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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Writing Assignment 6

Visit one of the QEP writing labs at Peace 230, Simmons 328, or ACAD 270 to do this assignment.  Remember the QEP part of this class is the Wiki writing assignments.  You will be asked about how that has added to the class and whether it is beneficial.  The following is an excerpt from the email I received:
-The QEP writing assessment was mentioned in the syllabus, as part of the QEP class
-Time frame:  over the next 2 weeks, starting Monday
-Students visit QEP writing labs at Peace 230, Simmons 328, or ACAD 270
-Writing Specialists help them log in and they can write the assignment then -- 20-30 minutes
-Students will write about having been in THIS QEP (Art Appreciation) class this semester
-Questions will prompt them to reflect on comparing being in this class to being in other ASU classes, assignments and techniques they have found worthwhile, etc.
-It is not an essay, but paragraphed. It is scored by an off-campus service, and students will be able to see results afterward.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Writing Assignment 5

Writing Assignment 5 is for each student to suggest how these writing assignments should be graded in the future.  I would like everyone to take this seriously.  Your input is important and will affect a lot of students.

Consider one or more of the following questions when you answer.  It may be helpful to go to my blog and look over some of the critical thinking rubrics (grading models).  Maybe you could even rank the importance of these items

1) Should we consider grammar and spelling, for instance?  
2) Should we consider whether information is correct or incorrect?  
3)How should we take into account commenting on other student's posts (something as yet to happen here)?
4) Did the student use vocabulary from lectures and text?  
5) Did the student make a connection between the subject matter and his or her life?  
6) Did the student exhibit an understanding of the subject matter and its importance?  
7) Did the student present information or ideas that support his or her claims?  
8) Did the student make specific references or simply write in generalities?
9) Finally, should we develop a way for students to grade or score each others' posts?

I decided to include student input in formulating a scoring rubric for critical thinking assignments.  Thus far, the answers are pretty general, either "grade strictly on participation" or "grade for effort."  I revised the prompt to try and fish for some more specific answers.  I am considering one suggestion of grading for participation and giving bonus points for doing it well.  I wouldn't do that exactly, but I may give many more and more varied assignments with values relative to the complexity of the answer required. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Scoring Rubric for Critical Thinking

The rubric below came from:

And specifically from:
"Peter Facione and Noreen Facione have developed the four-level Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric to assess the critical thinking skills and some of the dispositions identified by the Delphi project as these skills are demonstrated by by students in essays, projects, presentations, clinical practices, and such. The Facione and Facione Holistic Scoring Rubric (1994) is copied below and is available free, with a page of instructions, at"

This is typical of the rubrics that I have found.  I think it is useful for the most part.  I like that it is broken down into 4 levels that easily correspond to the traditional grading scale.  One problem that I have with many of these rubrics is that they seem to be based on the Toulman method of argument.  Warrants, claims, and evidence are all the Toulman terms.   My students have not been instructed in logical argument, and I can only teach so much.  While they may get it as a kind of secondary objective, if they don't know what a "warrant" is (and it is not a simple thing to explain) then a rubric like this one cannot be used as a peer assessment or self assessment tool.

 Consistently does all or almost all of the following:
Accurately interprets evidence, statements, graphics, questions, etc.
Identifies the salient arguments (reasons and claims) pro and con.
Thoughtfully analyzes and evaluates major alternative points of view.
Draws warranted, judicious, non-fallacious conclusions.
Justifies key results and procedures, explains assumptions and reasons.
Fair-mindedly follows where evidence and reasons lead.
3  Does most or many of the following:
Accurately interprets evidence, statements, graphics, questions, etc.
Identifies relevant arguments (reasons and claims) pro and con.
Offers analyses and evaluations of obvious alternative points of view.
Justifies some results or procedures, explains reasons.
Fairmindedly follows where evidence and reasons lead
 Does most or many of the following:
Misinterprets evidence, statements, graphics, questions, etc.
Fails to identify strong, relevant counter-arguments.
Ignores or superficially evaluates obvious alternative points of view.
Justifies few results or procedures, seldom explains reasons.
Regardless of the evidence or reasons maintains or defends views based on self-interest or preconceptions.
1  Consistently does all or almost all of the following:
Offers biased interpretations of evidence, statements, graphics, questions, information, or the points of view of others.
Fails to identify or hastily dismisses strong, relevant counter-arguments.
Ignores or superficially evaluates obvious alternative points of view
Argues using fallacious or irrelevant reasons, and unwarranted claims.
Regardless of the evidence or reasons, maintains or defends views based on  self-interest or preconceptions.
Exhibits close-mindedness or hostility to reason

