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Wednesday, 11 February 2009

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Vance Maverick

Based on the page here, I think I disagree with you slightly about the relationship between the time of telling and the time of the scenes shown and/or the events told.

Manhattan thinks two completely different thoughts at the exact same moment

Hmm, I think the first thought is not itself taking place in the moment depicted -- it explicitly places itself 10-12 seconds earlier. The second thought does seem to be taking place in the moment depicted -- but to argue that I would need to refer to the previous frame.

Paul

"Because readers instinctively place importance on the center of a panel, the composition of this panel suggests nothing of importance is on the wall. Gibbons draws our attention to the destroyed part of the display. "

The reader's attention when reading a comic book is NOT drawn to the center of the panel, but rather to the text and the portions of the image immediately surrounding the text. (Lachey et. al 1997). Do your homework before you start spouting such nonsense!

JPool

I'll be nicer than Paul, but I was wondering how you'd square you centering assertion with the rule of thirds. Not that it affects your larger point about implied perspective and semi-alienated sympathetic gaze, but it is a general principal of visual composition.

In general, how are your students responding to being asked to take apart comic books in this way? Presumably they knew about the comic book thing when they signed up for the course, but are they down with the structuralist dissection or do they resist it as fun-draining?

Scott Eric Kaufman

JPool, I'm not sure what to make of the rule of thirds vis-a-vis comics because panel composition is so variable---I suppose I could look at the first couple of pages of the last issue and see whether Gibbons followed that.

As for how the students respond: they seem to love it, and they understand that these tools are intended to be used in the service of an argument.

Paul, it's not that I don't appreciate being exhorted by anonymous people on the internet, but if you'll note from the post, I've based the above on the work of Scott McCloud, who is a fairly well-respected explicator of this sort of thing. Is the matter up for debate? Certainly. But you have to start somewhere, and I chose to start with McCloud.

Vance, that's also debatable, but that's what this is intended to do: stimulate debate. I want them to consider the text as a non-self-evident artifact, not self-evident evidence to be cited authoritatively. (That's why I left the question about the center panel up in the air: I want them to decide, then defend their decision.)

Paul

But what exactly is the point of teaching students the craft of elaborate speculation regarding the creation of an artwork? Are you teaching a course titled "How to Bullshit About Art"?

"SEK: Now see here, this brushstroke in the corner of the painting is narrow and S shaped, which qualities are meant to evoke a feeling of fear in the viewer, since naturally we are frightened by things that look like snakes."

"Painter: Actually, I chose a narrow stroke like that because I found it aesthetically appealing."

"SEK: Well, that's debatable. But, that's what's important, isn't it? The debate. That we're having this discussion about why the painting looks the way it does. Right? I hope so."

Vance Maverick

Paul, that's unfair. We don't have direct testimony from the artist in this case, or indeed in most (and when we do, it's questionable). Taken to the extreme, your line of argument would defeat all efforts to think about art.

Scott's "I'm just mixin' it up" line is somewhat irritating, to be sure, but not because one of the interlocutors has a privileged position. And Scott wasn't even trying to open the debate in this post, but to talk about ways to open it in the classroom.

Scott Eric Kaufman

But what exactly is the point of teaching students the craft of elaborate speculation regarding the creation of an artwork? Are you teaching a course titled "How to Bullshit About Art"?

It's not "elaborate speculation," Paul. What you can't seem to accept---and what you failed to acknowledge in your reply---is that I'm citing my own expert here. You and your expert disagree, and to your mind that means I'm teaching a course on "How to Bullshit about Art"? Moreover, you're writing at a level of such generality, which is odd given that I present the panel and a compelling argument for why the photograph in it is off-center. Do you think, in that panel, Moore and Gibbons wanted the reader to pay attention to the area around the text? Why? What purpose would that achieve? I'll wait.

While I'm waiting, I'll note one more amusing thing about your comment---you don't seem to realize how self-defeating it is. I cite an actual working comic book artist, whereas you're futzing around with hypotheticals:

Paul: Scott McCloud put this image of a bird next to the caption at the top of the page in order to draw the reader's attention to the bird.

Scott McCloud: No, I actually drew Godzilla stomping through downtown Tokyo in the center of the panel in order to draw the reader's attention to Godzilla stomping through downtown Tokyo.

Paul: The reader's attention when reading a comic book is NOT drawn to the center of the panel, but rather to the text and the portions of the image immediately surrounding the text. Therefore, you wanted to draw the reader's attention to that bird. Do your homework before you start spouting such nonsense!

Scott McCloud: Read my textbooks and we'll talk.

