Victor Pasmore and Harry Thurbron, he developed the initial Basic and Foundation Courses. His experimental and innovative ideas had a very considerable effect on upon Art and Design Education. Sir Herbert Read, when opening the ‘Visual Adventure’ in New York in 1964, said of Tom Hudson’s Contribution “he has done more than anyone else to change and develop Art Education in Britain.Formerly Director of Studies at Cardiff College of Art and Design, Tom Hudson was appointed Dean of Instruction at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in British Columbia and has worked internationally, including consultancy positions and lecture tours in Europe, Canada, USA, Brazil, Turkey and Japan. He served as consultant to UNESCO in Paris and to the City of Brasilia.Numerous writings have been published internationally, copies of which are accessible in the National Archives of Art and Design Education at Bretton Hall.

Having ‘retired’ recently from the Emily Carr Institute his most recent achievements include television series and distance learning courses, all award winning.”