Monday, May 24, 2010

A Practical Post

With so much written about the use of blogs as research tools, their place in the broad spectrum of research is unquestionable. I set up this blog a few years ago with the intention of exploring the intersections of visual art (particularly street art), interactive web applications, object interpretation and educational research. I have been following a few different art education related blogs, not specifically research oriented, and I have noticed a few overlapping characteristics that make them all frequent-reads that illicit further thought or interaction. First, the posts are short, digestable. Second, there is eye to keep me interested. Third, they are frequently posted, and the content is consistently related to the parent concept or thesis. So I have this nagging curiosity about why I feel the need to sporadically maintain this blog in spite of my knowledge of the "unofficial best-practices for blog readership". Furthermore, I question the effectiveness of this blog as a research tool. I never articulated a question (or questions) that I continue to pursue. I encounter issues in my practice that I question and seek to resolve through conversation and contemplation...but these posts don't necessarily read as practical questions. Looking at the few posts I have as a body of work, this blog seems like a handful of tangents. Like the found objects and photos I used to collect in graduate school. So the practical question I ask myself (and you, dear reader), should I post more, or abandon ship? Does this help anyone out there in their profession as art educators... or even me? Specifically, can this blog ever be considered a research blog?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spam II

In a previous post, I complained about my blog being bombarded with spam. What I originally found to be a nuisance, I attempted to turn into a work of art via a related blog post. I had been fascinated by Duchamp and his contemporaries and the cut-up method. I decided that I would allow spam comments on the Duchamp post, since the spam exemplified the random nature of what I was attempting to express about Duchamp's work. Since the "blog spam" posting, I had remembered seeing the video work of artist/educator Juan Carlos Castro. His artistic take on internet spam takes an entirely different form. He has created a lovely short video you may enjoy when you click on this. I am looking for further artistic explorations of electronic junk/auto generated nonsense. If you know of any other artist working with this media, please share!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Who's interpretation?

Position titles are a funny thing. In my field it's not uncommon to see curator/manager/interpreter/educator/director attached in various combinations to a colleague's name. I probably sound naive to veteran museum educators when I say that the position title confusion seems so indicative of our ambiguous roles in the museum. My title is simply museum educator, but I oversee a paid intern and several part-time employees. I work with curriculum based programs for children, a weekly art studio program for intergenerational visitors, and a huge monthly cultural event. I develop tours and gallery experiences for visitors of all ages. I design workshops for adults, teachers and students as well as developing curriculum and materials for holiday and summer camps for children. I also often assist with researching the collections and exhibits, I create gallery guides, interpretive DVD's, write tours create other didactics for the galleries. I maintain our Facebook and create marketing materials for education programs and general museum events, I even write grants. I feel that I do much more than my title implies. I also find that I have to explain my function at the museum on a constant basis to people who hear/see my title. Most people think museum educator=docent, and all I do is give tours. I do give tours, but...there's so much more (I hear myself saying with a slight echo effect).

So when a small group of third graders approached me last fall about how to become a museum professional, I had to take a closer look at my daily function within the museum so that we could begin learning together. Wait, I'm putting the cart before the horse. They wanted to know how to become artists. We met for the first time in November 2009. The children had already begun research about the training, pay and variety of jobs an artist could pursue. Their teacher had suggested that they interview a person working in the field to learn more about working in the arts. These students had been visiting the museum regularly for a curriculum-based interdisciplinary art/science program. Since they don't have an art teacher on their campus, I was the reasonable and familiar facsimile. (I don't mean to imply that I am chopped liver to these kids, but I think they would have rather interviewed a flashy painter initially. Again, the teacher was the intermediary for their decision process, I believe.) So we discussed careers in visual arts. I told them about teaching art in public school, working as a graphic designer, my personal experiences in working with studio artists, and working with craftspeople. They took notes, asked a few questions, and thanked me when I was done. I figured that I had at least abraded their dreams, if not crushed them with my fairly straightforward (read bland) presentation of artist careers.

Much to my surprise, they came back for more. They had a new agenda based on further independent research, and they were looking for a museum-specific research project. So, a couple months later I had three 3rd grade interns, the Jr. Interpreters, visiting me for three hours a week with a parent volunteer. We familiarized ourselves with the education studio, toured the public areas of the museum, and met several of the staff members. We developed a list of what each staff member's responsibilities are at the museum. Next, we developed a collaborative definition of interpretation, using other familiar jobs (language translator, air traffic controller, etc.) as the basis. After we agreed on a set of characteristics of museum interpretation, we developed a very stripped down four step version of how I personally approach object interpretation. Next, using the four step program, the Jr. Interpreters identified a piece in our permanent collection and got to work. Several weeks later, we have a how-to video for responding to a ceramic artwork, a commercial for an artist's work, and a PSA about the value of visiting the museum to view sculptural glass art. The Jr. Interpreters have also presented their work to incoming Kindergartners, the PTA, and their teachers. Our next step is Facebook. We decided to share our video interpretations with the museum's Facebook audience in hopes of productive feedback. (I am the site moderator, so nobody gets hurt). All in all, the kids accomplished tons of self-guided research on artists, art techniques, artist statements and came up with some witty written, verbal and video outcomes.

