Post from October, 2011

Art and the Potential of Technology

Monday, 31. October 2011 0:26

Make no mistake, I love traditional art forms—not necessarily traditional content—but the forms themselves: live theatre, dance, poetry, fiction, painting, film. And like everyone in the arts I have, for a long time, been aware of the impact of technology in the arts. Who can be involved in photography and not be aware of that? Most photography, however, just uses new technology to arrive at the same old place: a print on paper that can be put into an album or framed and hung on a wall. Much the same thing happens with other current uses of technology.

Our acceptance of technology is evolutionary. We adapt in order to do our jobs or our art and don’t think much about it. I sit here typing on one in a long line of successive keyboards; the hardware has changed, the operating systems have changed, the software has changed, but the keyboard is still the old qwerty design, albeit in a far more (for me) ergonomic package. So I don’t notice the changes so much.

We also don’t notice the evolution in publishing. Technology is what makes it possible for you to be reading this. Most of us don’t think what a recent innovation this is; we sit down at the keyboard, go online, read what we want, publish what we want. One of the ongoing themes of Seth Godin’s The Domino Project is the impact that technology can and is having on writing and publishing.

Despite our love for the feel of paper and page-turning and the physicality of books, many of us now read on mobile devices of some kind or another. It’s easier, more convenient, and (in most cases) cheaper. It also works better for publishers: same income, less investment, no inventory. So we download ebooks into our Kindles or Nooks or apps and read away.

None of this is big news. At least that’s what I thought until I was this week introduced to a “book” called The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by Moonbot Studios. It is really an iPad app that is designed to “revive a love of story in all.” The creators have used animation, words, voice, music and genuine interactivity to produce a work that is “old-fashioned and cutting edge at the same time.” It’s an amazing piece of work.

Then, all of a sudden, the capabilities of this technology hit me.

Now I have seen video and film in art exhibits and museums. I have played with “interactive” art pieces. Usually those pieces are unsatisfying. In many cases it is an issue of production or presentation values, a lack of understanding of interaction, or editing. Such work often engages one or two senses, but is not fully absorbing. This was the first instance where I have seen technology really used to its fullest. Morris not only engages all of the senses (except smell), but also activates the intellect and the imagination.

And it is not just the book, although it is truly delightful. What is really exciting the potential. This is finally immersive computer technology with a use other than gaming. This is technology used to create and present art, art which fully engages the viewer and is distributed via the internet. The possibilities are astounding.

At present, most, but not all, animated book apps seem to be geared toward children, and certainly they are appropriate to the young, but the implications of the technology are much bigger than that. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see how this technology could be used to create all sorts of art projects. Yes, it requires a different sort of thinking: it is not applying paint to canvas, or even digital manipulation of captured images, or text-only story-telling. But it does allow artists to leap into what has become the mainstream of communication in this century.

Category:Creativity, Originality, Technology | Comment (0) | Author:

Deadlines – A Creative Necessity?

Sunday, 23. October 2011 23:18

Seth Godin has made a career out of advising people to overcome their fear of shipping. Although much of his rhetoric is aimed at entrepreneurs, he has the same advice for all creative individuals (whom he thinks should be entrepreneurs, if they are not already). He has even said, according to Andrea J. Stenberg writing on “The Baby Boomer Entrepreneur,” “real artists ship.”

While Godin had broadened his definition of “artists” “to mean anyone who is creative and bringing something new to the market,” the statement applies equally well to that much narrower group we think of as “fine artists.” Some of us do have trouble shipping; that is to say that some of us have difficulty actually completing work and getting it out the door. There are a number of reasons for this.

Some of us don’t really want to finish. This may come from a philosophy that was best summed up by Picasso: “To finish it [a painting] means to be through with it, to kill it, to rid it of its soul, to give it its final blow the coup de grace for the painter as well as for the picture.

Most of us are aware that, at least on some levels, Picasso was right.  The work is never done. There is always one adjustment that needs to be made, one passage doesn’t sound quite right, one little area that needs to be tweaked, one phrase still needs work. So long as this is the case, we cannot release the work. Still though, sooner or later, we have to let go or remain “undiscovered” artists all our lives.

Regardless of how valid our reasons may seem, Godin says that our reluctance to ship comes from what he calls “resistance,” which is our way of protecting ourselves. If we ship, we have to take a risk. Someone will see our work, and some one of the ones who see our work may not like it. If we don’t ship, we don’t have to face that rejection. But he goes on to say that time pressure and urgent deadlines allow us to get more and better work done.

