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.