Though, I suppose you'd respond that he do his homework before writing another one.

tomemos

Not to mention that Moore, particularly the Moore of Watchmen, is not the most likely person to tell the artist, "Oh, just draw whatever you think is aesthetically appealing."

JPool

Scott, to be fair, your first statement about the centering thing was about what readers instinctively do, not what authors intend them to do. And then, also to be fair, Paul abandoned his visual psychology schtick in favor of magically appearing artists. So there's that.

Which leads me to wondering why you're pursuing the authorial intent angle anyway. It seems like a mug's game to me. I suppose since you're teaching them composition it makes sense to have them try and identify with the composers. But even in a structuralist analysis, isn't the text understood to exist seperately from whatever the author intended for it?

Scott Eric Kaufman

Scott, to be fair, your first statement about the centering thing was about what readers instinctively do, not what authors intend them to do.

Admittedly, it seems like that because I phrased it like that. But what I was really saying was: "Scott McCloud says that readers instinctively yadda yadda yadda."

Which leads me to wondering why you're pursuing the authorial intent angle anyway. It seems like a mug's game to me. I suppose since you're teaching them composition it makes sense to have them try and identify with the composers. But even in a structuralist analysis, isn't the text understood to exist seperately from whatever the author intended for it?

Because the course focuses on rhetoric, we need them to understand that certain effects are produced so that they might learn to produce them in their own work. It's not just what you say, it's how you say it &c. Obviously, from a literary perspective, the focus on intended effect and audience reception is theoretically wonky---but from a rhetorical perspective, it makes sense to teach them that certain effects are created by doing X, Y then Z.

JPool

Obviously, from a literary perspective, the focus on intended effect and audience reception is theoretically wonky---but from a rhetorical perspective, it makes sense to teach them that certain effects are created by doing X, Y then Z.

So you're preparing them for a lifetime of disappointment, then? Excellent. Only thing for it.

Seriously, like I said it makes sense, but it does raise other questions, which I will place in the current post...

Paul

"Because the course focuses on rhetoric, we need them to understand that certain effects are produced so that they might learn to produce them in their own work."

But then, you haven't actually proven that these "certain effects" are produced at all. This is just *one* reading of the text. It happens to be a reading that you and your expert think is tenable, but you don’t (if I’m reading you correctly) seem to think it’s the only possible reading.

This means you're telling your students: "You need to understand that these certain effects that may exist (according to me and this expert) may or may not have been produced (depending on whether myself and my expert are correct) in XYZ way."

And now you’re in the akward position of having to actually justify your rather intricate reading of the text (correct though it may be), since *the content of that reading* is what you're teaching your students. You say (please correct me if I’m wrong) something like “look, it doesn't totally matter, this is a provisional reading I'm putting together for the purpose of teaching my students,” but then that reading itself is what you're teaching them. Isn't it?

And just so this is clear: "Paul, that's unfair. We don't have direct testimony from the artist in this case, or indeed in most (and when we do, it's questionable). Taken to the extreme, your line of argument would defeat all efforts to think about art."

Perhaps my line of argument (if it really merits the name—I’m obviously being borderline trollish here) if it were directed at literary criticism would defeat all efforts to think about art. But then, thinking about art and creating art are really two VERY different things.

I'm not objecting to the use of a provisional argument when one is engaging in literary criticsm. I'm objecting to the use of a provisional argument when one is relying on the truth of that argument to butress what one is actually teaching about composition. SEK isn't teaching his students primarily to think about and interpret art-- he's teaching them to compose, and to do so he's needlessly using interpretive models that are ultimately tentative and personal (even if they may be based on the work of another scholar).

tomemos

Paul, I take it no one would be in favor of telling students something untrue in order to demonstrate a principle. Saying that the automobile was invented by Mark Twain wouldn't be justifiable even if it did teach students something useful about Huckleberry Finn or comma usage or whatever.

But what Scott is doing is telling his students something that is not only not verifiably untrue, it doesn't even have the ability to be "true" or "untrue." The whole question that you raise of whether or not the two Scotts (Kaufman and McCloud) are "correct" is not only missing the point of the post, it's missing the point of art and criticism. If SEK claims that an effect is produced, and convinces his students to see the effect, then the effect is produced, no matter what the artist or anyone else has to say about it. Scott is teaching his students about the effects composition can have, and showing such an effect—if he makes a convincing case for it—is the best evidence there is.

I’m obviously being borderline trollish here

Thou hast said it.

Vance Maverick

Paul, what theories of art are acceptable to you?

Paul

"The whole question that you raise of whether or not the two Scotts (Kaufman and McCloud) are "correct" is not only missing the point of the post, it's missing the point of art and criticism."