I like the following rubric from WSU because it breaks down each level as "emerging" and "mastering."  It seems more positive than the Falcione model.  I also like the "Contexts for Consideration" component.  Our Art Appreciation test, The Making and Meaning of Art by Laurie Schneider Adams, includes a chapter on "Methodologies" that discusses Formalistic, Marxist, Feminist, Structuralist, Post-Structuralist, and Psychoanalytic models of criticism.  It might be interesting to incorporate some of the methodologies as contexts for consideration.  I found this on the same site as above, Designing Rubrics for Assessing Higher Order Thinking by William Peirce.

WSU Critical Thinking Rubric
1) Identifies and summarizes the problem/question at issue (and/or the source's position).
Does not identify and summarize the problem, is confused or identifies a different and inappropriate problem.

Does not identify or is confused by the issue, or represents the issue inaccurately.
Identifies the main problem and subsidiary, embedded, or implicit aspects of the problem, and identifies them clearly, addressing their relationships to each other.

Identifies not only the basics of the issue, but recognizes nuances of the issue.

2Identifies and presents the STUDENT'S OWN hypothesis, perspective and position as it is important to the analysis of the issue.
Addresses a single source or view of the argument and fails to clarify the established or presented position relative to one's own. Fails to establish other critical distinctions.
Identifies, appropriately, one's own position on the issue, drawing support from experience, and information not available from assigned sources.

3) Identifies and considers OTHER salient perspectives and positions that are important to the analysis.
Deals only with a single perspective and fails to discuss other possible perspectives, especially those salient to the issue.
Addresses perspectives noted previously, and additional diverse perspectives drawn from outside information.

4) Identifies and assesses the key assumptions.
Does not surface the assumptions and ethical issues that underlie the issue, or does so superficially.
Identifies and questions the validity of the assumptions and addresses the ethical dimensions that underlie the issue.

5) Identifies and assesses the quality of supporting data/evidence and provides additional data/evidence related to the issue.
Merely repeats information provided, taking it as truth, or denies evidence without adequate justification. Confuses associations and correlations with cause and effect.

Does not distinguish between fact, opinion, and value judgments.

Examines the evidence and source of evidence; questions its accuracy, precision, relevance, completeness.

Observes cause and effect and addresses existing or potential consequences.

Clearly distinguishes between fact, opinion, & acknowledges value judgments.

6) Identifies and considers the influence of the context* on the issue.
Discusses the problem only in egocentric or sociocentric terms.

Does not present the problem as having connections to other contexts--cultural, political, etc.
Analyzes the issue with a clear sense of scope and context, including an assessment of the audience of the analysis.

Considers other pertinent contexts.

7) Identifies and assesses conclusions, implications and consequences.
Fails to identify conclusions, implications, and consequences of the issue or the key relationships between the other elements of the problem, such as context, implications, assumptions, or data and evidence.
Identifies and discusses conclusions, implications, and consequences considering context, assumptions, data, and evidence.

Objectively reflects upon the their own assertions.
Contexts for Consideration
  1. Cultural/Social 
    Group, national, ethnic behavior/attitude
  2. Scientific 
  3. Conceptual, basic science, scientific method
  4. Educational 
    Schooling, formal training
  5. Economic 
    Trade, business concerns costs
  6. Technological 
    Applied science, engineering
  7. Ethical 
  8. Political 
    Organizational or governmental
  9. Personal Experience 
    Personal observation, informal character
Source: Washington State University Critical Thinking Project Critical Thinking Rubric 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Critical Thinking Rubric -- How do you assess CT? -- Part I

Mind map of Bloom's Revised Digital Taxonomy

I found this map about CT based on Bloom's Taxonomy at .

