Chuck Close: Off the wall

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  • Chuck Close: Off the Wall by Michael Gardner

    a CD-ROM multimedia the life and work of artist e - - the product of a , studio-based course in ironments Design at the

    eorgia. There, my class- re given the opportunity

    to create multimedia projects of any form or topic, while developing profi- ciency with a self-selected group of de- velopment tools.

    I tried to design each screen as a discrete learning episode,... My intention was to allow the learner to navigate freely within the program, to explore and discover without sacrificing the quality of learning experience.

    The idea for Off the Wall evolved over time with a number of factors influencing its final form. First and foremost, the subject holds a strong per- sonal interest for me. Contemporary art is something that I enjoy learning about and sharing with others. Equal motivation came from a general disap- pointment with most "interactive" art history software. Many such titles leave a lot to be desired in the way of inter- activity, frequently offering little more than a narrated slide show. Last but not least, the course required that I demonstrate a degree of proficiency with the development tools (Director and Flash, primarily), encouraging me to find more participatory ways to ex- plore the topic.

    Given this opportunity to reflect upon the design of Off the Wall, I wish I could recount a deliberate and struc- tured design process. The truth, how- ever, is that the course structure (by design) gave me complete creative freedom. The result was an organic ap-

    proach to design; not without order, not without planning, and certainly not without consideration for the integrity of the learning experience, but one that evolved through lots of daydreaming and "wouldn't it be cool i f . . ."s .

    For the first weeks of the semester, I immersed myself in the content and read everything about Close that I could get my hands on. I was fortunate to find several interviews and was able

    to read in the artist's own words what he wanted people to ex- perience with his art. During this time, I did not commit any designs to paper, though most of the interactions began to

    emerge as I learned more about the artist. I knew that I wanted to create a work that would be accessible to a wide audience, especially those who might feel alienated or disinterested by mod- ern art. I tried to design each screen as a discrete learning episode, situated within a larger context but indepen- dent of other screens. At the same time, these "learning episodes" (i.e., screens) had to create a cohesive expe- rience for the learner. My intention was to allow the learner to navigate freely within the program, to ex- plore and discover without sacrificing the quality of learn- ing experience.

    Filtering through the content, top- ics began to congeal into what eventu- ally became discrete screens. I looked at the aspects of Close's life and work that intrigued me and tried to figure out how I could help others discover the

    same for themselves. The design evolved by answering lots of little ques- tions such as, "How does one show an 8-foot painting on a 13-inch screen?" My solution was to personalize the ex- perience by letting the users scale an on-screen figure that stands next to a painting, showing exactly how tall they would appear standing next to it.

    I once saw one of Close's paintings in person and was yelled at by a guard because I looked so close and hard at the thousands of thumbprints compos- ing the painting that my nose almost touched it. I tried to allow this for the users by letting them zoom in on de- tailed sections of the same painting.

    The manner in which Close creates color in some of his paintings is amaz- ing and demands an extremely high skill level, but it is hard to appreciate in words alone. So, I created a simple in- teraction that lets users create a paint- ing in the same manner, involving experimentation with layers of color and the way they create a whole image.

    Close said several times that he wanted people to look at his paint- ings--really look at them-- to discover details that you miss when looking at someone's face in person. This provided

    I once saw one of Close's paintings in per- son and was yelled at by a guard because I looked so close and hard at the thousands of thumbprints composing the painting that my nose almost touched it.

    a chance to incorporate an element of gaming by making sliding tile puzzles from his paintings. The game, in a fun and challenging way, forces the user to look very closely at the details of several paintings. With each element I tried

    Volume 45, Issue 2 TechTrends 9

  • first to understand in depth what was to be learned, and then to create an envi- ronment that, while maintaining a feel of exploration and discovery, guided the learner to the same experience.

    I wanted to find a meaning- ful way to incorporate audio and video clips of Close. The story told is as much about the individual as the art, and these elements could add a great deal of emotive value.

    Regarding the aesthetic design of Off the Wall, I found a lot of inspiration by looking at examples of print media in graphic design magazines. Text was kept deliberately sparse. The black- and-white interface provides a clean backdrop for the artwork. I tried to maintain a rectilinear look and feel to the layout, which reflects the grid-like quality of many of Close's paintings. The navigational elements are the only real aesthetic departure, being rendered in 3-D and best described as "spheres on a hula-hoop." This design process actually proved to be the biggest design headache, going through countless it- erations before the final version emerged almost by accident while I played with a 3-D graphics program.

    I am prone to portray Close as a bit of a Superman, and to hear his ideas in his own words would help establish him as a person with great talents, but not at all unlike you or me.

    I wanted to find a meaningful way to incorporate audio and video clips of Close. The story told is as much about the individual as the art, and these ele- ments could add a great deal of emotive value. I am prone to portray Close as a bit of a Superman, and to hear his ideas

    in his own words would hetp establish him as a person with great talents, but not at all unlike you or me. Off the Wall exists because I was and continue to be excited to share this art with others. Off the Wall is unique among similar ti- tles because it is compact, but dense with content and opportunities to in- teract with the art. It allows the user the freedom to explore, but at the same time guides them to a deliberate learn- ing experience. It is a product of per- sonal meaning, much improved by the

    considered input of peers throughout the design process, and made possible by an environment that deliberately encouraged creativity and freedom of design. 9

    Michael Gardner is a recent graduate of the Deport- ment of Instructional Technology at the University of Georgia. He is currently employed as a leerning devel- oper for dick21eam.com and maintains a strong inter- est in technology-enhanced an education. His e-mail address is michael.gardner@dick21earn.corn.

    CALL FOR Nt~-NUSCRIPT$ TechTrends, published by the Association for Educational Com- munications and Technology (AECT), seeks authoritative articles that focus on the practical applications of technology in edu- cation and training. If you have a manuscript that you believe would be of interest to AECT's readership, we encourage you to submit it for possible publication.

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    10 TechTrends Volume 45, Issue 2