Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: Through Navajo Eyes

I recently discovered a gem of a book called Through Navajo Eyes by Sol Worth and John Adair. This is a fascinating book from the early 1970s where the authors taught various Navajo how to make films, and then observe the patterns and styles of their filmmaking. The book in its entirety can actually be read online here.

Five of the six Navajo that they taught had never seen a film, and were only taught film technology (but not about theory of editing). Despite not seeing films (though they knew what they were), the Navajo were found to be amazingly adept filmmakers, particularly in the editing process, and had a remarkable knack for visual memory of shots.

There are many parts of this book that are interesting, particularly in the structure of the films the Navajo made. The authors describe that their films often did not employ a standard narrative progression with a building of tension. Rather, they began with the event being completed, and then the rest of the film worked to get show how they got to that point.

They also do not seem to care about continuity editing to blend shots of actions together into a seeming continuous stream. Jump cuts abounded and were not viewed as unusual. Their films featured a lot of walking (for the sake of walking), and it seemed that the emphasis on motion was more important than the continuity of actions. Thus, if a person was walking in a shot, then suddenly jumped in another shot to a place further down the road, this was not viewed as unusual.

This cutting without continuity appears different than the films made by inner city American teenagers, which the authors also had studied. Continuity editing is described as being implicitly learned by these students, who did it without being taught the theory (but had seen Hollywood movies that use this technique).

With the pervasiveness of movies in today's world, I'm not sure if doing a similar project in these times would work quite as well. However, the ubiquity of digital film editing software would certainly make it easier for individuals to make films.

Overall, the book is a fascinating study of film and visual narrative, motivated by an interesting premise.

Worth, Sol, and John Adair. 1972. Through Navajo Eyes: An Exploration in Film Communication and Anthropology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Going off the grid for a bit...

I've been a bit absent from blogging lately, largely due to being crazy busy with work, but next week I'm legitimately going off the grid for a martial art retreat. So, I figured I'd at least give an update about things.

First off, my manuscript about my model for the structure underlying sequential images has grown to be quite massive. I'm now up to 197 pages (single spaced, 1" margins), and it's still growing! The plan is to finish off this paper by Winter break, and then figure out how best to get it out and read by others.

I've also recently started the planning and preparation of what I hope to be my dissertation projects about sequential image comprehension. I have two fantastic assistants working under me who are helping prepare the stimuli, so hopefully a new experiment will be online soon to help get things underway.

Added to that, I'm currently preparing a few articles to submit for publication. Looks to be busy times ahead...

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Review: "Copying and Artistic Behaviors"

Smith argues that the negative views on "copying" demonstrated by art educators since the 50s is misplaced in some contexts. She claims that some forms of copying are good, and the relative value of copying is based on three factors: need, model, and process. She examines varying fields through use of a corpus of comics produced by American children, noting that themes and genres are copied greatly. She didn't find that the children copied the drawing style as much.

My curiosity is whether this is due to lack of practice/exposure though. The examples given by a child with "unusual ability" seem hardly on par with Japanese drawings of children of the same age that copy manga en masse. This child did copy various elements of drawings, though not absolutely. For instance, when copying Charlie Brown, he imitated parts but altered/left out others. Another child drew the typical "lumpy" figure of Captain America to show his musculature. Smith conjectures that his intent was to draw someone "strong" as opposed to drawing a bicep in particular.

To this extant, these children's copying seems to be drawing characters/features to the point of recognition — not iconic match. In other words, they're trying to convey concepts visually, not create "realistic" pictures (or even "accurately" imitated images).

While interesting to see much support given to imitation, most of it is not structural, and still maintains an "Art" perspective. The "need" assigned to copying is largely social or emotional/psychological, not structural or cognitive. (For instance, it says imitation suits a child's need to "play out" conflict in fantasy, as opposed to saying that children copy because their brains are pattern seeking machines).

Social need is Language-like though, as it heralds conventionality. She also marks copying as important as a natural behavior in socialization, since "younger children initiate copying as a means of acquiring desired knowledge" while "older children want to master images representative of their culture" (147).

Also interesting was her statement why she wanted to look at comics in the first place: "Comic strips are of interest because children frequently and spontaneously initiate copying of them despite disapproval" (148). No citation is given to this statement, but are comics copied more than other forms of visual communcations in culture? (it wouldn't surprise me if the answer is "yes") And, if so, doesn't that say something about the structure of the stimuli in relation to the human mind — like maybe these signs are somehow attuned to acquisition and socialization?
Smith, N. (1985). Copying and Artistic Behaviors: Children and Comic Strips Studies in Art Education, 26 (3) DOI: 10.2307/1320320

[Originally posted 5/15/07]