Saturday, February 28, 2009

A little mind manure...

Don't things grow better in a little manure??? How about your ideas? A little bull sh!t does wonders for a garden, so why not ideas? Why not a little mind manure? (Thanks for the term, Jana!)

Most everyone is thinking very small (except maybe for the tank!) in terms of final project ideas. I suggested when I gave you the exercise that your final project ideas didn't even have to be feasible, but no one, and I repeat NO ONE picked up on that suggestion. Most of the ideas were uninspired. But after reading your blogs, I know you know that. And I know you are b-o-r-e-d with the final project already (mostly.)

Well, that's why I am here. It is my job to step in at this point and try to grab you from the brink of mundane ideas. Think of this as your creative kick in the @ss!

Stop being BORING, especially to yourself.

If you are bored with or uninspired by your project idea then boot it out and start over. Really.

Read through this entry for some ideas on how to come up with better ideas. Maybe... I hope...

If you are having a hard time coming up with an idea for a project and you feel you need restrictions or directions, then why not make some up for yourself? For example, what if you decide you want to use this project as a chance to solve a problem? But what problem could you possible solve? How about the problem of telling a story? How, you might ask, can telling a story be problem solving? Well, aren't all stories just big problems that are somehow solved as the story unfolds? How do the three little pigs solve the problem of the big bad wolf? How did Frodo solve the problem of the ring?

OK, so you could tell a story as a way to solve a problem. But can you do so in a creative way? Obviously (based on the reaction I have read to the Plato reading I assigned) lots of people don't like to read, so how can you make them want to experience your story? Notice how I said experience instead of read? I am now thinking of this story in a different way... You could say that I am seeing writing a story sideways now...

So how can you be creative with your story? First, you have to think about what does the word "creative" mean to you? Well, we defined the term "creative" for ourselves during class discussion (remember the words we finished on the white board and ended up talking about religion - creationism, agnosticism, crucifying eggs???) According to the class, "creative" is looking at (or interpreting) something in a new way. Basically, seeing something old sideways. (And if you are bored you should do a Google image search for "crucified egg" and look through the pages! Wow! People do all kinds of things with eggs, and they weren't even in this class!)

So, how can you tell a story in a new way? What if... sound familiar - that whole what if thing? (What if you did 50 what if questions related to your final project idea???)

What if you write a story and then take us all outside and show us your story written in sidewalk chalk all the way around the building? In order to experience your story the reader has to follow the path you choose. And what if you refer to things they can see from different vantage points outside in the story. That is a new way to get someone "into" a story...

What if you try to tell your story without words (on the sidewalk - like the picture above?)

Or, what if you record yourself speaking the story and then play it backwards?

Or what if you use the word verifications that are so prolific on blogging sites when you post a comment as the language for your story? (I have actually considered that one, especially with all the comments I have been leaving on your blogs!) Is it important that other people can understand your story?

What if you text one sentence to each person in the class and then ask the class to figure out the story based on the sentence each person received? You could give the class some time to share each person's sentence with the group and then everyone would stand in line in the order they think the story is supposed to go and then read their line when it is their turn. What would that do to your story, and would people be into doing it?

What if you projected lines from your story on the various walls of the buildings around campus? Or around the city?

What if you twitter your story parts but only at 2:13 a.m. every day?

What if you sent your story to a publisher for the final project and post the acceptance/rejection letter to your blog when you get it?

What if you made your story into a puppet show for the class?

What if you drew a comic strip of your story on the white board on the final day of class?

What if you sit in the middle of the room and read the first line of your story to the class and then read the rest silently to yourself in front of the class while we all make up our own stories in our minds based on the first line you read? Or better yet, what if you gave us the first line and then each person in class writes the next line, and the next one, and so on, up on the white board and then you finish the story once everyone else wrote their line? Kind of like a communal story?

Or what if you write the words with light like in the picture to the right and make a video of the words of your story?

Hmmm... So many ideas based on just telling a freakin' story! And I haven't even thought about what the story was going to be about!

Or what if you base your project on something that inspires you? So what is it that inspires you? Was it your bliss, or is it something else? Try thinking of what interests you more than anything else in the world. You could start with that for your final project idea... No one said your project had to be original. You imposed that rule on yourself. (What other rules are you putting in front of yourself in this class? I don't have many.) I never said you couldn't use something you like to inspire yourself... I am inspired by nature. Remember the large Photoshop images I brought into class? Those where all about nature. The root of all of those pictures (remember the ghostly woman and the evil man?) was photography of the woods and surroundings where I live. The image below is made only from photos of my woods and is therefore inspired by my love of nature.

Inspiration is a funny thing. Often the final result bears no resemblance to that which inspired it. This image certainly does not look like my woods. If it did I would never go home again!