So what did I learn? Well, lots more about how to connect all that grad school reading and emerging research methods with my actual practice. I am very excited about my personal realizations in this process. I know there are three kids that know and love the process of what we do as museum educators. More personally important, as a guide to the process of discovery of these guidelines and definitions with the students, I found the streamlining and simplification of how I understand my job currently has given me a new confidence in my ambiguous title. I know how to summarize some of what I do, and it creates room for me to grow professionally. The certainty of what I currently understand has solidified a foundation for me to begin building on my current methods. I am ready to start reading again, and I'd love to hear from/interact with other museum educators/curators/managers/interpreters/directors about their reflections on practice.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Second Life Symposium

Well, today was my first full day of of the NMC's Second Life Symposium on new media and learning, the fifteenth in the NMC’s Series of Virtual Symposia, exploring the impact of new media on teaching, learning, research, and creative inquiry, especially in higher education. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Second Life, explore here before reading further. For those that do know about SL, NMC has its own private campus that is invite only for these events, so I was honored to be part of an exclusive group learning in a virtual online interactive environment. Nothing like teleporting to the sessions and sitting next to a blue dragon while listening to a 7' tall man describe contemporary understandings of oral history!

Today, we explored digital storytelling. My mind was blown by the speakers. I heard keynote speaker Joe Lambert with the Center for Digital Storytelling talk about Centering the Circle: Storywork in the Era of Media Ubiquity. Joe is one of the foundation people to digital storytelling, and it was a great way to get things started. Next I heard Cynthia Calongne of Colorado Technical University talk about The Mars Expedition as a Virtual Context in Storytelling. We sat on black orbs in a virtual planetarium and discussed throwing money in Second Life to inattentive undergraduate students, among other more meaningful things...
I took a little break and came back to hear Anthony Curtis with University of North Carolina at Pembroke talk about Digital Storytelling: An Ancient Tradition in the 21st Century. Anthony has done some great work with his undergraduate students by encouraging them to work with digital storytelling. After another longer break, I heard Lou Rera of Buffalo State College talk about Digital Stories:Flash Fiction. Flash fiction is a fun genre of writing/storytelling consisting of the basic principle: economy! Lou talked about Hemmingway's six word fiction and we explored the idea of machinima haiku. (If there is a rare chance that a symposium atendee is reading this blog, I do know I am crudely paraphrasing.)
We finished by learning with Ruben Puentedura of Hippasus talk about Mapping the Digital Storytelling Domain: Notes for a Future Cartography. I don't even know where to begin. This was truly a grand finale. Reuben talked about the evolution of storytelling beginning with the pictographs in Lasceaux and ending with a horde of URL's I hadn't even heard of. If you are curious about Reuben's projections, post a comment and I will share my notes. Suffice if to say, he had a charted trajectory of levels of interactivity for storytelling that blew my mind.

So, I will post a snapshot of my symposium experiences if they ever come through the e-mail. Not sure if I sent them correctly, but we'll see....or not. Anyway, as far as learning in an web 2.0 environment goes, this was quite a day. You should try it!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Surreal blogspam?

So there are spam blogs, you know, the ones you used to find on Google when you typed in a subject and the blog that came up in the search results was just gibberish and repeated keywords. Google and other search engines now have programs to largely eliminate these. Sure, they were funny, but they tried to re-direct you to e-marketing sites or installed malware on your computer. (Not funny)
Then there is blog spam. This has been a recent development on my blog. I was deleting the posts as they came in for approval (yes, I do approvals for posts, largely due to just this sort of issue...) but now I have another thought. What if these auto-generated posts were some sort of robot art? (I don't actually believe this, I just like the theoretical possibility)
So I decided to approve the comments for the Marcel Duchamp and invented pseudo algebra post. Check it out.
So these posts kept making me think of the exquisite corpse poem I found online a few years ago. Oddly enough, the exquisite corpse poems online have anti-spam protection now. I find this perplexing as it seem counter-productive in a sense. How can you decide that some contributions are spam and some are not in a surrealist creativity exercise? I am approving all comments for the Duchamp post based on this rationale:

Exquisite corpse (also known as "exquisite cadaver" or "rotating corpse") is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled, the result being known as the exquisite corpse or cadavre exquis in French. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule (e.g. "The adjective noun adverb verb the adjective noun") or by being allowed to see the end of what the previous person contributed.

The technique was invented by Surrealists and is similar to an old parlour game called Consequences in which players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal part of the writing, and then pass it to the next player for a further contribution. Surrealism principal founder André Breton reported that it started in fun, but became playful and eventually enriching. Breton said the diversion started about 1925, but Pierre Reverdy wrote that it started much earlier, at least before 1918.

André Breton writes that the game developed at the residence of friends in an old house at 54 rue du Chateau (no longer existing). In the beginning were Yves Tanguy, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Prévert, Benjamin Peret, Pierre Reverdy, and André Breton. Other participants probably included Max Morise, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Simone Collinet, Tristan Tzara, Georges Hugnet, René Char, Paul Éluard, and Nusch Éluard.
Henry Miller often partook of the game to pass time in French cafés during the 1930s.

Thank you Wikipedia (it's own exquisite corpse, of a sort) for the justification.