I think it is useful to our discussion of assessing CT or creating a rubric.  I think it is so pertinent, in fact, that I am considering organizing each unit of my class in steps based on this map.  I like that it breaks each skill into synonymous verbs.  I also think it is useful because it illuminates the essential problem.  The essential problem is that "lower level" thinking is easy to grade.  "Higher Level" thinking is what we all profess, but it creates a lot of work for us.  The work is not in the grading, per se.  It is in the learning.  We have to learn a great deal of new skills, both critical and technological, in order to grade these Higher Level skills that we all seem to want.  We have to exhibit "Higher Level" thinking in the delivery of content and the assessment of student work.

Put simply, it is easy to grade vocabulary or arithmetic.  It is either right or wrong.  It becomes increasingly difficult to assign a grade to "Higher Level" work beyond simple participation.  In other words, it is fabulous that a student would create a video as an end result, historical document that evidences knowledge, analysis and application of the subject matter.  Does one assess the video for subject matter, effort, quality, personal development, time, participation?  Few of us know how to assess the quality of a creative product fairly (with the exception of the arts folks).  What's more, the course is not in video production or blogging, so why is production quality of a creative endeavor part of student's grade for a course in Biology or Macro-economics, for example?

My answer to that question is two-fold:  1) Production quality demonstrates effort, self-evaluation, and caring; 2) Video production, blogging, video conferencing, texting, and whatever else is out there are all pertinent skills for the 21st century work force.  Still, is it fair that someone gets an A and another student gets a C based on there artistic inclinations and prior creative skill sets?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Video About Changing Educational Paradigm

I was introduced to this video via Facebook friends.  It is entertaining, provocative, and astute.  Regarding critical thinking, I like the term "divergent thinking" addressed in the video.  Of course, I also like the tip of the hat to the arts.  We all should watch this and think about it.

Video on Changing Educational Paradigm

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Writing Assignment 4 - Researching the Renaissance

In class we discussed several factors that influenced the explosion of great art works during the period we call the European Renaissance.  Among these factors:
The Plague
The Fall of Constantinople
Maritime Improvements
Rise of the Merchant Class
The Printing Press
Collecting Classical relics
Choose one of these and find something out about it online. It may be helpful to visit one of  the sites listed under Useful Links in the left hand column of this Wiki.  Keep it simple, but keep it really specific to the Renaissance.  Share what you find and where you found it (document your source) with the class by posting a response under "Writing Assignments."

I chose "Maritime Improvements."  I found the following excerpt at

"By measuring the distance of the sun and stars above the horizon, the astrolabe helped determine latitude, an important tool in navigation. Another tool, the magnetic compass, which had been invented in the twelfth century, was improved upon during the Renaissance."

Here is another link to a site specifically about the astrolabe:

I found this image of an astrolabe on Google images:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

QEP ruminations about critical thinking

My first idea about critical thinking and the main focus of the Wiki is to get students to surmise, what does this mean for me, and how is this related to my life?

I think critical thinking is the ability to find and make use of information.  That involves a complex array of skills, the most important, perhaps, being language.  Critical thinking results in some type of articulation.  To know something is to be able to articulate it, to struggle to articulate it precisely.

I really like the ideas about truth and about confidence (self-regulation) that came out of the meetings and articles.  I hadn't fully articulated those ideas, and I am still working on it.  The value of a college education is not the diplomas and credentials; it is the self actualization that occurs.  The peaks of my own college experience always involved me (sometimes painfully) overcoming some bias or predetermination in my mind and finding truth.  Education should be about growing the mind, and it grows as painfully and slowly as the body.  We subject ourselves to this sometimes painful process so that we are not simply driven by our appetites, so that we are not merely leaves on the wind.  Even a mollusk filters something.

We are bombarded with information and facts everyday, none of which are true.  NONE.  One of the most important things we can teach is that a fact is not a truth.  We tend to say "that's a fact" to mean something is true, but the truth is that even if a fact is validated it may have little to do with the truth.  Much like the fast food industry, we are given shovel loads of substance with no nutritional value.  Furthermore, the state of mass media today seems to be completely hapless.  It is not a  "liberal media" or "Fox" conspiracy.  It is clear, though, that the historically constant unethical and unscrupulous methods of the press seem to have been accepted by the industry as the standard.  It is of upmost importance for an individual to be able to arrive at some kind of truth.  

