Friday, May 01, 2009

Multimedia Writing as Art Research

In a recent post on choral writing, I wrote about an approach to writing where the artist-medium intuitively invents their digital persona via the postproduction of presence in trance narrative space.

This value-added approach to "writing" per se can find its way into the learning environment as well, especially as we think through the implications of what Viet Thanh Nguyen writes about in his blog post "Multimedia as Composition: Research, Writing, and Creativity":
What is multimedia? A medium is 1. a means of communication or expression, and 2. a condition or environment in which something may function or flourish.

Therefore, multimedia in my definition is the use of multiple means of communication or expression that enables a more flexible and creative environment of learning and intellectual growth. Multimedia, in the way I am using it here in the context of teaching, is therefore primarily a pedagogical strategy for both teachers and students; it is secondarily a set of technological or creative tools--we can call them tactics in service of the strategy. What this definition emphasizes, then, is the need for teachers to define the strategic goals in their course for which multimedia is necessary, and then to define what tactics or tools must be used to achieve such goals. These tactics or tools may be computer-based programs that enable the manipulation of image, sound, and text; or they may be the more “traditional” forms of media like performances, installations, or the graphic arts.
In the TECHNE practice-based research initiative I started at the University of Colorado back in 2000, the students engage themselves in a simultaneous effort to not only study the history and theory of digital art (with an emphasis on Internet art), but to build an online resource that they can then share with future students in the course as well as other researchers around the world who may be interested in the subject matter. The students not only write, design, and program the site, but they also interview artists they find interesting and in so doing they add new content to the site. They also curate their own net art work so that it shares "presence" with the more established artists they are interviewing and/or studying.

The key to the success of the course over the years has been the mix of reading, discussion, creation of new digital artwork, technical training/application, and social-cultural interaction with the networked art community producing the new media environment.

There are other approaches to be investigated too. In the blog quoted above, the author continues:
Multimedia allowed the students and myself to address two critical limitations in American studies pedagogical and intellectual practice, phrased as questions:

• In many American studies courses, what we study are creative acts, whether those acts happen to be of a cultural type (literature, film, historical writing) or of a political type (political movements, labor organizing, domestic work). Why, then, do we require students to analyze these acts by writing papers that place distinct limits on creativity?

• A partial answer to the previous point is that we reproduce students in our own intellectual image; our scholarship serves as a model for theirs, and our discipline serves to also discipline them. What potential, then, does multimedia enable for revising academic disciplinary practice?
To say that "we reproduce students in our own intellectual image" is an understatement. Anyone within a mile of an academic institution can pick up on this lag which then leads to lack.

There's more:
The overall implication of these two limits is that the form of our practice as teachers and scholars has a relationship to content. In general, the form of our scholarly practice--our writing--is utilitarian, serving a necessary function in the academic world. The form of our students’ writing serves a necessary function as well, namely, to provide us with a fairly rigid and therefore simple way of assessing their learning. The fact that their form mimics our own is not a coincidence. There is no reason, of course, for traditional academic writing--in the students’ case, the 5-7 page paper--to be the only form available for conducting academic inquiry or communicating results, except by dint of tradition.

Thus, one of the most important implications of using multimedia in the classroom is this: done properly, it allows students to be creative and to use multiple types of analysis and expression to do research and present results; this type of flexible learning accommodates students who think visually and audibly, who may not be interested in academics as a profession but who are excited by intellectual inquiry, and who are, ironically, independent thinkers who do not like the artificial constraints of academic disciplines. These types of students do not comprise the entire student population, but they are a significant number; multimedia is not a magic bullet or something suitable for everyone, but it is another tool for teaching and scholarship to address different needs.
How long will it take institutions to offer courses that reflect the growing number of students who are developing alternative forms of digitally-processed and networked composition without even "thinking" about it? Especially given the fact that the cycle of reproducing knowledge via an older, linear, print-centric intellectual model is still the grainy image of academia today. The question remains: "How long will this cycle continue?"

The breakout potential is most likely to be located in the uncategorizable writing practices of those who approach their work as part of a larger interdisciplinary art-research-theory practice. Of course, I am not the only one with these ideas as this same blog entry makes clear:
For academics, the implication of my work with student multimedia composition is that this kind of composition that is not restricted to the typed page, and which can include audio, video, interactivity, hypertext, non-linear organization, and layering of information, may be very suitable for many kinds of academic research, especially but not limited to interdisciplinary work.
This seems like a good place to end not only this blog entry, but the academic school year as well.

Back to the art-making!
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