{Year 2} [Session 12] “A Thousand Dreams That Would Awake Me” (reflection)

Parallels between future (Web) and past (Art)

Regrettably, I could not attend this lecture due to my placement at the National Gallery, but I have watched the video (it would be nice to get the slideshow on Slideshare or something!) and found interesting parallels between Darren Savage’s renaissance philosophies of predicting future (where we are going) and exploring past (where we have come from). This made me realise that there were parallels (for me) between this lecture on the future of the Web for schoolchildren and my week exploring the history of art with schoolchildren at the National Gallery.

This parallel can be discussed in the Connectivist style: how the mind connects images and ideas (in the real world, and the digital world, to the internal mind world). The problem is that everyone’s mind is infinitely different and the way Connectivist theory explains neural connections is apt here, because modern man is retribalising and thinking more alike than ever before. I will not attempt to qualify this, but only say that that pupils are individuals with complex and unique thoughts.

Let me provide an example that makes a connection between this lecture and history. I liked Savage’s use of the Shiny, Shiny, Shiny, Boots of Leather commercial spot from 1993. I haven’t seen it for years (it was huge when it was originally broadcast) and I could not remember the product (which says a lot about advertising), But Venus in Furs by Velvet Underground has the image of a 60s artistic renaissance, not just hippie stuff, but genuine artistic history (connection: Andy Warhol); the film was directed by Tarsem Singh, who makes commercials and motion pictures in what can only be described as a “painterly” way (see The Fall, and Immortals, which connects to paintings, which connects to the National Gallery (and paintings of Venus, not in furs obviously, but still very sexy.) Postscript: I found out it was Tony Kaye, not Tarsem, that did the film, but he also did American History X, which is historical enough for me to justify the neural connection.

In Darren Savage’s idea of using context to provide a platform for enhanced learning, say, in which we “sell” our learning “brand” and offer a “vision” to our pupils, perhaps the history of art is a brand? This works because the children live in a world in which marketing and advertising form a huge part of their sensory input, and we can “capitalise” (to use an apt metaphor) on this by layering this Connectivist network with things we want our pupils to learn.

Making culture sexy for the people (future/past connect 1)

The idea of “liking” and “sharing” and “tweeting” or indeed “retweeting” has an analogy in the way private patrons would ask painters to refer to other works (mashup) to up the ante of the portrayal of the human body, to “compete” (as it were) and gamify paintings: two Florentine merchants may have competed to have the sexiest portrayals of their mistresses within the confines of acceptable taste. Failed paintings were often burnt and great cost and regret. Successful paintings were the talk (the tweet) of the town. This social context of gamification can be paralleled with the modern marketing techniques of placing attractive idea into the hands of patrons — in this world, millions of them – and see immediate benefits and analytic rewards. In the Quattrocento, it might have taken several months before the idea of Merchant A and Merchant B playing a social game around sexy paintings to become part of the cultural language (to “beat the drum”, McLuhan, 1962). In this world, it can take minutes or hours to create a meme such as Mr Splashy Pants (which I have not heard of) or a movement such as the Arab Spring.

With such speed and expediency available to us, Savage correctly points out that as teachers, we can use memetics to cause an idea to spark, the Gilly Salmon wants it to, but much faster and with more palpable results, sooner rather than later. Just as well, because most kids today don’t hang around for tangents.

Super-wide cultural convergence (future/past connect 2)

Everything is available to us right now, immediately. We don’t need to wait for anything anymore. Just looking at the extremely erudite and wide-ranging inputs from Mr Savage’s presentation, we can see just how much cognitive energy is available to modern audiences in less time than you need to digest it.

This super-wide convergence was not always as accessible as it is now (certainly not to the many illiterate and poor people of the time), but take for example, Holbein’s The Ambassadors. There is a wide range of influences, ideas, inputs and contexts in just one paints that measures 2m by 2m. In a sense, the painting is a super-connected artefact. It is cognitively huge. Symbolism and detail (which I do not have the time to go into here) have their own memetic qualities, going viral into the mind of the literary person of the time.

Chomsky on how it just happens by itself

"Most problems of teaching are not problems of growth but helping cultivate growth. As far as I know, and this is only from personal experience in teaching, I think about ninety percent of the problem in teaching, or maybe ninety-eight percent, is just to help the students get interested. Or what it usually amounts to is to not prevent them from being interested. Typically, they come in interested, and the process of education is a way of driving that defect out of their minds. But if children['s] [...] normal interest is maintained or even aroused, they can do all kinds of things in ways we don't understand"

(Chomsky, 1992)

It seems counterintuitive to reliquish control, but I think that we need to seriously consider this. There are many connections to be made: too many to simply “teach”. Mr Savage has shown us a comlex and mystifying future, one in which the pupil will change the rules. Maybe we should listen to Chomsky,  McLuhan and Savage, and let them get on with it, in their own way.




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