Critical thinking, though, isn't just arriving at a truth.  It is a willingness to arrive at conclusions (deduce, infer, etc.) that challenge a truth one might be comfortable with.  A truth or some truth are very different from the notion of the Truth.  The only Truth I really understand is that there are a whole lot of constantly morphing truths out there, many of which are designed to get my money, energy, vote, or just to get me to repeat things that I hear.  Part of being an adult in the Post-modern world is understanding this.  Critical thinking is the ability to navigate these truths and adapt to the changes.  It is crucial for an individual to arrive at some kind of truth and be willing to change,  but that has to be based on some kind of discernment or objective detachment.

Seeing how something is useful, making something useful, growing mentally and/or emotionally, discerning some kind of truth, a willingness to change internally, navigating external changes.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

QEP insights Links from "Dispatches from the Future of Museums"

1) The End of Education is the Beginning of Learning:

2) Trends Proposed by Futurists Magazine:

3) Interesting Japanese trends of De-ownership, Demonetization, De-materialization

4) Laurie Anderson suggests that museums will be put in the same predicament as record companies by applications like Youtube.

It seems particular to my generation (or perhaps it is ego-centric of us to think so) to be on the cusp, stuck between the old and new.  I am as afraid of and uncomfortable with change as any human being.  I suspect that these exercises in Personal Learning Environments is symptomatic of much greater trends.  I don't know, as much as I like Laurie Anderson, I just love museums.   I always have.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Notes from QEP Workshop 9/29

Critical Thinking Website -- Dr. Rogers
7 habits of highly effective people
Look up CT on Wikipedia.
Defining Critical Thinking  -- Clarification Consensus
Encouraging the right kind of Critical Thinking about the right things.
What does Interpretation look like?
Confidence and Self-Regulation  -- Feeling like their critical thinking is relevant to the subject
Vision Statement
Blogging as a form of critical thinking
Seeing notes
JITT --  Have students formulate a test question.  Ask students to do something creative.
Critical thinking - Thinking for self.  Applying a foundational knowledge.  Making connections between subject matter.  Engaging with material.
Is the "job" to cover material or teach the students.


Today's workshop dealt more with critical thinking, specifically with clarifying or coming to a consensus about what exactly critical thinking is.  Certainly, we should know what something is before we try to measure it.  I got some good ideas from the workshop.  The main one being, as Dr. Rogers pointed out, that Self-Regulation or Self-Evaluation, specifically regarding confidence.  Many students do not feel that their commentary or critical thinking is of value or that it is valuable enough to be included in the academy.  I often talk to students about the idea of invention or discovery.

How many of us can really discover something these days?  If I want to break the land speed record, I better have a PhD in physics or engineering.  To discover things at the sub-atomic level, I need expensive equipment and years of know how to even begin to know what it is I am looking for.   There has to be something pleasurable in just discovering something for oneself.   There has to be joy in research and rediscovery.  Excuse me if I have gotten wordy.  Put simply the big payoff discoveries seem so far removed from the typical student's life that it is paralyzing.  We have to realize that long before the IMac, there was a box of parts taped and soldered in someone's garage.  If not for the joy of finding out what happens next, we would have no IPods, IPhones, IMacs, et al.

I will look forward to checking out Dr. Rogers' Critical thinking link.  I also like his idea about incorporating the 7 habits of highly effective people (probably need to incorporate that in my own life, as well).  I also like the idea of creating a vision statement.  Pat had a great idea about asking students to generate test questions and thinking about that exercise as JiTT.  One thing I have enjoyed about the blogging type writing entries on my site is I can see the critical analysis, if there are crossed wires or faulty logic and where I need to explain things better (perhaps).  My students in my QEP and Online class tend to seek my approval.  It is not just that they want my input; they want to know they are being recognized.  As far as reading 60-80 blogs, I'd say keep it short and simple.

