Category: Knowledge

Real vs Computational Art

The past two weeks I started three classes (I am probably certifiably crazy) while experiencing vertigo attacks and working full time. The classes included two MOOCs from Coursera: Intro to Computational Arts (SUNY) and Creativity, Innovation, and Change (CIC) (Penn State) along with Digital Storytelling (DS106) headless version started at Univ of Mary Washington and is now about online learners engaging each other. They are all complementary and I would love to take all three but I realized this past week that I do not have much interest in computational art. I was lucky that one of the exercises this week in CIC was to look at the passions and purposes of your life ring. I have known my driving passion for some years, but I have also found that I misplace or mislabel that passion when something knew comes along. And I think that is what I did when I signed up for computational arts. I wanted to learn and seek out new knowledge and then share it (my driving passion and the reason for the name of this blog). I also wanted to interact with others while attempting to create new art (even if computational). That has been an exciting part of the last two classes – Intro to Art (Penn State) and Art & Inquiry (Museum of Modern Art). But as I looked at the assignments and videos for Intro to Computational Arts, I realized why I do not find it as satisfying to do computational art as I do real art. Real art means that all your senses are involved not just your eyes (your brain is involved no matter what form of art is done). In computational art, I can’t feel the paper – touch its grain or thickness. I can’t smell the pungent turpentine or oils. I can’t taste the glue on my fingers when I accidentally chew on a fingertip while trying to figure out what to do next. I can’t see the textures and colors until the programming code works. As a programmer, I have to imagine the finished artwork and hoping that I make no typos. As an artist, I am also imagining the finished artwork but I am seeing it take shape as I create it. And while it is exciting to “birth” a visual object from code, it’s not near as exciting as seeing the evolution of new artwork into a surrealistic abstract, a funny sculpture or a more traditional portrait of my dog for mail art. So with only a small sense of regret, I’m going to give up computational arts for the time being. Perhaps some day I will find enough time to try it again.


I’m beginning to find little value in Facebook, Google+,  Twitter or Coursera  forums in helping organize knowledge and share meaningful conversations relating to #edcmooc.   Not surprisingly it’s exactly the same problem that we have in my workplace.    Prior to Jan 22, conversations were easy to handle and information generally easy to find.   But with the start of the #edcmooc  course on Jan 28,  the FB group has grown to over 4400 while the G+ group is over 1500.  Twitter feeds on #edcmooc turn over faster than one individual on Tweetdeck can adequately handle and the Coursera forums are like all the coursera courses where too many posts make it hard to read and respond in a meaningful way.  Additionally as new people jump on board they do not know the ground rules of various social applications and are apt to do things like misuse hashtags.      There is no way a person can read all the conversations even if you just focused on one social application.  And replying to any one thread becomes even more difficult especially on Facebook where notifications take you to the start of a sometimes neverending thread .  Fortunately a few people have jumped in to act as facilitators and coaches but not near enough for handling the sheer volume of people involved.

So what’s the solution with 40,000 people involved?  I ask because my workplace community is larger than that which is one of the reasons that I wanted to take this course to see how all this knowledge could be managed for better learning,  sharing and building/finding connections.   While there are some smaller groups set up for #edcmooc,  the noise seems unbearable at times.  Yet I don’t want to completely silence the noise because sometimes you need to connect to the larger stream of conversations just to find interesting connections or tidbits.   So how can technology help with that instead of just piling on more applications.

My initial response to the first week of class is based on both the formal lesson plan (using resources identified by the instructors) and my own expectations of what I hoped to get out of the class.  Based on the course content, I’m beginning to wonder if this class will help me achieve those expectations (especially the one to better understand how to juggle all these conflicting social networks and applications).   I do think the course format will bring home how broken social networking applications  at massive scale really is.  So now the question is what do I do about it?   Do I take the easy way out  and become a silent observer just doing the bare minimum interaction based on course content.  Or do I continue to build smaller networks that help me achieve a degree of satisfaction in connecting with interesting people trying to do the impossible – handle social networks at large or massive scale.