Another way to help whittle down the possibilities for a project is to give yourself a theme. You could choose a broad topic like hunger and see what you can come up with. Or you can be very specific and choose something like ants.

For hunger you might end up going out and taking photos of dumpsters behind fast food restaurants and compositing what you find with images of people with anorexia. Or you could take a nice steak dinner and put it on a plate in a gallon plastic bag and leave it out in the counter for a week and then ask people if they want to eat it and document their reactions. You could then take the audio from those interviews and put it with footage of beautiful food. Or you do the opposite. You could show people beautiful food and have them talk about how much they want to eat it, but show images of rancid food. Yuck! But it makes you think!

For ants as a theme you could put out a piece of paper with lines of wet paint on the edges and then place some fruit in the middle that would attract ants. When the ants crawl through the paint to get to the food the paint would document their journeys. You could then scan that into Photoshop and manipulate it. Or you could mount a camera above the paper and make a time lapse video where you can't see the ants but it looks like the paper paints itself... Or you could tattoo yourself like this dude inspired by the Dave Mathews Band song "Ants Marching"... Ouchie... I prefer Photoshop's marching ants, myself.

If you already know what you want to do why not mull over various approaches to your idea? Often you can make the idea better this way. At the very least you can make yourself chuckle and then move on. For instance, Joe, you want to make a tank, and you are pretty excited about that idea. But have you thought of other things you could do with it? What if you added TV's to the outside of it and loudspeakers so you could intimidate others with your superior new media skills? What if you made it an amphibious vehicle so you could drive it to France? What if you painted it pink and welded a steel tutu on the back end? I have no idea why you would do that last one, but it made me smile!

Hmmm... If an hour to discuss your ideas for your final projects is too long (in a group of 2-3 people, each talking = 20 minutes per idea...) then I suggest that your ideas are maybe not so good... Hell, if YOU are already bored with them then imagine how torturous it would be for someone else to partake of what you created? But I think the real problem is that you don't know how to brainstorm. I threw you in the deep end to see what would happen and you sank like rocks! OK. Let's try some swimming lessons!

The idea of playing with an idea is not something you really know how to do yet. Actually you do know how to, it has just been bred out of you. 5-year-olds are great at brainstorming and talking about ideas! You used to be, I bet. But then you went to school and they told you to stop being so silly and get serious. Now I am telling you to stop being so serious and get silly. I mean it! Of course your idea of silly and mine are probably two different things. Really, the best way to do it is jump in and, well, start playing! Let your mind wander and wonder about your idea and see what happens. Be serious and see what happens. Be silly and see what happens.

But document all your ideas. That is what the piece of paper was for in your groups. Some of you used it and some didn't. In a productive idea discussion that paper should not have had one blank spot left on it, even it if is just covered in doodles like the Dick Devils. Anything that will help you remember your ideas. Because who knows? Maybe an idea that you don't use now would be perfect later. And unless you keep track of them they are slippery and will swim away never to be seen again.

That is the also the beauty of an idea - it doesn't exist until you implement it, so when brainstorming and talking about your ideas, no flight of fancy is too outrageous, or too stupid... You might even come up with the dreaded Bad Idea! (insert evil music here) At this point you can even think about illegal or immoral applications of your idea. Just don't implement those! Please!

Use the tools you have learned in this class on your idea: take an object and do something with it based on your idea, experiment with your senses based around your idea, ask a bunch of what if questions about your idea, think about your idea as it relates to time, talk to others about your idea, and so on...

Mostly, you all know you copped out on the final project idea exercise, but it is not as much of a surprise to me as it is to you. This happens every semester, with very few exceptions. During your 20 minutes of fame with each other in your discussion groups you stated what you wanted to do for your final project, or you talked about how you had no idea what to do and how it was impossible to come up with a truly original idea without any guidance for the project. Then you spent the rest of the looooonnnnggg discussion period talking about your favorite games, other classes, or texting someone who was not even in the room. There were a lot of statements but very few discussions.

None of the groups left the room for the hour even though I opened that possibility to you. You are still thinking like you always have. Don't beat yourself up for doing what you have always been taught to do. But on the other hand, don't use that as a crutch. It is difficult to learn to think for yourself.

Just getting out of the classroom for a little while would have been more interesting than staring at each other for 45 minutes or gossiping about games and school, wondering where I went and when I would be back because you HATE group work and just wanted class to be over. Instead of poking at your ideas and playing with options you ended up being bored and frustrated. Time moved slowly for you that day when it could have gone by in a flash of inspiration. But now you know what it feels like if you don't try to take the reins of your own educational experience, at least in this class. This class is very, VERY boring if you persist with your old ways of doing things. Try the new way. Question everything!

