Thursday, January 6, 2011

Balance & Play in Making Good Stories


Continuing in the reading of Boyd’s On the Origin of Stories, part 2 concerns the evolution of art.  I think this is an important frame for our engagement with digital media.  Boyd postulates two principal functions for art: 1) “stimulus and training for a flexible mind, as play does for the body and physical behavior,” and 2) “a social and individual system for engendering creativity, for producing options not confined by the here and now or the immediate and given” (pp. 86-87).  He elaborates on the first: “The high concentration of pattern that art delivers repeatedly engage and activate individual brains and over time alter their wiring to modify key human perceptual, cognitive, and expressive systems, especially in terms of sight, hearing, movement, and social cognition.”  

This grounding in cognitive development arms those of us who want to enrich schooling with story, with digital media, with art, and with play.  Play entered as a side note in the first function (did you notice?), but it moves more and more center stage as Boyd continues: “The more often and the more exuberantly animals play, the more they hone skills, widen repertoires, and sharpen sensitivities” (p. 92).  On the next page, he elaborates with the way play sometimes involves losing balance and recovering.  In parentheses, he notes “(Aptly, the name of the Japanese kabuki theater derives from the obsolete verb kabuku, ‘to lose one’s balance,’ ‘to be playful.’)”

As my interest in gnostic knowing increases, I’ve learned to be alert to the parenthetical.  It’s like learning to walk in the woods with “soft” eyes, aware of peripheral vision.  I’m surprised I haven’t explored the vital connection between play and balance.  Of course, it links to the childhood thrill of swinging and see-sawing to the limit, to the challenge of the ropes course, and to my current near-obsession: riding dressage.  Bringing powerful forces to balance with the most subtle cues, the lightest touch, and the greatest harmony: it doesn’t get much better than that. 

Going further then, how does this inform our work/play with digital media and the making of good stories?  Of course, we know that conflict and resolution are key constituents of narrative.  Obviously, that goes for peace-making also, but I don’t recall seeing the loss of balance and recovery integrated into writing about digital media production or criticism. 

Just as it is in dressage, I suspect this art is in the feel, not in conscious analysis.  The sense of balance probably comes in the play and certainly in the timing.  For example, how long does the designer hold a slide and when cue the change of pace.  This is so delicately delicious in riding; why not in digital media production?