Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Drawing on Motivation

In my previous post, Understanding the Comics Medium, I mentioned that Mike Plugh, who completed an outstanding MA thesis under my direction (meaning I got out of the way, and signed my name on it when it was done), and is about to embark on his doctoral work, brought Scott McCloud's TED talk to my attention.  And when he did, he first pointed out this other video to me, and suggested there was some similarity between the style of the cartoonist featured here, and McCloud's self-reflexive work on the comics medium.

So, for that reason alone, I'll share the video with you.  And I will admit that the cartooning styles have something in common, and also that this "animate" video does use, in its own way, the same kind of approach that McCloud shows us in the form of webcomics or digital comics.  That is, what we see is part of a larger picture, our screen is a frame that moves around within a larger frame.  

Of course, McCloud's examples are digital comics, whereas here we have someone drawing on a whiteboard (or sheet of paper) with markers, the camera following the drawing around as it progresses across and up and down the canvas, always showing us only part of the larger picture (in contrast to McCloud's examples where typically you can get an overview of the entire set of sequential images, also a feature of Prezi, an online alternative to PowerPoint that's worth a look, if you haven't seen it before).  

The cartooning footage has been edited to speed up the process, and synced to the lecture that we hear, this all occurring, presumably, after the fact, not while the lecture is going on.  I do seem to recall from long ago seeing this sort of cartooning being done live on television, with no editing, which was in a way more impressive, albeit less complex and instructive when done in that way.

This appears to be part of an "animate" series which seems to have a bit of a retro feel, at least insofar as I associate it with a kind of extemporaneous, jazz cartooning I recall seeing on TV long ago (and just the whole process of cartooning in this way seems almost nostalgic).  But here, you be the judge:

I certainly wish I could do what this cartoonist is doing when I'm teaching--I'm lucky if the students can read my writing whenever I put something up on the blackboard.  Oops, I mean whiteboard, all the chalk and slates are gone at Fordham University, replaced by markers and plastics.  What a stupid innovation, if you'll forgive me for being so blunt.  The markers dry out quickly and become useless, and what a waste!  With chalk, you could keep using it even when it was down to a nub too small to hold.  Of course, I don't miss the chalk dust, and the teacher's occupational hazard of getting chalk all over your rear end and back.  But whiteboards are a case where technological innovation does nothing to improve what we're doing, and may even have made things worse!  OK, rant complete.

As for the presentation, the sponsor, RSA, is the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, a delightful name for an association (while, as an American, I have no use for royalty per se, I do wish we had royal societies here, it just sounds cool!). The RSA are located just behind the Strand in Westminster, London, for all you anglophiles out there (note that here in the US we would say that the RSA is, but given the subject, I thought I'd use the British usage).  The lecture itself is clear and reasonable, but strikes me as fairly obvious, or at least it ought to be.  

When I used to teach the basic communication course, textbooks typically included a chapter on organizational communication, and listed the three main perspectives on organizational behavior:  scientific management, which is concerned with the efficiency of operations (and relates to the simple task category discussed in this video); human relations, which is concerned with the motivation of individuals working within organizations, including their need for autonomy, satisfaction, and self-actualization (which relates to the main focus of this video); and systems, which looks at the organization in an organic fashion.

Perhaps I am being too critical, though, as I have been surprised on many occasions by how poorly people function in, and more so how poorly they understand organizations.  But that is a topic for another day, and another post.  For now, I'll just say that when it comes to the comics medium, I am indeed drawn to it.


Mike Plugh said...

Thanks for the kind words, as always. One of the things that fascinated me about the animation was similar to what you noted in the post about Scott McLoud and general semantics. The idea that abstraction from a face to a photographic representation of a face to a cartoon to a word, seems to occur in reverse in this video.

A voice is represented by a written word and in turn is represented by a series of iconic cartoon images. In a way, I feel like we're watching the abstraction process in reverse, which I suppose is what we're trying to do in classrooms when we write on a board or show a youtube video...etc.

It seems to me that the process of abstraction that occurs when we describe events moves in the opposite direction as we try to recreate them. We still operate at very high levels of abstraction when we lecture, even when we supplement with words, cartoonish drawings and diagrams, and even photos or video. It would seem that the next logical step in this process would be experiential learning, as we move in the direction of more abstract to less.

(As is my tradition here, the word verification I'm about to enter is 'coderman', which I suppose would be a fine moniker for a media ecology comic book hero, no?)

chad calease said...

i am thinking now of situations such as how Diego Rivera's work helped educate a largely illiterate population about the country's history. these visual literacies solve many problems. language alone has many more limitations.

this also reminds me of living in Spain where i enjoy having little command of the language. i am forced to listen and describe many things visually when my Catalan fails me (which is often). i am forced to use my imagination to communicate more frequently it feels like because mostly i am outside of any formal structure of language. it often leads to the most wonderful "conversations" that i believe something inside me is reluctant to grasp the language more competently for fear of losing access to this new perspective.

cheers for the thoughts, Lance.