Most of us are still in the habit of sticking with the first idea we come up with regardless of how ho-hum it might be. But that is what you have always done. No one has ever challenged you with this kind of freedom before. It is hard to do at first. Besides, the mindset is that IUPUI classes tend to be really easy and not of much import anyway other than in technical training, or so some people have told me... I have my doubts that this is really the case with many courses, but the stigma remains in some people's minds. If you constantly hear that it is easy to believe it. And if you believe it, then it becomes true. We have a tendency to shape our own realities that way.

Who gives a crap what we do for some stupid class project anyway, right? Someone else will tell you what to do when it really counts. Right? Like your boss. But what if you want to be the boss? What if you actually like to think once you really try it? I have been pleasantly surprised by how many students are craving this kind of stimulation. Not all, but many like it. But our culture prefers to "teach to the test" and tell you what to do so it is like culture shock for many students who first encounter the dreaded "do anything you want" assignment or exercise. It is like drowning in a sea of possibilities and old "tried but true" ideas are like life lines floating in the currents. No wonder you cling to them for dear life!

Being stuck in a rut is boring, but at least it is safe. We are taught that boredom is to be expected as an adult. It is your civic duty to help society function by doing your job. Playing is for children. There is usually no social ostracism associated with following the status quo, even if it makes you want to stick a fork in your eye out of boredom. At least no one will call you out on your idea like I did with Nick about his animations. (Thanks for being such a good sport about that, Nick! I picked on you because I knew you could take it.)

What about the idea of doing something that would be memorable? Or at the very least, entertaining, or (gulp) innovative? These days if you want to get a good job, or even for the sake of personal fulfillment (maybe) you need to make yourself stand out from the crowd. You need to either be the best at what you do or have the better idea. Other classes in new media help you be the best with the software, but this one is about the ideas. And frankly, very few of the project ideas I heard in class last week (or read in blogs) stood out. In fact I can only remember 2-3 out of almost 25... Ouch!

What if I came into class and said that anyone who does the idea they proposed last week for their final project would flunk the course? What would you do then? Would that help you understand that it is important to entertain multiple approaches to a project idea if you want to be "creative?" Or, better yet, and more "real world" if you like, what if I played the role of the client and told you I didn't like your idea and I was going to find someone else to give the job to? What would you do? Would you try to come up with a different idea? Or would you walk away and go into a career that is less demanding?

Not everyone wants to work that hard to come up with ideas. The world really does need all kinds of people, not just those who are willing to see sideways. Otherwise who would ride on the backs of trash trucks or fill in potholes in the roads. Seriously. Those things need to be done, too, and maybe you might be happier with a job you can leave behind when you clock out at the end of the day. I respect people who can do that. I, however, cannot do that. I have tried. I was miserable. But that is me. If I am not constantly questioning and doing new things I would need to be heavily medicated just to get through the day. Some people are afraid to ask too many questions because of the implications of those questions. Questioning things too much can shake the foundations of what you have always thought to be true. I am not one to say that being reluctant to do this is wrong. But it does inhibit creativity and innovation.

Another problem is that you just might not take this very seriously, especially when you are faced with calculus exams, and Flash projects, and C++ finals, and storyboards for your video class, and sick children, and if you are going to be laid off, or are you going to have to put in 50 hours this week just to make the house payment. It is all about choices and you, not I, know where your priorities are. But I hope this is one of them. This is definitely the kind of class where you get as much out of it as you put into it. Especially during discussion.

So who are you? A 9-5 worker in favor of the comfortable status quo who can leave it all behind at the end of the day or a free thinker who wants to shake things up a little and take a chance, consumed by your ideas and creations? If you choose to shake it up you get to define what that is for yourself. Only you know what is (forgive me for this) "outside the box" for yourself. It might be something as radical as using an inkjet printer to "print" new heart valves or might be a new way to lay out a website that you have never tried before. Never mind that when you get home you find out that someone else just did the same thing. Is there anything that is truly original? Do you even want to try to be "truly original?" Or is just doing the best you can within your safe zone your goal? Or are you just here to get a piece of paper and move on with your life? Only you can know the answer to those questions, and a course like this can help you decide. Either way is fine, but it is a good thing to know about yourself. There is no shame at all in any life goal (maybe eating children is an exception...) and you might find that it changes for you as you experience new things in your life. This class will definitely push you toward being a free thinker when it comes to new media, though. The problem is that it can be hard to not let it leak into other areas of your life if you sincerely give it a try. So I can understand if you are hesitant to try too hard to shake it all up. Maybe this is not the class for you if that is the case. No offense to you or me. If you are really worried about that, please come talk to me. We might be able to help you stay in the course and still be comfortable with all aspects of your life. (I am talking about religion and other beliefs that might make you worry about thinking like this...)