There may be something to this deadline thing. Those who have to do their art in public (i.e. actors, dancers, performance artists) or who have definite published deadlines (conductors, directors, choreographers) have, I think, a far easier time “shipping” than those of us who work alone without real deadlines (painters, photographers, composers, sculptors, writers of all stripes). It is very easy for us to put off shipping for exactly those reasons that have been named.

Perhaps then all we need to do to be more productive is to give ourselves firm deadlines and adhere to them. I know that if I have an image I want to submit to a show, I have no trouble editing, printing, framing, shipping in order to get it there at the proper time. If there is no show, or no client waiting, getting the work finished is far more problematic. There is something else that needs my attention; there are chores that need doing; family life requires my presence. The list is endless.

If, however, I make a deadline, and I believe in the deadline, I am likely to become more productive, and perhaps more creative. And since I don’t have all the time in the world to make a given project work, my ingenuity might kick in to suggest ideas and approaches that would be unknown were I not restricting myself.  Douglas Eby is convinced that the more constraints we have the more creative we will be forced to be.  Up to a certain point, I have to agree.

The conclusion seems simple enough. If we don’t have them already, we need to give ourselves deadlines. That constraint alone will cause us to hone our creativity and produce more.

Will it work for you? I don’t know. But I do know that I’m going to try it.

Category:Creativity | Comment (0) | Author:

“All Art is Quite Useless”

Monday, 17. October 2011 0:23

My friend who is the beginning ceramicist is in the midst of a quandary. Having broken through his block, he now is producing, but that has caused another problem. He feels that the things he makes must have a use, and since he has created objects for which no immediate purpose jumps to mind, he is concerned. While I understand this problem intellectually, his mindset is one with which I cannot fully identify.

Thus we have had long discussions about the nature of art and artifact creation, he maintaining that his ceramic output must find a function and I maintaining that art, regardless of the medium, need not have any function beyond its own existence. In looking for an argument that I thought might persuade him, I discovered this letter that Oscar Wilde wrote to an Oxford student, Bernulf Clegg, who had written Wilde asking for clarification of Wilde’s assertion in the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray that, “All art is quite useless.” Wilde responded:

My dear Sir

Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility. If the contemplation of a work of art is followed by activity of any kind, the work is either of a very second-rate order, or the spectator has failed to realize the complete artistic impression.

A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.

Truly yours,
Oscar Wilde.

Admittedly, Wilde’s position is an extreme one, but then that is what you would expect from Oscar Wilde. There is much evidence to contradict what he says in the first paragraph, but the second paragraph states, I think, the reality of art. It exists for itself, not necessarily for some external functional purpose.

This is not to say that art cannot have impact other than the “moment of joy” that we gain by viewing it. Art can certainly make statements about society, politics, aesthetic issues; art can put forth a particular point of view to the degree that it becomes propaganda as well as art. It can surely influence action. Art can make us think about ourselves and our lives and the lives of others, perhaps better than other means of communication can, and certainly in more complex ways than other approaches.

To say that art is “useless,” however, is not to say that it doesn’t have value beyond the immediate pleasure of viewing. (Wilde’s own work illustrates this.) It is to say that it need not have a function other than to be.  Even in those areas of design where the product of the work has inherent functionality, we have a tendency to call the work art only when it rises above that functionality. (I am thinking here of areas like architecture or set design, or even illustration).

In these days when marketing seems to be as important as creation, I think that it is easy to allow ourselves to fall into the trap of thinking that our work must have function. However, belief in the necessary utility of our art can and will govern and limit our output, preventing us from producing our most imaginative work.




Category:Aesthetics, Communication, Creativity | Comments (1) | Author:

The Efficacy of Editing

Monday, 10. October 2011 0:16

Quite a lot has been written about nurturing, or unleashing, or developing individual creativity, depending on whom you read. Not much has been written about editing the output of that creativity. If you research editing (for art works) you will find very little. There are a few tips for writers out there, but for the others of us, there is virtually nothing. Almost everyone who writes about the creative process mentions editing, but no one discusses the topic in full. I, myself, have mentioned editing several times, suggesting most recently that editing will allow you to make your work definite, strong, and meaningful.

Editing is just as much a part of art as the inspirational or inventive part. For example, Walter Murch, editor of The Godfather, Part II and Apocalypse Now has said that film editing “could just as easily be called ‘film construction.’” Stories abound about Murch and other film editors who have, by changing the pace and timing and juxtaposition of shots, actually “created” the most interesting and moving parts of the films. And what is true of film is true of other arts as well. Playwrights edit their already “finished” work, modifying and rewriting until opening night and sometimes after it. If you are familiar with Project Runway, then you certainly are aware of the judges repeatedly advising designers to edit their work. These fashion professionals seem to believe that runaway creativity may be just as bad no creativity.

