The Pixel Painter from The Pixel Painter on Vimeo.

As an instructional technologist and digital artist, I’ve taught people of all ages how to be creative with computer software. I see no distinction between using a mouse, crayon or sculptor’s chisel to make something new. Technology need not replace older art making tools, and digital art has its own aesthetic that can be appreciated alongside traditional media like painting, sculpture and printmaking.

Computers and assistive devices can also make creation possible for those with physical impairments who might not otherwise be able to use handheld tools. Influential guitarist Jason Becker has had ALS for 30 years, yet he continues to compose music digitally and communicate via a custom eye-tracking system. He released his latest album Triumphant Hearts in 2018 to critical acclaim.

To illustrate the power of digital literacy and the idea that art should be accessible to everyone, I highly recommend watching The Pixel Painter. Below is a description of the artist depicted in the short film:

Pixel by Pixel. That’s how Hal Lasko made his masterpieces. Each one, tediously and lovingly crafted on Microsoft Paint, some taking hundreds of hours to complete. “Grandpa Hal”, as he was better known, did all of his work despite suffering from wet macular degeneration, an age-related, chronic eye disease which severely limited the center of his field of vision. It was a formidable handicap for anyone, but especially someone who’d made a living off his artist’s eye.

 

Long before age began to take its toll on Lasko, he’d enjoyed a successful career as an artist. He started out as a graphic designer, working in the military during World War II drafting maps and eventually retired from American Greetings in the 1970s. Throughout it all he would paint at home to satisfy his artistic urges, but the older Lasko got, the harder it became for him to paint. That all changed for Hal when his family gave him a computer as an 85th birthday present. His new PC came loaded with Microsoft Paint software, a program developed in the 1980’s. In today’s “Age of the iPad”, the program is more kitsch than cutting edge, but its easy interface and pixel precision allowed Lasko to journey down a new artistic path with a style many consider “retro cool”.

 

In his last year of life, Hal sold his first piece of artwork, had international gallery showings and was featured in Microsoft’s 2013 Super Bowl commercial. He passed away just shy of his 99th birthday in 2014, leaving us with a legacy that passion knows no age, and for Hal, the proof of that is surely in the pixels.

– Jack Wolfe, Instructional Technologist

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