PLNU art professor David Carlson, M.F.A., talks using storytelling skills taught in the new Creative Digital Media B.A. program to be an agent of change in the digital space.
You don’t expect a child’s love for art to blossom in a hardware store, but that was the case for Point Loma Nazarene University art professor and department chair J. David Carlson, M.F.A.
Growing up in Redlands, California, David Carlson spent his early years at his family’s hardware store watching his dad at his metal shop. “I was surrounded by this concept of things connecting together and moving parts all working,” Carlson explained.
This concept of connectivity drew Carlson to the more creative avenues of play as a child and instilled in him the dream of being an artist one day.
“I loved creativity,” Carlson remembered. “I loved drawing, painting, and actually building things, whether it was with Legos or Lincoln Logs, tinker toys, any sort of construction toy that was out there.”
Upon reaching college at Azusa Pacific University (APU), Carlson initially let adulthood practicality eclipse his passions. He didn’t originally major in art because people said it was more challenging to make a living than with other majors. However, these were people with no connection to the creative industry that he let inform his dreams temporarily.
“I’m going to do what I love, and make the most of it.”
“As I started taking classes at college, I felt disconnected and lost,” Carlson said. “I’d rather be using my hands to create artwork. So I took a ceramics class.”
This artistic outlet gave Carlson’s soul the rejuvenation he’d been looking for and prompted him to change his major to ceramics. “Once I realized I could major in that, I thought, ‘I’m gonna focus on art, I’m going to do what I love, and make the most of it,’” Carlson shared.
To keep his options open professionally after obtaining his bachelor’s, Carlson went on to earn an M.A. in Ceramics from California State University of Fullerton and an MFA in Visual Art from Vermont College of Fine Art. Carlson said he focused his research on “exploring both the social construct and psychology of ‘play’ — how we use it to understand the world we live in.”
Carlson elaborated, “The act of play for me as a child was so formative for what I do today. I really use that as the catalyst for developing the artwork that I make, using play as a way to enter into a creative dialogue.”
“I was intrigued how children grow up with these play experiences, and how adults wrestle with both the history and their experiences with play, and then how play exists or doesn’t exist as an adult.”
“The act of play for me as a child was so formative for what I do today. I use that as the catalyst for developing the artwork that I make.”
Carlson ended up back at his alma mater teaching sculpture and ceramics at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and eventually assumed the role of department chair of APU’s Department of Art & Design.
After his 14-year tenure at APU, Carlson wanted a change. He entered the role of chair and professor for the Department of Art and Design at PLNU in the fall of 2017.
He’s also had the opportunity to take the exploration of ‘play’ in his artwork over to the Loma campus.
“My current practice is exploring themes of play in sport. Sports are an integral part of our culture today — whether we are a spectator or a player.”
His works have explored swimming, cycling and tennis and he has also started to collaborate with a colleague in the Department of Kinesiology on the movement of soccer players on the pitch.
“Getting to connect with faculty and getting these cross-disciplinary experiences that evolve around creativity and play is pretty fun,” Carlson said.
One of Carlson’s latest opportunities was to help launch the brand-new Creative Digital Media B.A. program, for which he serves as the program director. Getting the opportunity to work with other creatives in the cross-disciplinary program has fostered a great opportunity that will serve career creative students in PLNU’s Adult Degree completion program.
“Design itself is an integral part of all of the creative processes, but how we take that design and implement it into a product is the difference.”
Carlson explains that what sets the Creative Digital Media (CDM) program apart from a degree in graphic design is “the end product.”
“Design itself is an integral part of all of the creative processes, but how we take that design and, and implement it into a product [is the difference],” Carlson said.
According to Carlson, there is an overlap between graphic designers and the field of digital media, however, the content created by career creatives in digital media is experienced in the digital realm.
“Creative digital media is really focusing on the content that’s being designed,” Carlson explained. “Dealing with image, dealing with video, dealing with sound, photography are all outlets for storytelling.”
“Storytelling becomes the vehicle that these tools are being used to share with, so it’s a program that plays into some of these technologies and skills and then applies that to the end product, which is digitized.”
A degree in creative digital media is learning how to use a variety of media: images, motion graphics, typography, audio, projection mapping, web, and social media to tell a story. The CDM program takes the art of storytelling even further by including communication courses.
“There’s quite a few communication courses in this program as well, because that’s an integral part of this communication process which pulls on these visual graphic vessels that are helping tell the story,” Carlson said.
“Good content causes people to pause and realize there’s a story worth engaging with.”
As a graduate of the CDM program, Carlson foresees students stepping into the role of a content creator in some capacity. Even though content creators are often using their skills to sell a product in the digital realm, there’s still an opportunity to tell a story.
“We’re totally saturated in the digital world,” Carlson explains. “[We have to] think about what causes us to pause and look at something versus scrolling right on past it. Good content causes people to pause and realize there’s a story worth engaging with.”
Brands and companies want people who can think beyond merely putting together a plan to promote a product. They’re looking for people to make their own fresh take on marketing — and that’s done by weaving a bit of your own brand of storytelling into the creative process.
“They’re going to be impacting culture using these new methods of communicating. It’s kind of like the wild west. It’s being invented.”
Carlson encourages students in the Creative Digital Media program to ask themselves how they can bring their passions and stories into the creative process to inspire their work.
Aside from being prepared for a career in the digital marketing field, Carlson finds it rewarding “knowing that they’re going to be out there making a difference.”
“They’re going to be impacting culture using these new methods of communicating,” Carlson said. “It’s kind of like the wild west. It’s being invented.”
“Students that are in these programs are not only going to be participating in this field, but they have the potential to be the agents of change, and shift culture. I believe our students have the opportunity to do that for good.”
“We all are a part of a bigger story that’s important to tell, and have our own personal stories that are continuing to evolve. When we have those opportunities to share those stories, it enriches all of our lives.”
Creative Digital Media hinges on the idea of using digital storytelling to make an impact. However, this idea of storytelling transcends curriculum in a bachelor’s program.
“Just like all students that are going through PLNU and thinking about our mission, I believe we all are a part of a bigger story that’s important to tell,” Carlson said. “We all have our own personal stories that are continuing to evolve, and when we have those opportunities to share those stories, I think it enriches all of our lives.”