But if you want to make your mark in new media you will encounter times when creativity is demanded. The amount you give is up to you. Flexing your muscles in a course like this is a good way to push the limits and see what happens when you turn it all upside-down and look at things in new ways. Plus it is a safe environment - remember that failure is actually a good thing in an exercise or even your final project because it means you tried something NEW.

The part you are really being evaluated on in this course is the IDEA behind each exercise you do and each project you try. If you can get it to work, too, that is the whipped cream on top of the sundae!

I suspect your mind (as a class) is still more fixated on the assignment (grade) than the possibilities inherent in this project. Let your inhibitions loose and see what happens. See what you can come up with when no one is telling you what what you "have to" do. What are your own ideas and interests? You really are an intelligent, creative being, even if you don't believe it. You are unique, just like everyone else.

And yes, as Marqi said in his blog, that is scary. Even scarier than this really scary clown! (shudder - I am terrified of clowns - now you know my one mortal weakness - be kind, please)

Of course, I can turn this into a "traditional" class where I lecture and tell you what to think and do. You could take notes and I could do software demos. You could be sitting in front of a computer and surfing the web while I am showing the class how to do things and then you don't know how to do what I just showed because you were chatting about America Idol with your new BFF squigglelips34. I could give quizzes and exams. We could do a big project for the Alzheimer's Association of Indiana and create an exciting new website and then teach them how to use it! Whatever you want. But that would not be the point of this class and we would be better off going to the zoo, or the mall, or sleeping, or doing homework for a real class, or just sitting in our cars for three hours a week and twiddling our thumbs...

I can't force you to stretch yourself unless you are willing to try. I know that deep inside each of you is a crazy, wildly creative person. After all you chose new media as your career path and I don't know of any life that is more creative than that of the new media professional. Either that or you are a misplaced accountant. No offense intended to accountants by that last analogy. Dear numbers gurus, I need you in my wildly creative life, especially around April 15th! Long live the accountants! But I don't want an accountant who is too creative... I look bad in black and white horizontal stripes.

But back to sharing your ideas with each other. What is the worst that can happen? Will Angie come to your house in the middle of the night and steal your ketchup if you talk too much in class? Maybe, but who needs ketchup? And, gasp, what if something you say actually inspires an idea for someone else? But that can't happen if you aren't willing to explore your ideas and not just settle for the first safe thing that comes to mind. On my god, what if you come up with an idea you can't possibly create??? You might flunk the course! Bull pucky! You are more likely to flunk this course if you don't voice your ideas than if you come up with an impossible one! Stop censoring yourself. Please. Make your mark. Use your voice. Flex your mind! You might be surprised. And talk about your ideas. Unless you want a really boring class for the next few weeks (we haven't even gotten to midterms yet - there is that much time left!)

If I have an idea I am interested in then I don't want to shut up about it. Obviously that is true - have you SEEN the lengths of my blog entries this semester??? Hmmm... How to lead you into experiencing that excitement about your own ideas???

Now that you have survived to the end of this post (didn't the pretty pictures help, not to mention the witty banter of yours truly?!?) here is a revolutionary idea: I guess we don't even have to do a final project if you aren't into the idea. I am open to alternative suggestions. Seriously. If you have a better idea than a final project, let me have it! If we aren't inspired by the idea of a final project then what else could we do? All suggestions are welcome (remember the disclaimer about legality, repercussions to our actions, and all that other boring stuff...)

Could we do something like this???

Think about it and then share it.


Jan Sellmer said...

Nice graphic on mind manure. I'm sure in your teaching experience you have encountered both mind manure and jaw music. You know EXACTLY what I mean, don't ya!!!!!

Ellis Gary said...

Sorry to intrude on this semester's class.

I graduated last semester and also took this class. It was a blast as long as the class stayed focused and contributed to the discussion. Usually our train was derailed and the journey was halted.

YOUR creativity will become boring if YOU let it. Even if what YOU have made isn't accepted by your boss or peers, don't let that stop YOU! If YOU aren't inspired by what is happening in YOUR life then maybe it is time to make some changes. Shake it up a little bit. Go do something new. Go take pictures of random people. Try some new techniques that YOU have not had time to do. It is on YOUR shoulders to be creative.

Do something for your final project that YOU could never imagine doing! College is a the time to experiment and grow! It's up to YOU!

Just remember that if YOU wait until the last minute and don't put any effort into it, YOUR project will suffer and it will be obvious.

Joe said...

Wow. This is an insane post. Ha. I find it ironic that you would suggest that I use loudspeakers and TVs on the tank. This was actually already part of the plan, I guess I forgot to share it... Sorry! I gave up on the feasible of the TVs (by the end of the semester, I mean, not entirely!), but the loudspeakers and microphone were always a part of it the original idea and hopefully it will pan out by semester's end!

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