December 1, 2005

From Gerald R. Lucas

Hey! What about Truth and Beauty?
(Or, Technology and the Creative Artist Wrap Up, Part 1)


I began this semester by asking the question “what is art”? After a discussion that suggested art was anything from an escape to humanity’s finest achievement, we, perhaps artificially, narrowed our definition to state that art is always:

  • critical, penetrating, challenging, engaging
  • public: influential, inspiring, controversial
  • historically positioned: technologically positioned/determined
  • imaginative
  • narrative
  • mimetic: mirrors the human condition

I note that this definition seems not to address certain aspects of art that one might expect, like beauty, truth, pleasure, spectacle, emotion, agon, and other criteria traditionally ascribed to art. These omissions are, perhaps, problematic as several critics have observed in our course readings. More on that later. This course only cursorily touches aesthetics, so in order to progress, some criteria needed to be agreed upon.

We further limited our study’s purview to the production and presentation of art for which a computer is integral. This is our definition of “technology” in this context. This class explored the current, and incunabular, connections between art and the computer. Taking a cue from Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck, we are interested in stories that cannot be told in other ways,[1] ones for which the conventions are still evolving,[2] ones which need a convergence of formats,[3] ones that suggest play as an integral aspect of the aesthetic,[4], and ones that push the boundaries beyond the linear in order to express parallel possibilities.[5]

Carolyn Handler Miller's Digital Storytelling addresses some of the practical concerns that storytellers working with computers must face. Miller stresses that digital storytellers should use both the strengths of the format and their individual strengths in a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort when authoring digital media.[6] She introduces several terms in an attempt to characterize the unique aspects of computers:

  • Interactivity – Miller suggests that interactivity is what makes digital entertainment unique: users are directly involved. She calls interactivity an “active relationship” between the “user and the content.”[7] This idea, she states, puts more responsibility on the creators to provide a rich and stimulating environment, and also requires them to give up some of the control traditionally ascribed to the author.[8]
  • Convergence – A coming together of various media in a single package.[9] She gives four elements necessary for convergence:
    1. a communications delivery system, such as broadband or wireless;
    2. hardware, such as a computer or wireless device;
    3. digitized content, such as video or text; and
    4. computerized technology with which to interact with the content.[10] The content should use the medium best suited for it, like an iPod for listening to MP3s.[11]
  • Adaptation – Properties of one medium used in another in order to get more milage out of good material.[12] For example, a video game made from a movie. This also suggests that media interconnect and influence each other in various ways: ways that the computer can take advantage of.
  • Immersion – Miller posits that immersion envelops users in a rich, simulated environment that should stimulate all of the senses.[13]
  • Edutainment – An attempt to derive effective pedagogy through that which most engages and engrosses.[14] “The challenge,” states Miller, “is to find the right balance between the serious stuff and the fun stuff – between the medicine and the sugar.”[15]

Miller’s book, though not theoretically rigorous, provides a strong foundation for engaging in the consideration and authoring of hypermedia. Though, as her title suggests, her approach is in the tradition of storytelling: an epistemology of narrative. She emphasizes collaboration in an increasingly interdisciplinary field, suggesting that team members should use their individual strengths toward the efficacious completion of evermore complex projects. Miller introduces in popular lay terms the ongoing debate between narrative and play and the ambiguity between these practices that the computer presents.

Part two of this overview will address the key concepts from probably the most influential theorist of narrativism: Janet Murray.


  1. Murray 1997, p. 9.
  2. Murray 1997, p. 28.
  3. Murray 1997, p. 64.
  4. Murray 1997, p. 61.
  5. Murray 1997, p. 37.
  6. Miller 2004, pp. 33, 46.
  7. Miller 2004, p. 56.
  8. Miller 2004, pp. 58, 61.
  9. Miller 2004, p. 40.
  10. Miller 2004, p. 41.
  11. Miller 2004, p. 46.
  12. Miller 2004, p. 47.
  13. Miller 2004, p. 58.
  14. Miller 2004, p. 136.
  15. Miller 2004, p. 137.

Works Cited

  • Miller, Carolyn Handler (2004). Digital Storytelling: A Creator's Guide to Interactive Entertainment (1st ed.). New York: Focal Press.
  • Murray, Janet H. (1997). Hamlet on the Holodeck. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684827239.