You Knew I was Going to Say That

Cullen Waters is trying to work up a framework for how fiction uses psychic abilities, specifically the effect of these abilities on the characters and the situation. (The ability in question is the power to foretell the future). I think he's done excellent work, and has clearly put a lot of thought into this, but I'm afraid the way my mind works, I tend to see where the system breaks down. (Not intentionally, honest.) So, in the comments, helpful little me had to mention Philip K. Dick, who wrote rather a lot of stories with protagonists (and antagonists) who were psychic in varying degrees; these stories tend to fall outside Mr. Water’s categories. (I’m just no fun at all, aren’t I.)

Which I guess brings me to my greater problem: I’m not really crazy about categories. Everyone uses them all the time (human beings are sorting creatures, after all) but the only real use I get from them is when I go into a book, record or movie store. Hey, where’s the science fiction section? Where’s Variations on a Theme by Haydn? Got any new Bunuel movies in here? Unfortunately, as categories come into play, one finds more and more exceptions to those categories, thus creating more categories, as Mr. Waters is discovering. In a record store not far from where I live, they don’t have an “Alternative” section, but they do have a “Cajun” one and just started an “Alt. Country” one. Why one and not the other?

Category systems can be useful in a general way, and I do like the ingenious methods people use when concocting them; but I generally find they're either too rigid to encompass most variations (thus spawning more and more subcategories, see above), or too loose to be useful. (“There are two types of music—good music, and bad music.”) Rackmounting creative work into a grid can be a useful guide for the uninitiated, or a way to look over a wide body of works, but I honestly don't think they're all that useful as systems. (See above, how I’m no fun and everything.)

The problem with most artistic endeavors, whether storytelling or painting or composing, is that there is usually a great deal in them that is instinctive rather than systematic. I doubt very much that someone starts with a concept and constructs a story around it...or at least, I doubt that the resultant story is any good. (Note: I’m not talking about thinking up a great ending line, and working toward that. I’m talking about someone who says, “I’ll write a story illustrating some great injustice! Now all I need are characters and a plot.”)

Most of my own creative endeavors (the only ones I'm familiar with) don't start with much in the way of calculation; they tend to be images or ideas that create a resonance in my mind, a resonance that really can't be put into words. They tend to appeal more to the senses or emotional states rather than to reason, though all can work hand in hand to bring the concept to fruition. As the concept matures into a project, I never look toward existing schools or frameworks to see where I'm fitting in, or, so that I can steer the work so it will fit in somewhere.

As I say, I enjoy reading about such systems, and I admire the thought and work put into them. I doubt anyone proposing one would seriously say that creative works have to flow along their guidelines. They’re more critical tools than creative guides. I imagine.

In fact, I can see a distinct danger if you use these guidelines for creating. I’ve got a friend (no, I really do) who would write down movie-making wisdom on 3x5 cards. I used to jokingly call them his Understanding Movies Bubble Gum Cards. Based on what I see coming out of Hollywood, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an official set you can buy, and that most film-makers use them religiously when crafting their products. We gotta have a tragic scene from the guy’s childhood, only shot all MTV style. The girl has to say, “I know…I think I’ve always known.” The bad guy has to have a henchman he can rant to, and he has to be defeated from his own hubris. The songs over the closing credits should start with a rockin’ tune, followed by a soft ballad, then another rocker.

It would sure explain a lot, eh? Well, that’s a rant for another time, another place. The point is, I don’t think you can create art by planning along a line. You have to use a curve, perhaps even several curves. The mind and heart aren’t segmented. They’re not even separate entities.

None of what I say here will prevent me from presenting my own systems and expounding upon them, of course; I’m as human as any of you are, despite my chitinous exoskeleton and the fact that I breath ammonia. But I use these systems like bookshelves, really; they're there to organize thoughts, and lots of things can be stored on them, and they’re a way of looking over the completeness of a collection. But the objects on the shelves are not the shelves themselves. The shelves just make them easier to find. And easier to replace.


Systems of Romance

Recently, I implied in a review I wrote elsewhere, that Macintosh fans are crazy.

Well, I was recently told that this might have been an overstatement. (Understatement, more likely. Ow! Hey, I wrote it like you said!)

But let me tell you this. I've owned and used a lot of computers. DOS, CP/M, Windows, UNIX, Macintosh, EPOC, PowerPC, Linux, Windows 2000, Windows XP, and so on.

And every single one of them has let me down.

If you're a fan of the Macintosh, well, I'm sorry to hear that. Operating systems shouldn't have fans. That's putting your shoes on before you put on your pants.

But let me say this, before you light your torches again. I don't have anything against the Mac. It's made by concientious engineers for a conscientious group of consumers. Everyone talks about its high standards. Great. To me, it's no better or worse than any other computer.

Let me repeat that: it's no better or worse than any other computer.

I've owned lots of computers, as previously noted, and they've all let me down. They've locked up when I needed them to NOT lock up. They lost data. They refused to run programs. They betrayed me. My brilliance needed to be saved, and they said, "Ha ha ha, three hours of lost data is funny to us!"

(I learned the important lesson (early on) that you always save your data, and you always back it up. You should only learn this once, no matter what computer you prefer.)

Well, I'm sure you're saying, you probably didn't do it right. You did it wrong. And that's what you got, for doing it wrong.

Well, my answer is, I did it wrong?

I did it wrong?

Can you HEAR what you're SAYING? I did it wrong? I didn't fit in with the computer's idea of what I SHOULD be doing?

I did it wrong?

Oh....kay. I see. Me, the flawed flesh machine, didn't follow the instructions of the perfect brain.

