Creativity is Not Lost

Exploring the ways in which student artists exercise their talents in a world dominated by technology.

by Colby Sansbury / Garnet & Black

Growing up in the Golden Age of Technology means that most college students have been exposed to computers, phones and televisions since before they could read. Kids nowadays are coerced into behaving with the threat of having their iPads taken away. Family dinners are eaten in front of the TV during new episodes of "Dancing with the Stars" or "American Idol". Middle and high schoolers idolize TikTok stars that choreograph thirty-second dance routines to popular songs.

As technology becomes increasingly essential to the everyday lives of toddlers, senior citizens and everyone in between, the more creatives begin to fear that AI programs and graphic design software will have detrimental effects on people’s imaginations and expressiveness. College students face another set of inspirational obstacles when they are not only forced to be reliant on technology but also to put their academics at the forefront of their to-do lists. This can often mean that students have to put their creative endeavors on hold. 

That being said, creativity is not entirely lost on USC students. With a student population of roughly 30,000 and a roster of over 550 student organizations, the University of South Carolina is rich with opportunities for people to exercise their talents and do what they love. The ingenuity of the USC student body is not only exhibited through their capacity to balance their academics with their passions, but also through their unique ability to roll with the punches and find ways to wield technology in order to make their art more eclectic and accessible.

Social media is without a doubt the most popular technological tool that students use to promote their creative organizations, share their art and connect with other artists like themselves.

Justin Melendez, a sophomore with a double major in Biology and Psychology, is a member of the Core Cast of the Overreactors Improv Troupe. Melendez reflects upon how simple it was for him to find the group and join as a freshman, emphasizing the role that social media platforms played in his initial research of ways to practice improv in college.

“I remember beginning of freshman year I was looking for stuff to do, clubs to join and stuff, and I found [Overreactors] on GarnetGate," Melendez said. "I texted the then president Kevin and he told me to come right in, and the rest is history.” 

GarnetGate, USC’s own online portal for student organizations, is an essential resource for students looking to get involved in arts, clubs and other activities. Websites like GarnetGate are invaluable resources for spreading the word about university organizations. Tabling on Greene Street is a great way to build personal connections with students, but only so many of the 550-plus clubs can fit on one street. GarnetGate is a free catalog of all existing clubs and organizations that is available at every USC student's fingertips.

Like Melendez, Zoey Beausoleil, a senior with an Exercise Science major and the president of Carolina Club Dance, mentions how easy GarnetGate made it for her to find somewhere to dance on campus.

“I found [Carolina Club Dance] on GarnetGate. I just went on the website, looked up dance clubs… and it popped up. I looked into it, followed the Instagram, started to learn what it was all about and now I’ve been doing it for four years and I’m the president,” Beausoleil said. 

In addition to university-specific platforms, students use more general social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube to share their art with the world and learn from the online exhibits of others.

When asked how technology has influenced his perspective on his craft, Melendez talks about how he has learned new skills from improv shows he watches online.

“Being able to watch stuff online, shows like 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?' or 'Game Changer' and stuff… for coming up with new ideas or seeing new ideas can help,” Melendez said. 

Likewise, Beausoleil discusses how technology has allowed Carolina Club Dance to widen its circle by connecting with other members of the Columbia dance community. “Social media has allowed us to expand our club a lot and show more people what it’s about. It has also allowed us to connect with different schools, different choreographers, different studios. That has been a good thing for us.” 

Furthermore, Beausoleil highlights how technology can serve as a catalyst for art to be shared and appreciated across the globe.

“People will get to see dance on a more international level because we have that ability to see videos and live stream even from different countries. I feel like that will be cool because it can help with learning about different cultures because dance is very much a cultural thing for a lot of communities…[We can use] technology to share that with the rest of the world,” she said.

Not only has technology made art more accessible through social media exposure, but specific applications and programs serve as useful tools that allow artists with varying degrees of experience to produce works and projects all the same.

Matt Chesnutt is a junior studying Music Education. He is the Music Director of Cockapella, a member of the USC Concert Choir and the singer of a band formed with his friends called the Handsome Bystanders. As someone whose educational focus is teaching music, Chesnutt explains the myriad of ways in which technology has made creating music a more user-friendly experience.

