Sunday, June 05, 2011

"Angry Bunny": An Idea for a Pedagogical Graphics Text

I have an idea for a pedagogical classroom tool in the form of a graphics text.

To be called, "Angry Bunny", this text will be a tool for discussion in the university classroom, for use as a counter-trope in the attempt to respond to the cynicism of commercial and popular culture. That cynicism is robbing young college students (undergraduates) of the traits they most need to possess if they are to engage with, analyze, and respond to literary texts, music, film, art, and if they are to successfully understand political and economic realities manifest in popular culture. Those traits are compassion, self expression, and empathy. I find these traits tragically lacking in many undergraduate students.

I have taught creative writing at several universities over many years (Cornell University, Wayne State University, The University of Miami, Florida International University, Barry University, Miami-Dade College, and Macomb College) and it has been a labor of love: I care about literature and art. I’ve also taught at an art school (The College for Creative Studies, in Detroit). Teaching allows me to know and work with very gifted young poets, fiction writers, painters, sculptors, photographers and design artists. I could be making the B$G BUCK$, using my fancy ivy league degrees (shout out to Cornell U!) to profess logic courses to law students, pre-med majors, and business majors, as I have in the past, but such was a boring endeavor. I can influence the next generation of artists and influence the future of the arts as a teacher, which is far more desirable to me than influencing the next generation of lawyer, doctors, and finance capitalists.

When I teach I am surprised to notice sarcasm, morbidity, and cynicism among young artists; being young, they shouldn’t already be forming such a veneer of negative defenses. Of course, young people are like this only because old people are. The economy and the dominant, cutthroat commercial culture that old people have created convince young artists they will have to submit like slaves to commerce, and cash in their dreams to support themselves. This is what I say to students:

Society possesses an emotional 'environment' (noosphere) and has resources just like a physical, natural environment, resources such as empathy and compassion. Artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, all creative people, are society’s major defense against the polluted atmosphere caused by anger, hatred, bigotry, and pain. These are rifts in the noosphere (‘noosphere’: the ‘sphere of human consciousness’ that is the next stage of evolutionary development, affirming the importance of human relationships, of the sublime and the beautiful, and the importance of love and compassion. The idea is found in the writings of Vladimir Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardi).

"Angry Bunny" Sample
 I envision a graphic comic, a teaching tool, a text for the classroom. This graphic comic's purpose is to explore the evolution of a cynic. Cynicism, a dominant social mindset, is destructive; on its surface it seems to offer emotional rewards (it offers a pose of 'sophistication' as a defense against emotional harm and emotional disappointment). Actually, however, cynicism as a defense offers drastically diminishing returns. It withers our capacity to experience vulnerability and lessens compassion in society--it is thus an environmental threat. It interferes with the pedagogical process of developing critical faculties and analytical tools, and it interferes with the ability of students to take responsibility for the necessity that thinking critically and creatively require them to engage passionately with texts (no matter whether that text be a book, a painting, a film, or a photograph).

"Angry Bunny," a graphic arts text that will be structured as a comic series. I will use black humor to show the evolution of a young, modern cynic, Ashton Bunny, a former art student and advertising executive who happens to be a rabbit. There will be a series of comic illustrations of Ashton delivering episodic monologues, against changing, symbolic backgrounds. These episodes will comprise a narrative progression, character development, a plot leading to a climax, and a resolution reinforcing the text's major theme: that cynicism is corrosive, anti-human, a threat to the noosphere and even to the cynic.

The text will consist of approximately 72 panels (six panels per episode) for a total 12 episodes. Original art will be executed in large format (16 by 20), with ink line and ink wash media on illustration board (some of which will be autographed, numbered, for later sale). The finished books will be approximately 6 by 9, in landscape format. Key episodes will utilize color. Ultimately, I will print and then distribute the finished project. The book will be available to students (and everybody else) in bookstores, museum shops, and online.