A member of the Pratt Institute School of Art faculty since 1987, Michael O’Rourke was named Professor Emeritus in the Department of Digital Arts in 2019. He is a pioneering digital artist, having exhibited digitally generated artwork around the world since 1983. His ongoing investigation into new frontiers for digital art has included work in animation, multimedia murals, digital printmaking, drawing, interactive sculpture, and artist’s books as well as work for Frank Stella and Jenny Holzer. O’Rourke has brought this expertise into teaching where his emphasis on combining digital capabilities with physical media has inspired decades of students.
In 2021, he funded the Professor J. Michael O’Rourke Endowed Scholarship. For Giving Day, he shared why he is supporting the next generation of artists, how teaching has inspired his art, and what he is looking forward to with the new creative possibilities for digital technologies.
What inspires you to give to Pratt?
When I was young and pursuing my own graduate studies, I received financial help from the two institutions where I studied. At Harvard I received a small scholarship. The amount of money was not large, but the emotional effect of feeling that they actively wanted me to come was very significant. At the University of Pennsylvania, I received a work-study scholarship. In this instance, the money was significantly helpful. In establishing a scholarship fund for Pratt students, I want to recreate for some deserving students that experience of feeling valued and being helped as you pursue what you so want to pursue.
You have taught at Pratt for decades, what impact has teaching had on your art?
In the many courses I taught over the years, I always required the students to do research of some sort and make a presentation of their research to the class. Quite frequently, the students would present material that I was unfamiliar with—a film I’d never seen or heard of, an artist I was not familiar with. The students were constantly introducing me to things I’d not have been introduced to otherwise. They expanded my mind and in so doing they expanded my art.
Digital art is a field that has experienced a lot of change in the past years, what excites you about its present or future?
One exciting aspect is something I foresaw and looked forward to decades ago when I was starting and digital art was extremely hard to do because it was so new and technically challenging. I knew that at some point this would no longer be the case and working digitally would become accessible to everyone. It has gotten to that point—and then some—and it is wonderful to see so many young people so comfortable with digital technologies.
At the same time, another exciting aspect of digital art is that it continues to evolve and the changes it has brought to the arts go far beyond just facilitating the making of art. Any set of tools and techniques changes the way we think and perceive. Digital capabilities have had that effect, both on artists in the making of their art and on audiences in the viewing of the artwork. Digital ways of working have created entire new art forms. It is exciting to know that digital capabilities will continue to evolve and will continue to change the way we think and perceive and therefore the ways we make and react to art.
For more information on how to support Pratt students, visit donate.pratt.edu.