“I think one of the most interesting things with technology and music is that it’s really accessible now,” Chestnut said. “Every single iPhone and every single Mac comes with GarageBand, which is the free version of Logic... If it was 1980 I would have to go to a studio and then I’d have to find the musicians and then I’d have to pay... Now, just in the way technology has developed, I can do multiple takes, I can do editing all from my laptop." 

Chesnutt's enthusiasm about the increasing accessibility of audio engineering software and other musical computer programs indicates a promising future for musicians and other creative individuals of all skill levels. Contrary to what many traditional artists believe, it seems that an unexpected array of individuality has emerged from supposedly stifling technology. If the nature of creativity is transcending the known world, then technology is more of a tool than it is an obstacle.

Chesnutt summarized the transformative spirit of technology when he said, "Technology has just completely changed the audio recording sphere and that transfers into all areas of music."

COVID-19 was a primary catalyst for this extreme worldwide shift to the sphere of technology across all areas of life, whether it be work, school, extracurriculars or even gatherings of friends or loved ones. Art was no exception, especially for students studying the arts in school. Without the ability to reference a model while painting or performing a live monologue, the creativity of art students faced its biggest challenge yet when they had to figure out a way to practice their crafts online.

Chesnutt believes that even though it has taken some adjusting, the technological advancements that have come from the COVID-19 crisis have ultimately done more good than harm for the musical community. Technology has proven to be a valuable supplement for students in particular with the development of apps and software that allow music recording to be done individually.

“Technology in music is really interesting because it came a long way during COVID. One of the main technological advancements that I use as a music student is an app called Appcompanist," Chesnutt said. "Basically what it does is it has a large collection of, like, the classical pieces and opera pieces that we would sing and it has the accompaniment on them so you can just press play and then rehearse along with it." 

Chesnutt claims that one of the most valuable tools he uses as a music student is an app that he discovered while doing online school over the pandemic. Appcompanist is an app that has a vast collection of musical accompaniments that can be used as backing tracks for assignments and rehearsals, and it has become an essential in every musician's toolbox.

“During COVID, when we weren’t able to have live piano accompanists, I did my juries, which is like my voice exam basically with this Appcompanist," Chesnutt said. "That was essential during COVID. I think it’s also continued past that where it’s just like a really helpful practice tool.” 

Melendez agrees, and he admits how helpful technology was in the wake of COVID-19 when the performance aspect of performance-based art was threatened.

“Being able to host shows on Zoom was a lifesaver for us to be able to continue our craft, and I imagine if something were to happen again, we would be able to adapt and improvise and be able to move online at least temporarily,” Melendez said. 

It is no secret that technology is an inexorable part of the future. Chesnutt emphasizes how the future of music production and education is reliant on technology. It is up to musicians, teachers and artists of all other concentrations alike to work with technology instead of against it. 

“One of the things that really interests me about music education is how it’s gonna change in the next twenty years because especially with the introduction of technology, they’re already starting to change our curriculum in terms of what we’re gonna be teaching and what to expect,” Chesnutt said. 

Technology has changed the way music is heard, performed, composed, shared and preserved. Instruments are evolving into turntables and mixers and it no longer takes a whole band to record a song. While people will always play handheld instruments and jam with other musicians, it can't go unnoticed that technology has pioneered a whole new realm of music that still has so much untapped potential. 

“Obviously you still have to read music, but a lot of the curriculum in middle and high school is changing just because they’re realizing that students have more of an interest in modern music. Things like recording strategies and how to write a song, make a beat, things like that are all things that are coming into the lexicon of music education," Chesnutt said. 

Chesnutt acknowledges that sometimes technology can pose a threat to the self-sufficiency of creators, but he claims that the rewards of technology outweigh the risks.

“In our education classes we talk about the fact that technology can be a hindrance if you rely on it too much, but one of the things that I’ve noticed is that [technology] does help when students have differing learning styles. I think it can be really helpful because it bridges the gap between something the students might not be familiar with…and it puts it in a way that they might understand it better,” Chesnutt said. 

Chesnutt put it best when he said, “Technology’s not going away.” Even if on the surface technology can seem like an insurmountable hurdle, learning to navigate technology and integrate it into one’s craft can expand an artist’s perspective, circulate their work to an international audience, and challenge their creativity in ways that were previously unheard of.