The decision to produce a creative project for my final thesis
in my master’s program was a natural one for me to make.
Throughout my life, I have quite often relied on visual aids when
conveying a message or communicating an idea or in augmenting
an oral or written presentation. As a child, I was almost always
writing and illustrating a “graphic novella,” as they
have come to be known— what my friends and I always referred
to as comic books. Today, as an adult, in business meetings, I
quite often reach for the dry erasable marker and scribble my
thoughts on a white board to clarify my train of thought. My written
proposals usually feature illustrations or references to online,
interactive material to further explain my recommended strategy.
As a graduate student at Empire State College, I have occasionally
deviated from the essay format that is usually the product of
a study’s research, opting instead for a visual and interactive
For instance, I designed an online vehicle for delivering student
resources by way of a reference Web site as my final project for
my first elective, Learning Resources in the Digital Age.
For a study entitled The Art of Revolution, I exhibited
propaganda posters from the Spanish civil war on the walls and
alleyways of a virtual Catalan village, and presented the music
of that period, as well as a video interview with my Spanish mother
on an interactive compact disc as the final project. These projects
have proved digital media to be an excellent vehicle for communicating
one’s thoughts and ideas and capturing the attention of
one’s audience in ways that the written word cannot. The
projects, along with their associated research, completed in conjunction
with many written essays and position papers as part of my various
electives, prepared me for what has been the most in depth and
momentous communications project of my life: a video documentary
on US and Cuban relations.
Having decided to do a creative project as the culmination of
my degree program, I was immediately and continually challenged
with defining a creative project. Had I focused on fine art throughout
the course of my studies, my final project might have been a painting.
It would have been based on my researching of various masters
and their work, experimenting with different media and techniques,
and, perhaps, exploring the social implications (if any) of the
However, my focus throughout my degree program has been on communications,
and one medium available today to the communication artist is
video, a medium also used by journalists. What differentiates
a communication artist or documentarian from a journalist? Barry
Hampe, author of Making Documentary films and Reality Videos
(1997) discusses the difference in the first chapter: “Certainly,
if you can get camcorder shots of a tornado flattening a town…you
can be on TV. But, unfortunately, footage of a tornado is not
a documentary. It’s a news clip.” He cautions that,
“long interviews with earnest proponents of any sort of
social change usually don’t make a documentary either. What
they make is a dull video sermon acceptable only to those who
already side with the speaker” (p. 3).
It takes much more to produce a documentary. It takes a cinematographer’s
eye to compose and capture engaging visual resources. It takes
a storyteller’s ability to identify the story and coax it
in an intended direction. It takes a writer’s skill to organize
the various verbal segments in a logical and persuasive sequence,
and it takes an artist’s perception to punctuate those sequences
with graphics and music and assemble the multitude of audio and
visual tiles into a mosaic that engages the viewer, holds his
or her attention, and creates an environment where persuasion
can potentially take place. Hampe explains it as “an ordered
progression of images and sounds that will capture the audience’s
interest and present the point of view of the documentary as a
visual argument” (p. 4). So for my final project, I painted
a “visual argument” on a video canvas.
Essay or Position Paper?
As part of a final creative project, as described in the 2002-2003
Empire State College Graduate Catalog, my required reflective
essay will “analyze the experience; discuss issues involved
with [my] project; draw appropriate conclusions from the readings
and the creative experience; and assess the way in which [I] met
the goals described in [my] final project proposal” (p.
31). If I were creating a still life in oils for my final project,
my reflective essay could probably be completed with very little
risk of being challenged. But considering that my canvas displays
subject matter a bit more controversial than various inanimate
objects, it is difficult to reflect on the creative experience
without addressing the subject itself. Because of this, it may
also be difficult for the reader to approach this essay “as
an artist’s reflection on his work” rather than as
a position paper augmenting the “visual argument,”
which is my creative project.
With that in mind, I will try to address the requirements listed
in the Empire State College catalog, defend my creative decisions,
and my political positions, which have contributed to the nature
of the final cut of Strait Talk: Politics, Propaganda and
Perceptions Across the Florida Straits.