Critical Thinking involves discrimination.  Some kind of judgement or evaluation takes place... a prioritization.  The most important part of it is the ability to assimilate ideas from different sources and make that information relative to one's own life.  Overall, as far as a definition of Critical Thinking, I do not think the problem is whether it is critical or not.  The problem is that we want the right kind of critical thinking applied to the right area.  As stated in the workshop, we want students to figure out the material, concepts, and critical discourse, not how to pass the course.  Clearly, one answer is to devalue the grade.  That is a scary proposition.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

QEP - Just in Time Teaching

Notes from


G. Novak,

Students respond electronically to carefully constructed web-based assignments which are due shortly before class, and the instructor reads the student submissions "just-in-time" to adjust the classroom lesson to suit the students' needs. Thus, the heart of JiTT is the "feedback loop" formed by the students' outside-of-class preparation that fundamentally affects what happens during the subsequent in-class time together.

JiTT web pages fall into three major categories:
  • 1. Student assignments in preparation for the classroom activity: WarmUps and Puzzles.
  • 2. Enrichment pages. Short essays on practical, everyday applications of the course subject matter, peppered with URLs to interesting material on the web. These essays have proven themselves to be an important motivating factor in introductory service courses, where students often doubt the current relevance the subject.
  • 3. Stand alone instructional material, such as simulation programs and spreadsheet exercises.

QEP - Workshop Question for 9/15 - Critical Thinking

I encourge critical thinking skills in my writing assignments by asking students t make associations between the subject matter and their daily lives.  In fact, that is kind of the whole gist of my beta project in its very simple form.  I plan to link more resources and research tools to the Wiki as furthr develop the course as a hybrid, but the crux will always be just that... How does this subject work in and relate to your life?
I feel this involves a great deal of higher level thinking as I am making them view things from multple perspecitves, objectively and subjectively, and I am asking them to draw comparisons across cultural and historical lines and inevitably deaing with the ethical problems of doing so.
I think that the idea of "Appreciation" is critical in and of itself.  We are asking people to discern and discriminate. "I may not like that, but I appreciate its historical context or the work that went into it.  My projects are also designed to reflect traditional rhetorical models.  

PLENK2010 - Notes and Quotes Gleaned from Forums

This is the site, Digital Storytelling that goes into domain names ande web hosting:

Apps I need to look into:
Wordpress, youtube, twitter, flickr, StumbleUpon, skype,,, Elgg, SNAPP, Symbaloo, camtasia, Virtual Goods, Second Life

PDF Educause 7 things about PLEs:

Zaid Learn a list of free learning sites:

Creating an innovation-oriented technology strategy


Web 2.0 glossary

social network pedagogy article:

Balancing teacher control and student autonomy

“Learning just is the process of making something that is unfamiliar to oneself become familiar. It involves doing something that is not 'natural' and through reflective practice making it natural.

Imagine how useful it would be to be able to just do something mechanical - like, say, take notes - and then not only remember, but be able to create all kinds of new concepts and associations. The whole point about learning is not being satisfied with what is 'natural'.”  Stephen Downes

I also liked the quote about the power of the information designer in coming years.  It made me think of Daniel Pink's book, A Whole New Mind.

ICT literacies:

cool mind map about everything to do with learning on line

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

PLENK2010 and the QEP

I fear that many of my students will have similar problems to the ones that I am having.  I never want my students to feel overwhelmed or left out.  I never want to spend half of my semester teaching students about concepts, applications, and theories dealing with technology rather than the subject matter of my course.  I never want a student to miss assignments due to technological glitches, and I hate being in a position where a student is lying to me about technological glitches.  Responses to my Wiki have been limited, and I don't think anyone from class or from the QEP committee actually reads this blog.  I hate that my online students or classroom students would ever feel this way, and I simply do not have the time to teach 85 individuals Art Appreciation and 50 majors their workshops.  I also think it is totally unacceptable to think that students should or can "generate their own content."

