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Updated 10:00 AM October 16, 2006




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Spotlight: Capturing the Muse

Faculty in the arts can't always record their work in the traditional sense that many of their colleagues do, as their contributions to the academy often are not the material of books and articles.
(Photo by Lin Jones, U-M Photo Services)

Enter Peter Knox, whose job is to document the creative process through video for the Art, Architecture and Engineering Library. As the library's only arts videographer, he works to ensure that a record of a faculty work—often including a description of what went into its creation—becomes part of the library's holdings.

"For the first few years I have been figuring out how to best approach faculty and what it is exactly we're trying to document. What's the nature of creative process that you can capture visually? What they do as artists themselves informs what they try to teach."

Generally, Knox documents the subjects talking about their work, its influences and how they got to where they are with their art. He tries to include examples and occasionally gets the opportunity to capture faculty members in the act.

"Those are sort of the special moments to capture, but they're harder to get and still make it feel real."

Knox, a U-M fine arts alumnus, has noticed a shift from the dynamics of "traditional" arts such as ceramics, drawing and painting toward computer arts. "Technology has been changing. A lot of the nondigital arts are having to find a different place."

He finds this an interesting time to be documenting the creative process.

"Perhaps in years down the road, there will be something there to see some sort of comparison in how we approach art and the creative process differently," he says.

Since most professors he now focuses on have been painters, ceramicists, color theorists, etc. for their entire careers, Knox believes that in some ways he is archiving this generation of artists.

"It's not entirely true, but the shift has been pretty dramatic," he says.

One major issue Knox struggles with in his videography is editing footage. Creating a documentary automatically puts a slant on what's important in that creative process, he says, resulting in a choice between filtering it or presenting it more as raw footage in a less mediated environment.

"Exactly how I do that I haven't decided," he says.

He also wants to go beyond just having a DVD on a shelf for people to find. Some developing BlueStream technology may solve his problems. The technology will enable users to search video data for specific needs and focus only on video clips they are interested in.

"It's an ideal vehicle for the work that I'm doing," he says. "I can make available more of the raw footage and people can decide for themselves what's interesting or important."

In addition to his work with the AAEL, Knox captures the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Visitors Series for the School of Art and Design. Every Thursday night, artists, journalists and performing artists come to the Michigan Theatre, where Knox videotapes their lecture, discussion or performance. He then puts the videos in the library's visual resources and onto a visual and audio podcast for students to access. The Art School provides money to hire students to assist Knox in his work.

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