During our first ever #edcmchat (Elearning & Digital Cultures MOOC #edcmooc chat) session on Twitter, Andy Mitchell voiced a concern that I have also had and in fact talked about in a previous blog: “There’s so many webtools available now I struggle to find time .. I often feel I am playing catch up”. Angela Towndrow, an #edcmooc quadblogging partner, asked “Do we need to set aside time to keep up like getting a haircut or going to the gym….?”. My initial response was that I didn’t know… “the networking stream keeps moving even when you disconnect – calls for a blog to think it through.” There was certainly no way to give the subject much deep thought when tweets were rolling through at about 18 tweets per minute (pretty slow compared to events like the Olympics but fast for this new group).
With more time to think about it, my answer turns out to still be a work in progress with an initial answer. As I walked along the Potomac River this morning near my house without any social media, I realized that disconnecting to play catch up was not the obvious way to keep up with social tools. Sure a person can take time away to research and test various web tools; it’s usually what I do now to see if there is a capability that we might like to bring into my workplace. However, the real test is in using the tool within a network where  learning comes from both trial & error as well as coaching from others in the network. And that’s hard to do on your own if you disconnect from networking. Instead, I think that a venue like #edcmooc provides the perfect way to catch up on technologies and techniques for digital connectedness. I’ve listed some of the reasons, although I suspect there may be others.
1. Moves you out of your comfort zone
2. Provides a safe environment to network and experiment
3. Gives you access to people with many different skill levels and experiences – both in the network and adjacent to the network
4. Provides great feedback – both positive and constructive
Before I started the preparation for #edcmooc in mid-November, I was in a rut. I used a number of tools in my workplace and a different set at home (e.g. Twitter, G+, Facebook). But I wasn’t pushing myself to really learn anything more – I’d gotten comfortable with the minimum of interaction through relatively well understood social tools. I might test something new and then move on. The #edcmooc pre-course preparation has pushed me out of my comfort zone into interacting, chatting, searching, researching, connecting, testing and sharing experiences in a richer, deeper way. At the same, there is no pressure to perform like there is in a work  environment.  Also,  the wide depth of knowledge and experiences of the participants make it a joy to act as both a learner and a teacher/coach/mentor where needed.  This includes people who may not be directly in the network but are looking at similar capabilities or have skills needed by the network.   And the feedback so far has been both positive and constructive.  I have not had this same level of experience since I first started on the pioneer path with social media in 2005-2009. It’s exciting and challenging at the same time.  The biggest challenge is the time to fuse all the knowledge and perhaps develop a plan for the way ahead.  In other words, what do I want to do with all this knowledge and the networks that I am acquiring?  That will be for a later blog.

Social media is teaching me that there is no sense in arguing with someone is blinded by their passions – whether it’s love of an individual, love of stuff like guns or love of power. Some writers/researchers say it’s because of anonymity which allows people to write anything they want. I agree to some extent but I also wonder if it isn’t due to the fact that we no longer come face-to-face with those who have contradictory points of view. Instead we read what fits our passions and ignore the other writings as utter rot created by blathering idiots. To the point that we “unfollow” or “unfriend” or “unlike” someone because they dared to contradict our point of view. Sad that even the brightest seem rarely able to think objectively.  I’m not sure yet whether I will do any research into this area but I find it a disturbing phenomenon at global scale vice small groups arguing face-to-face in coffee shops.

Earlier today Lewis Shepherd  commented on a blog post that I had written last year.  In that comment he proposed  “Knowledge Artist” as a better phrase or term than “knowledge worker” or “information worker,” to describe people who work in information-dense but critically informed, pensive environments, whether it’s in the Beltway, on Wall Street, or in a media-centric career. …… better than “knowledge worker,” with its tone of drudgery and labor….”

The idea of being a “knowledge artist” intrigues, inspires and excites me since I think the term probably describes the holistic nature of what I am trying to do better than the phrase  knowledge worker.  That doesn’t mean that a knowledge artist does not experience drudgery at time but uses both art and science to weave many components together to create, use and share knowledge.  My focus tends to be on the visual which is where my personal artistic skills are concentrated.  But art takes many forms.  I have been inspired by John Kao’s discussion of innovation and creativity in his book “Jamming” where he talks about his experiences as a jazz musician.  And I have resonated to David Whyte’s ideas on the use of poetry in corporate America (see his book “The Heart Aroused – Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America”).  I also found Daniel Pink’s book on “A Whole New Mind” enlightening as he looks at skill sets generally designated as right-brained (versus the logical left side of the brain) that have been undervalued.  I started this blog to start discussing these kinds of thoughts to see how we could balance logic with emotion in a way that helps inform intuition (the “ah-ha moment”) and yet cross-checks the imagination.  

I have no idea where this journey to understand “knowledge artists” will be going, but it should be filled with learning and creativity even if the term turns out to be invalid.   I will look forward to hearing all your ideas along the way.

Rock Owl at Ghost RanchWhere to start?  Last fall I spent a week at Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu, New Mexico on an art retreat.  The land was alive with stark contrasts from the unexpectedly green floor where plants and lichen bloomed after too much rainfall to unusual rock formations that sometimes seemed alive.   I was part of a small group learning how to communicate spiritually through art using mandelas to contain our expressions.  We used everything from paper to the desert to create these mandelas.  Below the Rock Owl,  I was able to build a stone mandela around a rock altar that someone had built before we came.  As I worked in the desert gathering stones and materials to incorporate into my mandela, the Rock Owl watched over my movements just as it had watched over the happenings of the desert for many years.  It was a magical moment where I could feel part of the land while I communed quietly with God exalting in the beauty and majesty of the world that had been created for us.   

Blue Birdie ClassicI can’t think of a better title to start my WordPress blogging experience.  I am not new to blogging, although most of it has been done on an antiquated internal lan where I work.  So I am looking forward to moving out into the world in search of new knowledge and irreverant flotsam (aka junk) to create new art.  

Jabulani Does CIC

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