When Art Imitates Life: Critical Interpretations of Multimodal Composition

A critical and/or multimodal classroom embodies embedded “differences” that may remain hidden if only text or writing were employed (and not reflected upon); therefore, we must ask the questions: what are these embedded “differences” that multimodal composition can reveal and how does that apply to the critical classroom?

The painting on the left is titled Composition (The Typographer) and it is a piece by Cubist painter, Fernand Léger in 1918(19).  Léger created the piece as a response to the inundation of visual messages (billboards, advertisements, posters) that papered the streets of a post-war Paris. At first glance, we see the bold shapes and colors indicative of the Cubist movement and not much else. However, if we start unveiling the different modes or layers of the piece, we begin to see the message–find the alphabetic text and the back of the head is revealed, find the head and see the back of a figure at work, find the back and see a composer consumed by his composition.

The embedded differences and modes become one message that is so powerful, the subject of the painting (the typographer) becomes his process of composition. The typographer has become lost in those visual messages and he is being constructed by the content he is also constructing. The composer has become the composition and the composition becomes an embodiment of the composer. While it is visual mode, this composition can represent Composition 2.0 because it is always in a process of becoming, a process of change; however, the message continues: we must recognize new and different modes to have a full understanding of composition.

Enacting Critical Digital Pedagogy

Kendra holding her first publication on Multimodal Composition

When critically employing multimodal and digital composition in the classroom, not only is a co-constructed space of knowledge present, but there are a number of pedagogical implications that are worth noting. With multimodal composing and technological literacy practices, there are new possibilities for invention. No longer is the composer locked into a stasis paradigm with a linear model for thinking, composing in multiple ways creates a choric space for invention where the composer can revel in the messiness of thought. This multimodal messiness requires new heuristics for analysis and understanding, and a new approach to the function of the teacher in the classroom. The teacher become a co-constructor of knowledge when she engages in this participatory composition (Sarah Arroyo).

Multimodal composition creates opportunity for visual and spatial learners as well as develops spaces for a more holistic understanding of concepts in composition. This embodied and methodically constructed knowledge may create more work for both teacher and student, but it also supports a critical eye toward the actions and concepts of literacy when they are approached through action and reflection. When we stop to look AT rather than THROUGH, live by praxis rather than function, then we can work toward an emancipatory and liberatory education with critical digital pedagogy.

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