Fat Cats Make Better Art History Assignments

Today we are going to play with digital storytelling as a tool for teaching and learning.   In one of Alan Levine’s talks about digital storytelling, he included a slide quoting Ruben Puentedura on the value of learning through stories :

One of the best ways to understand something is to create a story around it.

If you think about it, a traditional lecture is a storytelling technique that faculty are very, very comfortable with in the classroom. Sometimes they get crazy and even include presentation slides! and videos! But most faculty don’t ask students to create stories other than traditional papers, and the occasional presentation. And even less frequently do they expect you to focus on being a compelling storyteller. If that were the case, then faculty and students would need to spend much more time thinking about creative storytelling techniques in the context of presenting concepts and content. What would that mean? Less content coverage for the sake of developing richer engagement with an audience?

We’re going to look at the digital storytelling community ds106 for innovative storytelling ideas by looking through their collaboratively built assignment bank and the abundant examples of work made by community members.

The above image was made for one of the many ds106 assignments in the visual assignments category – Fat Cats Make Better Art. Here’s the description of what to do:

Using this site: http://fatcatart.ru/category/klassy-ka/ as a platform for ideas, and using Photoshop (or something like it) as your tool, place a fat cat into a photo of a classic art piece. The goal is to make it convincing: make the art become on with the cat.

Most of all, enjoy! :0) And remember, fat cats make art better.

I chose to modify the painting Madonna in Glory with Seraphim by Botticelli with a picture of my cat Peter. So you might call this Madonna in Glory with Peter the Cat. I used Photoshop to do my layering and editing of the two images.

But what’s the point of the assignment, other than hopefully to get a laugh out of an art history lolcat. There’s definitely a lot of digital image manipulation skills learned in the process of creating the image, that’s fairly obvious. And if it’s your first time playing with photo editing/manipulation tools then that’s a big deal.

Less obvious though is the study of the details of the painting that happens while trying to place your cat compellingly and convincingly. In photo editing applications it’s really easy to zoom in and focus on the details of the image while editing. Here’s an example:

I started to notice the expressions of the cerubs which were definitely not smiling despite that they are in the presence of a mother holding her heathy baby, normally a celebratory event. So why the sadness and expressions of concern? Because it’s the baby Jesus, and being little angels, they know he’s going to have to be killed. And now that my cat is in that position, have I predestined his furry future?

So the ds106 assignments are lots of fun and obviously encourage the use of digital tools, but there’s a method to meme madness – fostering understanding through storytelling.

For today I want you to do two ds106 assignments and post them to our blog. 

Choose the first one from either the visual assignments or the design assignments, and the second one from either the audio assignments or the video assignments.

For each assignment you complete, describe what you learned in the process. Did you learn new digital tools? Did you discover something about the content you’re working on? Be sure to explain what you did, how, and why.

For the visual and design assignments, you are going to have to choose an image editing application to do your work in. Here are some great resources from Alan Levine’s ds106 tips and tricks site:



If you do not have Photoshop or commercial software, some alteratives

For the audio assignments, read my post for ideas for capturing and finding audio, editing, and sharing. You will need to create a SoundCloud account to embed your audio into your post.
And finally if you choose a video assignment Alan also shares a lot of good resources for archival videos and tutorials for editing in either iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. And there’s a good chance that you might wish to download videos from Youtube, which you can find easily with a simple search, but my favorite way these days is using PwnYouTube. If you add their bookmarklet to your browser it’s easy-peasy.
For each assignment post not only what you created, but please describe how you did your best to make it. Remember this isn’t an advanced digital imaging or video editing course, so effort to figure it out and make something is what’s most important. Failure is learning, just be willing to describe your flame out. Also please relate to us how you might imagine using an assignment like this in your future k-12 classroom.
Finally remember to link back to the original assignment so everyone can understand which assignment your completing.

6 thoughts on “Fat Cats Make Better Art History Assignments

  1. Pingback: Fat Cats Make Better Art History Assignments | mbransons

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  5. Professor Smith, I would like to do a visual for the ds106 assignment, would it be ok to use Speechable.com for my photo.

    • I’m happy for you to use any tools you’d like. Just describe how you made it in your post.

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