Creation and Productive Failure in the Arts and Digital Humanities

Lynda Barry, professor of interdisciplinary creativity at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, notes about art, “the only way to understand things is by making things. Thinking about it, theorizing about it, chatting about it will not get you there” (72). Here we see a particular crossover between art and the digital humanities. Both are particularly invested in making things, and while they may spend some time theorizing the methods to make those things, they ultimately must create to be successful. However, with creation comes the inevitable risk of failure, the result of trying and coming up short. Nobody likes failing, but it is a crucial part of every creative process, digital humanities included.

Failure is a loaded word, full of both connotations for crippling defeat and unlikely victory. Famous inventors, entrepreneurs, and leaders almost inevitably have stories of abounding failures and setbacks before they achieved success. However, while it is easy to look up to these figureheads as inspirations, it is much harder to apply that same mindset to failure in our own lives. Interestingly, the role of failure has strong parallels between the fields of art and digital humanities. On failure and disliking our own work, Barry notes, “Sometimes we say this kind of picture looks like a kid drew it. and people are dismayed by this and even ashamed enough to destroy the picture – get rid of it- – – immediately. But what if the way kids draw – that kind of line that we call ‘childish’ – what if that is what a line looks like when someone is having an experience by hand? A live wire!” (30-31).

This approach to art is one that is also healthy for the field of digital humanities. If the expectation is that DHers should turn out perfect projects from the start, creativity and innovation will be stifled. Inherently a part of the creative process is failing to create a product that you are happy with and then correcting the flaws. Sometimes this correction is a modification to the flawed product. Other times it involves scrapping it and taking the knowledge of what does not work into designing a new product. Either way, if DHers and artists are more willing to accept failure while learning from it, a culture of productive failure can drive new innovation and creativity.

Works Cited

Barry, Lynda. Syllabus: Notes From an Accidental Professor. Canada: Drawn and Quarterly, 2014. Print.

Check Out This Project

Four universities have collaborated sharing their intellectual experiences on exploring Walt Whitman’s writings through the project “Looking for Whitman.” Each university’s undergraduate course uses this website to distribute their research and ideas. Are you an American literature fan? You have to check out this inspiring project…

Thank You Gutenberg

It’s almost impossible to imagine how our lives would be today without technology. In more specific terms, how our lives would be without our portable computers allowing us instantaneous information at the tip of our fingers. Now that we have the capability to attain information almost whenever we need, we move onto how information is presented.  A recent collaboratively authored book “Digital_Humanities” presents the idea of editing being used as a design feature. When you write your papers, or blog posts, or whatever platform you choose to present your ideas, there is always the editing stage to check for errors and better form your thoughts. While this stage is vitally important, Digital Humanists are joining the rapidly changing way data is presented through data visualization. This incredible movement from processing information to networking information is distinctly changing the Humanities as “understanding the rhetoric of design, its persuasive force and central role in the shaping of arguments, is a critical tool for digital work in all disciplines” (Burdick 13).

From the printing press to the color handheld screen, it would make sense that the Humanities reassign itself as the Digital Humanities.  Matthew Kirschenbaum explains “digital humanities is also a social undertaking. It harbors networks of people who have been working together, sharing research, arguing, competing, and collaborating for many years” (Kirschenbaum 2). The digital world of sharing information and research has allowed individuals to create new initiatives and projects with others in completely different geographical locations. Wright State’s Humanities programs are already collaborating with the Digital Humanities by using blog sites and creating visual projects instead of the traditional research paper. We aren’t all artists, but through the help of these digital platforms, we can present our ideas in an attractive and enticing manner and join the Digital Humanities movement.

Works Cited

Burdick, Anne, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp. Digital Humanities. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2012. Print.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012): n. pag. Web.

Let’s Make Something

What’s your major? ENGLISH? What do you plan to do with that? There is more to English studies than reading books and responding to them. Showcase your cultural engagement by engaging in our digital culture in a real way. LucidPress offers both print and digital options for showcasing your work. Maybe that research paper you wrote last semester is better served as a magazine. Maybe you can design a website that tracks your CV in real time, and allows you to engage with a wider audience. English majors belong to the world-get out there and show them what we can do.

Treebanking with Milton and Defoe

How does Milton’s verse and Defoe’s funky  death-by-compound-sentence style compare to our contemporary English? The marked differences in the structures of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century poetry and fiction can fall hard upon non-English majors and literature obsessives alike, leaving some to believe the fault lies in their comprehension abilities. Visualization of these differences will illustrate how our modern English and  Milton’s sometimes esoteric word order and verse structure share more similarities than one might initially notice. Corkpit, at provides visual corpus analysis that, with some initiative, can provide greater clarity to works like Paradise Lost and Robinson Crusoe, while connecting traditional and digital pedagogy. Treebanking provides a clear look at parts of speech and their relation to one another, and plugging in poetry and prose from past eras has the potential to assist students at all levels to understand the relation of these classic, culturally significant works to the language and meaning of our day.

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