Tao Chen

Transforming the complexity into clarity through a unique way is always a drive which stimulates me to dive into the sea of art and design.

© Tao Chen. All Rights Reserved.

Artist Statement

My scholarly research has two important parts: digital art and design. As a designer and digital artist, transforming the complexity into clarity through a unique way is always a force that stimulates me to dive into the sea of art and design.

With the world in front of me, I search out only my passions—the passions that express my feelings and reveal new ways to intensify the subject of my artwork. Discovering the relationship between objects and representing a dramatic view to the audience are the origins of my artwork. The themes of my work are usually something that people might see everyday, such as the neon signs on a building, swimming fish under water, etc. I deconstruct the images and composite those elements in the way that the viewer can focus on the relationships among the objects. The objects may look chaotic sometimes, but reveal a logic inside, a mirror of the mind that reflects the relationship between nature and social relevance.

The Pigeons in the Sunset series aims to discover the beauty and unpredictability of the pigeons under different circumstances. In this series, I tried to recreate the scenario in which the viewer can enjoy the drama pigeons played—who started the fight for food, who chose to follow, and who just waited and watched. In order to reveal the tension between pigeons, the body language of the birds, such as pose and gesture, has been emphasized by the outlines of the individual forms of the birds. Less detailed body shape and a semi-transparent effect help bring the viewer’s attention to the relationship between the “little pigeons” and the “big flock.”

If art is more like making my own unique garden, then design is like building a park for the public where the tourist can not only have lots of attractive views to appreciate, but approach each place in the most convenient way. Just as in my design work, no matter what form it is, poster or web site, communication is always of utmost importance. The process of making my design is the transition from adding to subtracting. I always start with layering visual elements—keeping adding things related to my subject and putting them together in a spontaneous method; then I begin to subtract—reviewing every part and every detail of the design and taking off all the elements which don’t serve a certain function. In my work, nothing is just for art’s sake or “pure decoration.”

When I developed the new web site for the UW-Parkside Art Department, all the design strategies were based on one concept—to present a fresh, strong and professional image for the department. Taking fewer steps to find what the viewer needs was the goal of building the entire site structure. The simple layout and white background opened up the page, with more negative space that served as “rest areas” around the primary visuals and contents. With those “rest areas” the vision flow became more fluent and the legibility was effectively improved. Besides the simplified visual appearance of the web site, the usability and navigation system were also intended to be simple and user-friendly. With exploring and experimenting the Javascript techniques, sub-tab content was organized and embedded on its parent page to flatten the web site structure and eliminate many intermediate steps. In addition, the carefully designed interactive components, such as buttons, hyperlinks, slideshows, etc., made the whole web site speak for itself.

I believe that a good design or an art work should go beyond pleasing the public at the moment. They are something that society is willing to accept. I also believe that a good designer/artist should both follow and lead—so I follow my instincts and lead my audience to a better understanding.

Teaching Philosophy

As an instructor in the digital arts, I'm dedicated to the development and actualization of the creative potential of my students. In teaching I recognize three primary responsibilities in establishing an effective learning environment: to facilitate the students' acquisition of knowledge, to focus on purpose and meaning-making in the design classroom, and to help students explore their creative potential in design and art making.

My most significant role as an educator is to facilitate the students' acquisition of knowledge. I act as a guide as students struggle in the problem-solving process, as they search for their personal creative process, and as they find their own method of experimental investigation. I strive to create a classroom setting where the students feel free to explore visual ideas while acquiring technical and formal knowledge specific to their area of study.

In the digital art and design field, more ever-changing technologies get involved in the process of art creation. In most of the courses that I teach, such as web design and interface design, it is required that the students have a good understanding of using the digital programs. To make the grasp of software easier, I have developed the hands-on tutorial(s) for each topic I introduce based on my own research and professional working experiences. And these tutorials are designed flexibly as they can be broken down or combined to fit the needs of different classes. I have also built a teaching website to help students understand the courses from other perspectives, such as from the former students’ experiences. Although it is essential to teach students how to use a technique, it is always important to let them know when and why the technique can be applied. After each tutorial, there follows a discussion regarding how the technique can be creatively applied in the real art and design world. Through analyzing successful samples, especially their peers’ successful works, I help the students broaden their view and stimulate them to challenge themselves.

When I teach students to use design language, meaning-making and purpose are always a priority in my design instruction over the principles of art and design. I look not only at issues in the art world, but issues in a broader setting—the real world when directing students to do their projects. By learning how to harness the power of art that lies in communication, students can better understand visual expression in its many diverse forms and realize the vast potential of art beyond mere techniques and media.

The sketch review is an approach I often use to discuss the meaning-making with my students. For all my classes, before the students start to create their assignment, I usually spend one or two work days to talk with the students individually and discuss their concepts, I keep asking them questions including: what is the message they try to convey through their ideas? How do they think the idea(s) work(s) for their subject? Why do they choose a specific layout and color palette and how do these art forms work for their concepts? The whole idea of doing the sketch review is pushing students to consider whether what they do works for what they mean, and that meaning-making is the key of visual communication they create.

Perhaps the central focus in my teaching is cultivating and stimulating the students’ own creativity in their art and design making. Vital to the desire to create, is the self-confidence that each student has about his/her own ability and comprehension of art and design. It’s very important to value all experiences during the creative process, both failures and successes. One of my approaches of doing this is to find an appropriate format of critique for the different classes. For example, when I host the critique in my Interface Design class, students need to test their peers’ design online first (pretend to be a regular user) and then present either a short oral or written report regarding the strength and weakness of the design they test. In this way, every student can collect more info and improve his/her work by analyzing all of these positive and/or negative feedbacks.

Bringing in real-world projects to my upper division classes is another approach of cultivating their ability and confidence of creativity. Through the interaction with the clients, the students need to keep refining their concepts in order to fit a certain purpose—to customize a unique image and design for their clients, introducing who they are and what they do. After practicing and working with several projects, the students can build up the confidence in their own methods of design and art making.

By giving them my input from the aesthetic perspective regarding their artwork and showing them how to troubleshoot specific technical problems, I provide the students my best support to make them feel confident to explore their own ideas both artistically and technically.

As a teacher, an educator and an active scholar, I want to keep growing with my students. Every time when I succeed in exploring new ideas and techniques, I always think whether it is possible to instill these new discoveries or some of them into my teaching sharing them with my students. I believe if I ask the students to challenge themselves, I must keep challenging myself even more. That will help both my students and I go further and further on our learning journey.


Born and raised in Beijing, China, Tao Chen received his Bachelor’s degree in graphic design from Beijing Institute of Graphic Communication and his Master of Fine Arts from Louisiana Tech University.

Currently he is an Assistant Professor of digital art & design in the Visual Arts Department at Eastern Connecticut State University. Prior to joining the Visual Arts Department, he was an Assistant Professor of art at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside where he taught a variety of courses including web design, graphic design and computer illustration. During teaching at UWP, he worked with his students to develop print- and web-based design projects for many non-profit organizations. Chen’s specialties are in digital art, graphic/web design and his artwork has been exhibited in many regional, national and international juried exhibitions.

With over 15 years of professional design experience in web and print communications, he continues to work with various clients designing editorials, user interface and websites. Chen served as senior designer, art director for design, marketing and fashion companies in Miami, Florida and San Diego, California. His clients include Comcast, Oceania Cruises, Air China, Cooper Carry and etc. In his art & design work, he always attempts to discover the relationships among things and represent his work in a simplified and unique art form. As he says "transforming the complexity into clarity through a unique way always stimulates me to dive into the sea of art and design."

Visit my teaching website

click here