I don't see that the "correctness" of scholarship is out of the question when you're using that scholarship to teach your students. There's no serious scholarly debate, for example, over the basics of apophasis-- what it is, how it is used, and what effect it generally has. So if I decide to teach my comp students about praeteritio and how to use it, I am able to do so without having to construct a tentative proof that Cicero deliberately uses it in the Catilinarians. There is already a body of scholarship in place that has done so for me.

But when you're teaching an "effect" that is not well know and well attested (as SEK seems to be doing), it seems to me that you're on less steady pedagogical ground. Your students have to take it on the basis of a tentative argument that you're actually correct-- that what you've identified is indeed a deliberate effect and that you're not mistaken. I'm not accusing SEK of being a bad teacher here, but I do think it's a bit much for him to claim he's "teaching comics responsibly" when he's relying on his own application of a single scholarly article while teaching students about a given rhetorical effect. Maybe there's not a lot of scholarly work to rely on in this field?

I don't know how to address the claim that I'm misunderstanding the point of art.

"Paul, what theories of art are acceptable to you?"
I don't know what this is supposed to mean.

Vance Maverick

Paul, if I understand right, your concern is that when teaching art (writing in this case), the instructor should use empirically verified accounts of the functioning of art. My question was, which accounts? (Looking back, I think lots of good art has emerged from schools or training that was not based on rigorous theory, but rather on convention.)

Scott Eric Kaufman

Taking these two bits together:

But then, you haven't actually proven that these "certain effects" are produced at all. This is just *one* reading of the text. It happens to be a reading that you and your expert think is tenable, but you don’t (if I’m reading you correctly) seem to think it’s the only possible reading.

So if I decide to teach my comp students about praeteritio and how to use it, I am able to do so without having to construct a tentative proof that Cicero deliberately uses it in the Catilinarians. There is already a body of scholarship in place that has done so for me.

I'm tempted to say that your problem isn't with my expert, but with the lack of 2,000 years worth of expertise behind him. To my mind, you do need to demonstrate that Cicero deliberately uses a particular rhetorical technique in an oration: you need to show me evidence of its employment in the speech itself, i.e. demonstrate that the formal properties of the rhetorical device were wedded to the particular content of that oration and that said combination would have been effectively communicated to the audience. That is, in my courses you have to produce a convincing argument, not rely on the collective wisdom of 100,000 dead rhetors.

But when you're teaching an "effect" that is not well know and well attested (as SEK seems to be doing), it seems to me that you're on less steady pedagogical ground.

For someone who openly exhorted me to do my homework, I can't help but wonder here if the problem isn't that you haven't done yours. The effect is both well-known and well-attested. Check out the testimonials for the McCloud:

"Understanding Comics is a landmark dissection and intellectual consideration of comics as a valid medium. Its employment of comic art as its vehicle is brilliant. Everyone ... anyone interested in this literary form must read it. Every school teacher should have one."

--- Will Eisner

"Cleverly disguised as an easy-to-read comic book, Scott McCloud’s simple looking tome deconstructs the secret language of comics while casually revealing secrets of Time, Space, Art and the Cosmos! The most intelligent comics I’ve seen in a long time. Bravo."

--- Art Spiegelman

"The basic manual for introduction to the medium. Do not attempt to operate your comic without reading this first."

--- Warren Ellis

Understanding Comics is quite simply the best analysis of the medium that I have ever encountered. With this book Scott McCloud has taken breathtaking leaps towards establishing a critical language that the comic art form can work with and build upon in the future. Lucid and accessible, it is an astonishing feat of perception. Highly recommended.”

--- Alan Moore

Why should I feel uncomfortable talking about Watchmen via McCloud when Moore himself calls it "the best analysis of the medium that [he] has ever encountered"? While this isn't a direct statement of Moore's intent in the panels above, it is, at the very least, a validation that the "critical language" established by McCloud's text is applicable to Moore's body of work.

Paul

I'm sure you don't have anything riding on this 'argument,' but I'm bored at work and wanted to drop in and tell you that, on reflection, I see that you're correct about pretty much all of it.

(Certainly correct about using McCloud over Lachey et al since that was an invented citation. Hey, what can I say. All's fair in love and being a troll?)

Cassandra

Paul is, indeed, the epitome of retarded.

JPool

Huh. I should've known that 98 Degrees didn't publish on visual psychology.

So, Paul, you decided randomly to be an asshole, then some more in a slightly different direction, and then felt enamored enough of your argument to pursue it seriously. Then you came back a month later to apologize/goat?

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