Does it sound silly yet?

Let me repeat this: the Macintosh is no better or worse than any other computer.

Before you start talking about icons or ease of use or fewer crashes, let me add these thoughts.

It's not the computer you use.

It's the use to which you put your computer.

NEVER forget that.

Hey, it's easier for you to manipulate graphics on the Mac? Go for it. It's easier to set up networking on Windows? Rock and roll. Linux gives you more control over device drivers? Keep on rocking.

There's no such thing as the perfect computer. In fact, these operating system wars are simply a distraction from the main issue: computers aren't good enough.

I'm going to say that again. Computers aren't good enough.

We spend way too much time doing what the computer wants, failing, and suffering for our failures. And the computers spend way too little time doing what WE want. We're slaves to their limitations. You thought Bender, from Futurama, was an aberration? Ha, ha, ha, we're all Bender's slaves now. He'd like that.

For those of you who are big Mac, Linux, Windows, DOS or UNIX fans--never mind. What you're reading--it's just bad wiring in the brain! I've been told what I want from computers, and why I should want it--obviously, if I can't see this, it's an INTERFACE problem! (In other words, humans are stupid.)

Some of the rest of you may be looking at your computers and, I hope, wondering. Don't we seem to be spending a lot of time working on our computers, and not doing our work, using computers? Why do we all look at a new piece of software, look at the system requirements, and wonder why our computers aren't good enough for it? We're being judged, now. We've been found wanting. We need more video ram and we need to patch everything too. We need to spend hours and hours trying to persuade our computers to cooperate.

Those of you using Macs may go ahead and furl your cape imperiously around your shoulders, and mutter "Fools!" while looking pained. While you're at it, admit that you've lost data because your Mac thought (at some point) you looked silly and locked up on you.

If you've never had a computer problem, God bless you my son. I'm sure it happens. A good friend of mine had a Packard Bell PC, never gave a single iota of trouble for years. Not a bit until it was gracefully retired. The next computer had a few things to say about that.

We spend far too much time doing what computers want us to do. And, I think, computers spend far too little doing what we ask of them. They, in fact, have managed to change the ground rules. We want something and it doesn't happen--we're the idiots. We didn't patch our systems. We didn't upgrade our drivers. Oh, what fools we were, and now our saintly computers are offended! Woe unto us.

Woe unto almost all of us.

Run-time error, alas.


...but is it Art?

Cullen Waters writes intelligently and well on a variety of topics, largely dealing with writing, creativity, the arts and culture in general. It's an honor to be mentioned--twice!--on his blog.

And as turnabout is cheaper than a six pack, I'd like to present some thoughts on art that were sparked by a couple of his drawings (the guy's a talented illustrator as well). Both are reflections (if not actual illustrations) from a concept of his called "Fear Adventure."

The first, seen here, shows a green hand reaching for a girl who is (apparently) unaware that there's anything behind her.

The second, seen here, shows a bemused frog sitting on a sword.

In both cases, what we're presented with are parts of a narrative; there are clearly events that occurred before what is portrayed in the respective images. The first seems to be in the midst of events, while the second, in contrast, appears to be the end result of some adventure.

While the first image sparks a series of questions, the second is an answer. The mystery here may be, how did this "person" become a frog? But that's about the only question that's there, other than, perhaps, what happens next? Ultimately, it's an "after the fact" question. Things have already happened, and we're too late to see them.

The second image creates its own story, and the possibilities (to emply the old cliche) are endless. The image sparks a series of questions, such as, what is going on? Is the green hand a menace, a friend, or a warning voice? Does the young girl know about the hand? Would a green hand, here in this world, be considered "normal" or not? Are we in Kansas still, or elsewhere? What happens next?

While I think both are great, compelling illustrations, I must admit I prefer to the first to the second. Not because of any techical issues, but because the first sparks all those questions.

Which brings up another question. What do I like about the artwork that I like? Why do I like some pictures more than others, and why do I like some not at all?

My first impulse is to say it has to do with storytelling. The images I tend to like seem to be part of a nararrative. (Where in the course of the narative they sit seems to be a definite sticking point.)

Not everything has to appear to be part of a story, but it should appear to be part of a greater continuity. There should be some connection with something outside the elements of the image itself, even if that connection must be imagined.

Nowadays, this kind of art is usually sneered at as "illustration" rather than art, since the expression of the artist is subordinate to the presentation of the idea. Starting with Manet and coming to full flower with the Impressionists (and beyond), artists worked to convey how they actually saw the world, rather than illustrate narratives. With the advent of expressionism and surrealism, artists sought to explain their emotional states. (Personally, with the advent of abstract expressionism, the artists lost me. It became--to me--completely personal to the artist, with no room to communicate.)

With the appearance of pop art, and with the advent of the age of communication and the media-superstar, artists began to portray things not as an intrinsic concept, but so that the artist's superiority to the modern world could be conveyed. We've come full circle, to the other side of the mirror, where illustration of the world is a means of expressing the artist's emotional state--to the point where there's no attempt to acknowledge a viewer at all.

I only keep up sporadically with the art world these days. But the idea of an artist communicating with anyone other than himself has pretty much disappeared nowaways. It's all what the artist had for breakfast and his cell phone bill is too high and the guy I liked didn't win the election. In a sense, modern artists have been blogging far longer than any of us.

What we like, or don't like about art probably depends on where we stand in terms of the work in question. Are we only the creator? Are we only the viewer? Or are we the viewer, but holding an equal measure in the creation of the work? Does the work need us to complete it?

...and is it art?

(PS: Naturally, it took me so long to write this, that there's now a third illustration at Welton Cares Presents...)