The plusses are that this will get students writing something, anything.  In the process of doing so, maybe they will think critically or take a look at what another student is writing.  In writing, maybe they will get better at it.  That's all.  I really don't have much faith in this revolution in learning.  Why are we making such a big deal out of it, anyway?  It's just some computer apps.  It doesn't magically change someone into a great thinker.  Best to keep it simple.  I am excited about that.  I am excited about the possibilities it presents educators and some students, but a lot of students who already are intimidated and overwhelmed by education are not magically going to feel otherwise because they are saddled with the burden of creating a complex assortment of apps.  I would rather spend time building a PLE than waxing philosophical about its educational purpose.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Writing Assigment 3 - Compare Ancient or Pehistoric Culture with Our Own

For writing assignment three, I ask the students to write a comparison essay comparing some aspect of one of the ancient or prehisoric cultures from class discussions or the textbook and draw a comparison with some aspect of our contemporary culture.  The comparison should include specific objects or places mentioned in class discussions or the text.

Since I am studying online Personal Learning Environments while teaching this course, I have decided to draw from that experience.  I will compare the Lascaux cave paintings to Facebook.

The Lascaux cave paintings are similar to Facebook in a number of ways.  First it involves some type of social gathering or community. It is theorized that groups of people gathered in Lascaux for reasons that may have been religious, social, and/or political in nature.  To say the least, however, it was obviously communal.  Similarly Facebook is a gathering place.  We essentially create "tribes" of people to participate in communal activities that are reigious, social, and/or political in nature.  On Facebook, for instance, one creates a friend list based on common interests or common history. 

Also, a similarity could be drawn regarding communication.  What is the internet other than a huge virtual cave wall on which to leave ones marks and obtain information.  There is a well respected theory that the drawings in these caves were a shamanistic exercise, it is impossible to deny, though, that they were an expression or transmission of information, and that information was received or consumed by others.  I make the comparison to the internet as a whole, but specifically Facebook involves one putting images on a wall expressing information about one's daily life, likes, dislikes, and beliefs for others to consume, and there is an intent or a belief that that information will have an impact on others.

Now, certainly they differ reagring the "shamanistic exercise."  Shamanism is the belief that a shaman (a religious figure) has the ability to walk in two worlds, the real world and the spirit world.  Many now believe that the drawings represent an ability to capture the essence of the animals depicted in order to be strong, fast, cunning etc.  In shamanism, there is a transformation.  So, what does this have to do with Facebook?  I would argue that when we engage in a social site that we transform ouselves into a different persona.  Some people take this to etremes, of course, and actually pretend to be someone else.  Given that we control the content of our online identity, however, even those whom accurately represent their identities are precisely choosing to adopt characteristics that they see fit, just as the Paleolithic shaman would have adopted the characteristics of a bull or horse.

The obvious contrast that I will discuss involves digital and analog.  The cave painters (analog) actually touched those stone walls and scratched and drew with charlcoal and paint.  They felt the information that they transmitted, and that process also transmits information.   On Facebook (dgital), we type in a code that prompts a machne to simulate markmaking that signifies our intent.  It, in that repsect, is a very different experience.  Still, I don't think we are so different form those prehistoric humans.  We simply have more sophisticated tools.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thoughts on the Definitions of Art and Design (and Craft)

In our class discussion, we talked about how art differs from design.  We also discussed a third idea, "craft."  Of course, all of these concepts are involved with one another and the lines between them blurred.
Distinguishing art, design, and craft can yield some interesting insights, however.

Some of the differences that we discussed are that the best designers design with an intent not to be noticed (with the exception of clothing maybe).  We generally don't see the designers "hand" in the work.  While the same could be said of fine artwork, most artists would tend to want to create something in which their personal style or vision is more evident.  For our purposes in Art Appreciation, that explanation will suffice.  Designers make things for mass conception.  Typically speaking, an artist makes an object for a limited population or even a single person.  In fact, part of fine art's value comes from its limited availability.  This still holds true despite several artists challenging these notions.  Finally, designers create something with an evolution in mind: even after the prototype and Beta testing which have comparable stages in fine art, the commercial product will have several iterations.  Again, the notion is being challenged by contemporary artists, but we never saw, for instance, a "Starry Night" 2.0 .

