The Works of James Surls

I visited the University of Houston’s web site which has a large collection of digital stories. Digital stories are defined broadly on this site as “the practice of using computer-based tools to tell stories.” I browsed the collection which was organized by topic and title. A single visual image accompanies each listing and I chose the story “The Works of James Surls” largely due to the icon of a fanciful wooden sculpture which was posted with this listing.

This story gave a summary view of Texas-based sculptor James Surls’ artistic output over a 20 year period of time. The artwork was visually captivating and the narrator provided background about the artist’s life and methodology. The voice-over was supported by ambient “New-Agey” music played by a synthesized harp and synthesized strings and the visual images consisted of pictures of the artist’s sketches and sculptures that were panned “Ken Burns” style. Although the narrator was occasionally bogged down by unnecessarily verbose “art-speak” (for example “a melange capable of reconciling utopian counterculturalism and the rigor of post-minimalist sculptural approach”), I did get a good sense of how Surls’ style is impacted by his background as a Texan.

A few missed opportunities were apparent to me in viewing this digital story. The narrator observed that Surl’s work is influenced by the same classic forms explored by Michelangelo and Rodin. This would have been a great moment to contrast some of the spiral forms used in Surls’ work with images of Michelangelo’s “Pietà” or Rodin’s “The Thinker.” Instead, the observation was left unsupported with visual images. The same could be said for the connection between Surls’ work and the breadth of the Texas landscape. A connection was remarked upon by the narrator but was not supported by specific visual images connecting an art object and a landscape photo.

Finally, the “P” sounds spoken by the narrator had a tendency to pop out on the voice-over. This was a minor annoyance at first, but since it happened several times, it became a distraction.

Category: W2: Digital Story
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One Response
  1. jjanes says:

    Although I do not know much about abstract art, I found the images used in this digital story to be extremely appealing. The effects used to present the works of art were done well, and they were presented at a pace that kept me interested. As you mention, it would have been nice to be able to make a stronger connection between commentary on things like Surls’ work and influence by Texas landscape with actual pieces of art. I also think that you have an interesting idea about contrasting Surls’ work with other artists, but think that this may take away from the brevity of the piece as well as its focus really on Surl. That would make for an interesting comparative digital story.

    You are right to point out the distractions in the narration; it is one of the first things I noticed and made it somewhat diffcult to sit through. As I have been listening to multiple digital stories lately, I am realizing that the ease with which the narration can be listened to is extremely important to whether or not I will actually listen to the full digital story. This particular narrator could have benefited from practicing with a microphone a few times before actually recording the story; this is unfortunate because while I found the pictures visually stimulating, I was very distracted by the voice.