Digital Arts

Practice in schools and subsequent research experience have led me to a number of principles I find it helpful to apply to digital culture and artefacts. Amongst them are the following, encapsulated in phrases I’ve used as titles of publications, or as summary expressions within them.

Continuity rather than rupture: while digital media always confer some new possibility for communucation or expression, it’s important not to succumb to unbridled neophilism. There’s always a continuity with older media, whether it’s that the artefact or process in question isn’t ‘born digital’ but hybrid; or whether the meanings, structures, audiovisual aesthetic of the object draw on earlier media forms. Digital games are a good example: entirely digital objects, yet deriving from narrative structures as old as Anglo-Saxon or Norse myth, or from  game-strategies as old as chess.

Digital Rhapsody: as the great scholar of oral culture Walter Ong observed, oral narrative is stitched together from inherited fragments of language, a process denoted by the Greek verb rhapsodein, and represented by the poetic figure of Greek art, the Rhapsode. In similar ways, digital texts are stitched from code, from building blocks available in the culture, from media databases of sound and image, from copied and pasted chunks. The ancient compositional processes have their analogies in those of the digital era, and the principles of agile, improvisatory fabrication are not so different.

Digital Anatomies: if digital texts are stitched together, the stitching is often provisional, and they can be unstitched, reverse-engineered, anatomised. The article carrying this name (below) describes the value of using digital video editing for school students to unstitch – anatomise – sequences of film for the purpose of analysis, but also creative remaking.

Digital Aletheia: ‘aletheia’ – loosely, truth – is the term borrowed from antiquity by Heidegger in his celebrated essay on technology, to indicate how we can move beyond a merely instrumental view of technology, through the artisanal craft of techne, to something which can lay claim to the revelation of truth. Today we might see such claims as subject to complex negotiations between speakers and listeners, sign-makers and interpreters, media texts and their audiences. The shaping tools of such claims are likely to be digital, with the characteristic provisionality, duplicability and plasticity of such material, along with the connected communities which manage such negotiations of what counts as truth.



This is an extended study of the relationship between (English) literature and videogames, with examples drawn from a range of research projects. The book includes chapters on: ludo-literary aesthetics and narrative; literature, games and multimodality; ludo-literary literacies; game adaptations of children’s literature; and game design projects based on Beowulf and Macbeth.

Here’s a sample chapter, which outlines a number of game-making projects based on the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf.



Multimodality, Style and the Aesthetic: the case of the digital werewolf.
Andrew Burn and Gunther Kress
In Tønnessen, E & Forsgren, F (2018) Multimodality and Aesthetics. London: Routledge.

A set of proposals for ways in which the category of the aesthetic may be rethought through social semiotic theory in relation to the domain of multimodality. We use the example of an animation made by 11 year-old children to exemplify our argument.

Burn and Kress – Multimodality and the Aesthetic


Burn, A (2016) ‘Digital Aletheia: technology, culture and the arts in education’. In King, A, Himonides, E, and Ruthmann, A (eds) The Routledge Companion to Music, Technology & Education. London: Routledge
An introductory essay to a collection on the relationship between digital technology and music education.

Andrew Burn Digital Aletheia


Burn, A (2015): Making machinima: animation, games, and multimodal participation in the media arts, Learning, Media and Technology, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2015.1107096

This article looks at the manipulation of digital tools in a 3-D animation software by 11 yearolds making a machinima-style film.

Making Machinima WITH PICS


Burn, A (2011) ‘The Skeleton in the Seminar: Teaching and Learning in Virtual Worlds’. iVERG proceedings 2010, 1-12.

An article version of a conference keynote on virtual worlds. It argues that such worlds can be understood both from the perspective of game theory and drama theory, and that they allow forms of role play which mediate learning, connecting it to popular cultural affiliations.

Skeleton in the Seminar Andrew Burn


Burn, A (2009) ‘Culture, Art, Technology: Towards a Poetics of Media Education’, Cultuur+Educatie No. 26, December 2009.

An article for a Dutch arts education journal. It argues that media educators and art educators can learn from each other, combining their respective expertise in politics and aesthetics.

Burn – Towards a Poetic of Media Education


Burn, A (2016) ‘Liber Ludens: Games, Play and Learning’. In Andrews, A, Haythornthwaite, C, Fransman, J, and Kazmer, M (2015) The Sage Handbook of e-learning Research, 2nd edition. London: Sage.

This chapter proposes a series of rationales for the inclusion of videogames in education, while challenging the current notion of gamification.



Burn, A & Durran, J (2006) ‘Digital Anatomies: analysis as production in media education’, in Buckingham, D & Willett, R (eds) Digital Generations, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum

This version of a conference keynote presents examples of secondary students using digital tools to dismantle and remake film versions of Shakespeare, both analysing the film and dramatic texts and creating their own versions.

Burn & Durran 2006 Digital Anatomies


Burn A & Parker D (2001), ‘Making your Mark: Digital Inscription, Animation, and a New Visual Semiotic’, Education, Communication & Information, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp 155-179

This account of a primary school digital animation project adapts Kress & van Leeuwen’s semiotic concept of technologies of inscription to explain the processes of digital composition involved.

Making Your Mark


Burn, A (1999) ‘Grabbing the Werewolf: digital freezeframes, the cinematic still and technologies of the social’, Convergence,  3:4, Winter 1999, pp 80-101

This article considers teenagers’ use of digital screen grabs in media studies projects from the perspective of Barthes’ essay on the cinematic still.

Grabbing the Werewolf