In a nutshell, fine art (or the Modern term, high art) perhaps favors form over function in that the enjoyment of form may be its primary function, is created for a limited audience, and is intended to be a solitary and completed object (even if part of a series).

When asked to discuss an object that they own and use frequently, the students objects generally fell into one of two categories with few exceptions:  Students discussed products that involved grooming and hygiene, and students overwhelmingly discussed objects that dealt with the transmission and consumption of information.  One commonality with all products discussed involved portability and transportation.  While this is indicative of the nomadic student lifestyle, this certainly has implications beyond college life.  I think an older person and/or more established person would be more likely to discuss a large, immobile object or a fine art object.  I wonder also about objects related to recreation.  What about golf clubs, tennis rackets, basketballs, hula hoops, horseshoes, etc.?

Finally, I thought again about how most of us buy the things we use.  Things are designed and manufactured by others.  Perhaps, "craft," when used to describe a category of objects has something to do with designing and making our own utilitarian items?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Product Design Assignment - Stratocaster

The second writing project in Art Appreciation asks the students to describe a product that they use frequently in their daily lives or a product that they particularly like.  They should ultimately discuss form and function and hopefully may use some of the design terms we are learning in class.

The object I have chosen is my Stratocaster.  It is not a full on U.S.A. Fender Strat (a valuable and sought after edition).  It is a Squier Stratocaster that was made in Japan.  Squier is a subsidiary of Fender that makes much less expensive guitars in similar model designs.  Because common lore suggests that the Japanese were making guitars better than their American parent company in the 80s (as with many things), some of these guitars are actually collectable.  I wish to talk about the design, however.

A man named Les Paul is credited with inventing the first solid body electric guitar, and the Gibson guitar brand has long produced the signature model Les Paul electric guitar.  Leo Fender designed the Stratocaster electric guitar.  It was initially a democratic design meant to be affordable and utilitarian in that it's standardized parts could be easily disassembled and replaced.  Leo Fender, however, also produced a visually elegant guitar that is light in weight and feels good to play.  This is probably why it was the choice of revolutionary guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.  It is still a frequent and popular choice among musicians today.

The thing I have noticed about the visual design of the slim body is that it is deceptively complex.  There are many subtle contours to its form, and the body is not at all symmetrical.  These attributes are not merely for visual affect, though.  The cut away (horn look) is lower on one side to allow the player to more freely move his or her hand to the higher part of the neck.  The subtle curvilinear contours in the body actually conform to the player's body whether the player is sitting or standing.

There are many aesthetic features of guitars that are particular to different brands and years.  For instance, a particular brand, model or edition may have specific tone and volume knobs, pick ups, fret boards, and lettering.  The famous Fender logo has been slightly altered over the years, but it's most famous version is the "spaghetti" lettering with the curvy, cursive letters.  The Squire logo on my guitar imitates this.  The fretboard on Fender guitars comes in maple (blonde) or rosewood (dark).  The maple fretboard (on the neck) is the traditional, signature look of a Fender guitar, but some players prefer rosewood.

A designer, crafter, and particularly a builder of stringed instruments like guitars is called a luthier, named for the lute, an ancient stringed instrument.  Building an instrument is a complicated, delicate, and precise operation.  For instance, a player creates a specific note on a guitar by manipulating the length of the strings by pressing at an exact location on the fretboard.  This means that in designing the form of a guitar, the designer must incorporate the function.  Each string must be a specific length and tension, and each fret must be spaced exactly.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What does art mean?

This is usually the very first assignment in my classes.  I ask students to write down a gut reaction answer to the question.  I want them to tell me the first thing that comes to their minds.  Answers range from "things that are pretty" to "expressing ones self" to "everything is art."  It is the starting point.  Throughout the semester I sincerely hope the answer becomes more and more complex.  It should be a continually evolving idea throughout life.  What is art?

The thought that I had the other day was that there is an academic side and a creative side to art.  The academic side always asks, "Why is it this way?"  The creative side always asks, "How can it be changed?"  The definition of art, perhaps, is a balance of those two things.

In the first couple of weeks of class we will discuss much about art, craft, and design.  How are these categories similar and different?  Should there be categories at all?