It’s Only Natural

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 product.

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.

Art or Journalism?

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 painting’s subject.

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.

Reflective 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.