Editing shapes the raw material of creativity. And self-editing is far more difficult than editing the work or others. It is relatively easy to look at a piece by someone else and see things that, if changed, would make the piece better. That’s why publishers employ editors, to take the task away from the far-more-subjective authors. However, looking at your own work and finding those same things to change is far more difficult. I suppose this is because you are so close to the work and perhaps have an emotional investment in it. The other reason is that a lot of us try to edit as we go, which does not allow us to be far enough removed from the creation of the piece to be as objective as we need to be to edit effectively.

Ernest Hemingway suggested that we “write drunk; edit sober.” Whether you write or photograph or paint or sculpt drunk or just in the flow, it is likely that what you produce will be in need of editing. And good editing requires that you be sober and objective.

For me, really effective editing requires a time lapse. I have to have enough time to let go of the work and come back to it with fresh eyes. How long that is depends on the work and how much creative investment I have in it, but some time lapse is required. Whatever time lapse works for you, or whatever other method you develop for yourself, the key is to come to the work with fresh eyes. Only then can you summon the objectivity needed to really examine, modify, and improve your work.

Of course, when you learn to edit as part of the total creative process, you find that there will always be something to change. There is always a tweak that can be made to improve the piece. So along with editing, you have to develop a sense of when to stop. That is, you have to be able to determine when the process can be suspended and the artifact released.

While it is part of the process, editing not just one more phase of creativity; it is a separate function entirely—not completely divorced from creation, but not the same either. It is the refining of creative output. And for really good work it is an absolute requirement.

Category:Creativity | Comments (1) | Author:

Nor is Making Art for the Tentative

Monday, 3. October 2011 0:19

Several weeks ago I proclaimed that “making art is not for the timid.” It was a post about making choices and presentation. Recently I was reminded that there are other ways timidity gets in the way of making art.

Not long ago a friend invited me to a ceramics studio for a charity event. It was for a good cause, and I have a quiet interest in things ceramic so I went. It turned out that my friend, who is a beginning ceramicist, was at one of those places we all get to in whatever art we do where nothing seems to go right. But he was game, and kept throwing and working the clay and not succeeding. I watched.

There were seven people throwing and, although they all had the same instructor, each person had a different approach and rhythm in working with the clay. It was instructive to watch individual methodologies. My friend was not having a great day. I watched for an hour or so and then went on to do other things.

We got together later for drinks. He said that he had been progressing well for a good while and then hit a stumbling block and now nothing worked. He was trying to determine exactly what was wrong, and had, after I left, talked to more advanced potters, few of whom had concrete advice but all of whom were encouraging. He was a bit discouraged. I claim no knowledge at all about ceramics, but I had noticed one thing: he was tentative. It was as if he was afraid of the material or what he might do to it. It was my single uninformed critical observation, and we soon moved on to other things.

Being tentative is an easy thing to do. You are worried about not succeeding, and because you are worrying, you hold back; you decline to commit to the work. You become tentative, you begin to falter; then your work falters. Your brush strokes are not firm and confident, so you painting is not what it could be. You are hesitant in postproduction so your photographic images are less than you envisioned. You decline to make choices and your acting is not interesting. You waver in selecting words so your writing is weak and not at all what you wanted it to be.  And it’s all about being afraid.

You have to be aware that if you set out to make art, you will fail somewhere along the way, and you need to be ready. As Ken Robinson says, “if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”  It may be that you have difficulty learning a technique. It may be that you have temporary coordination issues. It may be that you are afraid of embarrassing yourself. It may be that you are not concentrating.

There are hundreds of things that will cause you to do less than your best work, but the one thing that you can do is resolve to make each element of your approach strong and confident. I do not mean that there can be no delicacy in your work. Sometimes that’s when strength in resolve is the most important. Make your choices and follow through fully, strongly, confidently. Approach your work as did author Edith Pargeter, “with absolute conviction.” And the odds are that you will be right, or certainly more right than if you had held back.

My friend took a week off, then went back to the studio. By then he had thought about his approach, and decided to modify his timing, adjust his technique, and be less hesitant. He was suddenly back on track. At least a third of his problem had been tentativeness. Don’t let it be yours.

Category:Creativity, Originality | Comments (6) | Author: