Strategies for Writing & Documentation

As a conclusion to the OSS User Manual, the following methods synthesize the techniques explained in previous tutorials, as developed during the first semester of 2014 at NTU. These techniques rely on the use of WordPress as a database to advance writing and media projects, as well as for students and instructors to gain more effective and transparent access to research and creative activity. In Open Source Studio, the practice of writing and documentation is considered integral to the creative process.

By: Randall Packer |

Research

Research posts typically consist of student critique of artworks, essays and observations on reading assignments, and other related critical commentary on topical subject matter.  Whenever a student creates a research-related post, they use the category “Research,” this way all critical writing can be displayed on a single category feed called “Research” (see figure below). The post documented below, by former ADM student Prakash Haridas, is a piece about the media artist, Hasan Elahi: The Artist as Producer, Curator and Critic.

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The power of this system is that the student or instructor can access the semester’s research related work by simply accessing the menu of categories located in the sidebar (see figure below). Note that the category dropdown menu has been creatively titled “Choose your scribbles,” a way for a student to artistically personalize the reference to posts.

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Note that the research posts allow students to integrate all the media, including images, video, links, sound, etc. as a form of multimedia writing (see figure below). When I give writing assignments in WordPress, it is required that students engage multiple forms of media, learning to present their work with ample illustrations, links, and other references that are integral to Web-based writing. The post below about Jodi.org: The Desolation of Text and the User Interface, includes a gif animation, a moving image incorporated into writing that simply wouldn’t be possible in conventional writing forms. It has been my experience that students approach online critical writing with renewed creative energy, given the opportunity to integrate media as well as experiment with the design and format of their work.

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Project Update

The Project Update lies at the heart of the OSS approach. This writing assignment, in which the student documents their artistic work, is intended to catalyze the creative process. It is conventional wisdom that students write about their work at the end of the process, when the project is complete. However, I have found that writing is a powerful tool for shaping ideas, for bringing ideas to life, to give a work form while it is still germinating. The documentation of the creative process also creates a record, so that the student can return to the Project Update to see how their ideas have evolved, and to recall ideas they may have forgotten.

Because the OSS system is integrated as a collective working space, the project hyperessay allows students to examine one another’s work-in-progress, much like studio visits in the traditional art school setting. In the case of undergraduate students at NTU, who like many undergraduates do not have private studio space, the OSS site functions as virtual studio space: a place to write, work, store media and engage in critical dialogue surrounding the creative and educational process.

Like the research posts, project updates incorporate a category as well, in this case: “Project.” Thus, if you access “Project” from the category menu, you see the “Category Archive” of project updates (see figure below). This is very powerful: the student or instructor can see all of the project updates written during the course of a semester. In the figure below, we are looking at the final update: “Project Update 5.”

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Students tend to include all forms of media and documentation in their project updates, including: screenshots, examples of code, technical diagrams, graphics, audio files, video documentation, etc. In the figure below, the student has posted a technical solution taken as a screenshot from a bulletin board for the Unity game platform. We are actually looking at a screenshot of a screenshot!

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Project Hyperessay

While the project update is intended as informal documentation of the artistic process, the Project Hyperessay is a more formally conceived sequence of posts that documents specific stages of a final project. The Project Hyperessay is also intended to catalyze the student workflow, spreading the creation of a work throughout an entire semester (or year), rather than the more typical compressed time frame that students tend to favor, however detrimental their work. Students use the full gamut of Web tools to produce a Project Hyperessay, in which through writing and media documentation (video, image, sound, etc.), they carry out the conceptualization of their work in full view of other students on the OSS site.

The project hyperessay essentially breaks down the creative process into the following sections: concept, influences, technical realization, role of the viewer, and conclusion. In OSS, this process of documentation is equal in importance to the outcome of a project: archival skills are essential for all creative disciplines and OSS explores these techniques as integral to the artistic process. Most media artists today create project pages of their work for proposals sent to grant organizations, curators, and presenting organizations. These media skills are invaluable to artists who must learn the necessary techniques for the marketing, exhibition and performance of their work.

In the example below, the student has written the first part of the project hyperessay (Introduction), in which they are beginning to formulate the initial idea of a work. Note they are incorporating a screenshot from one of our class sessions in the third space, an example of how the experience of studying online, as well as topics we cover, impacts the artistic process of creating an online work (see figure below).

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Another student has developed technical schematics for the design and layout of a media installation as documented in the “Technical Realization” installment of their project hyperessay (see figure below). The work, entitled the “Universal Solvent,” makes use of light and sound triggered by the viewer’s interaction with canisters filled with water. It is not at all typical for students to go to this extent to document their work, but the project hyperessay assignment gives them the tools and structure for preparing themselves for a professional career as a media artist or designer, in which documentation of the technical process is essential to producing quality work.

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In this second example of a technical realization, the student has made use of screenshots from music software, with corresponding audio clips, in order to demonstrate techniques for creating audio-visual remixes of appropriated material (see figure below). It is interesting note that in the tag cloud to the right, keywords such as “Ableton Live” (the music software), “remix,” etc are emerging from the tagging of posts that include reference to these terms. This means that the WordPress database provides another means of organizing project documentation related to both key concepts and technical realization.

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In this final example of a project hyperessay installment , the student has written a Conclusion that documents the final outcome of the work. Often, a work of art will evolve dramatically during the course of its execution, and this final installment of the project hyperessay gives the student an opportunity to assess their own process and to evaluate the final results of their work.

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In conclusion, it is hoped that these strategies for writing and documentation demonstrate how the functionality of the WordPress database becomes integral to the creative process. The techniques of categorization, tagging, linking, integrating media, etc. are powerful functions when put to use for artistic purposes. Furthermore, the networked WordPress multi-site environment provides a means of sharing work that is essential to artistic growth. When student work can be authored in this manner, using the design and technical components of the WordPress system, the act of learning, researching, creating and teaching become inseparable.