Glassists are swarming like bees into Portland (AKA “glassland”). I’ve got a houseful, my friends are equally full up, and we’re all getting ready for BeCON, Bullseye’s biannual conference on glass art.

It starts Thursday afternoon with keynotes and gallery receptions, ends Saturday night with lehr-baked BBQ ribs (from pigs, not attendees). In between we’ll listen to lectures, gorge on Portland Farmer’s Market goodies, watch demos and talk about…(drumroll)…glass.

The theme this year for BeCON is “Crossover: A Material Exchange,” about non-glass artists making stuff in glass, and incorporating non-glass materials and techniques into art made of glass.

The last BeCON was all about casting glass, i.e., “Dear Cynthia: Come to BeCON, and Keith Richards will drape you in free glass, 12-carat padparadscha sapphires and fresh raspberries.” (Translation: I felt a strong affinity for this topic)

To be honest, the idea of spending 3 days discussing artistic crossover ranked high on my yawn-o-meter…at first. Then I remembered a crossover experience of my own, back in college, which profoundly changed the way I view both art and technology.

I was majoring in computer science,* and the art department hired me to help with a quarter-million bucks’ worth of brand new, incredibly sophisticated computer graphics (CGI) equipment. Today you could beat it with a $699 iPad, but back then you only saw this kinda stuff in movie studios and research labs.

The equipment was part of a grant to develop a CG course for MFA candidates, but nobody in the department could tell a floppy disk from a frisbee. For one glorious semester I got all the CGI equipment I could dream up, in exchange for teaching CG to fine arts students.

I’d done CG…with geeks. We knew what to expect from the tools, and that’s exactly what we got.

Art students didn’t have a clue. At the first class I showed them how to plot a simple circle, and they grabbed the controls, messed around a bit, and suddenly very cool shaded 3D spheres floated across the screen. Of course, the way they were using the tool was all wrong, but…hmmmm…

After that, instead of my careful, step-by-step lesson plans, I’d simply demonstrate a new tool and get out of the way. They NEVER, not once, used a tool the way it was meant to be used. And the work that came out of that class was magical, about as far removed from the typical computer-generated art of the time as possible.

I learned a lot about how to finesse graphics software but–most important–I discovered the value of fresh, unconstrained perspective.

I’ve used that value countless times, pairing writers with developers, designers with salesmen, marketeers with statisticians, DBAs with customer support, and giving them a problem to solve. Participants hate it (at first) but usually wind up creating amazing new stuff that probably wouldn’t have happened without the collaboration.

I’ve certainly seen (and experienced) the sublime, creatives-on-steroids work that happens when artists get together. And some of my favorite artists working in glass originally came from non-glass disciplines. (To be honest, most of them).

Besides, I spend a LOT of time combining materials and techniques. And the other day an artist buddy wondered if we don’t get so hung up on degree of difficulty and original technique in glass that we lose sight of our objective: Making art. So perhaps crossover is a necessary part of growing glass as an art medium.

Food for thought. I’m approaching this BeCON with (I hope) an open mind. Stay tuned.

*And no, my degree is not in computer science. Nor is it in physics, genetics, mathematics, electrical engineering, business information technology, statistics, English, oceanography, library science, marketing, molecular biology, chemistry or crystallography, although I majored in each of those subjects at least once during my (long) career as a professional student.

** Nor did I ever major in art, although a look at my transcripts will show that at least 20 percent of my courseload each semester was in art and graphic design.***

***My actual degree is in journalism. Don’t ask me why.