Six-Word Collaborations

In each of our units for this class, I like to have one day where we engage in some playful exercise or creative prompt in class together; I think of it as a hands-on opportunity to explore the characteristic we’re currently discussing (in this case, collaboration). When you actually try to make something collaborative, you learn a lot more than you can from simply reading or talking about the nature of collaboration, so I try to get you all to dig in.

A view of the Forum Gallery, home of the “Stories You Tell” exhibit, with active collaborators. Photo by Bryan Conley.

Usually, I have a different activity for this unit. But last week, I visited the Carnegie Museum of Art and learned about a current exhibit of theirs called “Stories You Tell” that is a cross-platform, multimedia, collaborative narrative experiment, and I thought it would be cool if we all joined in.

Here’s how it will work:

  • First, read the link above for an overview of the exhibit
  • Then, read this post from the CMOA’s blog, Storyboard, to get a broader sense for why the museum is engaging in a collaborative exhibit.
  • Since we can’t visit the museum in person (yet…) to participate, we’ll have to get creative. Your next step, then, should be to browse around the Storyboard blog until you find an image of a piece of art from the CMOA collection — any kind of art from any collection — that inspires you.
    • Note that the drop-down menu “Series” categorizes blog posts, and this might be a good way for you to narrow your search to the kind of art to which you’re most drawn.
  • Once you find a piece, make sure to save / write down the image, as well as the piece’s title and artist’s name.
  • Write your own six-word story inspired by this piece of art. Tweet your six-word story, with the photo of the piece that inspired it embedded, and include #cmoa6words


“Stories You Tell” installation view, showing visitor responses to Rana El Nmar “Metro #10,” 2003. Photo by Bryan Conley.

That’s part one, in which you use unwitting participants (the original artist) to create a collaborative, multimedia, mini-story. Part two will ask you to explore contributory participation by mining other peoples’ image-stories for your inspiration and expansion.

  • Search Twitter for #cmoa6words (make sure to click ‘all’ or ‘latest’ not just ‘top’)
  • Pick someone else’s image story (note that not all tweets with this hashtag qualify)
  • In a blog post, embed the original piece of art or the photograph of it someone else used. Use the original six-word story as a title, and then, write your own short piece of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, inspired by both the piece of art and the title someone else gave you. Go wherever your imagination takes you.
  • When you’re finished, make sure to credit the original artist, as well as the composer of the six-word story (use their Twitter handle) and post to your blog.
  • Tweet a link to your blog post, using #cmoa6words

Now, you’ve continued using the original artists as unwitting participants, but have also used contributory participation from others who volunteered to be a part of this project. You may even discover you’ve been used as a contributory participant by someone in this very room.

When you’re working with your groups this week on your own collaborative narratives, think and talk about how this process felt, and what it revealed to you about the nature of collaboration. Make sure to use what you learn in this process to create an ethical give-and-take between the value of your narrative and the participants’ contributions.

And don’t forget to periodically check back on the #cmoa6words — you may discover you’ve contributed to someone else’s story!


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