I did art today

I said two weeks ago that I was going to start posting some of my art from art therapy on my blog. This week was the first session since I said that, and I don't think the art I did is awful enough to refuse my readers access to it.

2013-03-14_15-53-58_304Okay, so.

This picture obviously doesn't reflect extraordinary artistic skill.  (I swear, I can art better than this.) But it was helpful.  The first part I drew was the car on the scales, which was about the stress I dealt with yesterday when my car broke.

Oh yeah, that's right.  My car broke.

Yesterday, when I was leaving school, I got in my car, turned it on  (it turned on fine) shifted into reverse (it shifted fine) and applied pressure to the gas pedal.  It didn't do anything.  I shifted back into park, then into reverse again, and tried again.  I tried driving forward, hoping that I could jog something into place within the couple inches of forward movement I could manage.  But forward didn't work, either.

I ended up having to have AAA tow my car home, and wasn't able to do the errands I had planned on taking care of after school yesterday.  (Fortunately, this meant I didn't get to put about $25 of gas into it before it broke.)

I was just sort of adding stuff randomly to the painting, but it turned out to seem really relevant when my therapist and I started talking about my anxiety over the fact that I had about as much as I thought I could handle on my plate already, and my car breaking seemed just entirely too huge.

I had planned on using just black paint the whole session, which leads into the next piece:  the clover.  I started, not thinking about painting a clover, but just thinking about green.  I wanted to paint something green, because I felt like my anxiety about money was a big part of my overall stress.  And the most significant element of my anxiety about money is my Clarion application, including the associated scholarships.

I decided to paint a symbol of luck because I felt like that's what I needed, and I talked to my therapist about contextualizing my bad luck earlier in the week in a healthy, productive way, rather than one that would cause emotional spiraling -- I don't actually believe in a balance of luck or karma one way or the other, but I figured it would be better to think "I'm facing a lot of bad luck right now, it's probably just a buildup of karmic debt to pre-balance my getting into Clarion later this week," rather than thinking "I'm having such an awful week, I'm probably not going to get into Clarion, either."

The last bit, the blue, was just thinking about figuring out methods to calm myself down and debrief from emotionally stressful experiences when I don't have enough time to sit down alone or with someone I can talk to and do it properly.

###

I also did some other art today, sort of.  My partner has a leadership-thing at her workplace in a few days, and her boss ordered nametags for everyone, except her.  So she was told to make her own nametag, and she came to me for help.  This is what came out of the process (and she was sitting next do me, okaying each step along the way):

Caitlin's nametagI wrote "Captain of the Cash" under her name, because I thought it was funny.  She decided it should go on, but asked that it be altered to say "Commodore."  Then, she suggested "Madame."  Then, she decided there ought to be a hat, because commodores have hats. I found a public domain image, which is now resting on her C.  The hedgehog was my idea, because she loves hedgehogs (and has one).  Originally, it was placed facing the other direction, but she asked it be altered.  Once turned around, it was staring at the dot in her second I, so I replaced it with an apple from the public domain image the hedgehog had come from.  Altogether I'm quite proud of this piece.  If I had a graphic design portfolio, I might put it in.

John Green is gonna talk to the President -- also, I'm scared of meeting awesome people, too

(Link)  

John Green is gonna ask the President about pennies!

Also, in this video, John talks about anxiety about meeting people you admire.  He points out that it will never be normal, that you're always going to be hyper-conscious of everything that could go wrong.

Obviously meeting the President is a little bit bigger than meeting, for example, John Green.  But this discussion reminded me of the multiple layers on which I have this anxiety.

Layer 1:  I don't want to say anything embarrassing, because I don't want to make that moment, in that moment, awkward or uncomfortable.  I care about preserving the integrity of what will be the memory of that moment, and I also want to be able to enjoy it as far as is possible while it's happening.

Layer 2:  I don't want to stick out, because I don't want someone I admire to remember me for being in some way deeply and memorably creepy or unpleasant.  I know that's vanishingly unlikely, but still.

Layer 3:  I want to be a successful writer.  Relatedly, nearly all the people I really admire are successful writers.  I want to eventually be in a place professionally where the people who right now make me nervous -- so nervous  that at least one literally thought I might have been sixteen because I was trying so hard to shrink into the floor -- are my peer group.  So I'm not just afraid that they're going to think I'm weird and creepy and unpleasant, but I'm afraid that I'll never get to a place where I can deal with being around them and not being so giddy I can't talk.

I mean, it's not like I want to stop admiring them, or stop being a fan.  But one of my many weird fears about success is that becoming a successful writer will put me in an incredibly alienated position where I can't be around any of the other professionals in my trade, especially the ones I most want to.

George W. Bush's leaked paintings

I've seen some paintings of George W. Bush around the internet today, and I really had no idea what was going on with them.  I didn't particularly care.  I had also seen some stuff about someone hacking Bush's email account.  I didn't care about that either, and also it sounded like too much effort to read about while I'm sick.  (btw: I'm sick.) But the Daily Kos wrapped it up in a nice, short piece, and here's the gist of what happened:  Some douche hacked into George Bush's email account and publicly distributed a couple of paintings he'd done of himself, in his free time, which had been sent to his sister.  Other douches around the country are making fun of the paintings, criticizing Bush as an artist, and photoshopping stuff into them.

This strikes me as an obvious breach of ethical boundaries:  yes, email hacking of political figures can have positive effects, re: journalism and important leaks.  But these paintings aren't important political information.  They're really obviously part of the private life of a person who happens to also have a significant public life -- or, at least, used to have.

Apart from the fact that it's Absolutely Not Cool to make fun of a non-expert artist for being not an expert at art, this also reflects on the screwed up idea in American culture that notable people are public property.  It should be a no-brainer that responsible citizens of the internet shouldn't encourage this distribution and mutation of Bush's paintings.

If you're really curious, you can go googling, but I'm not going to embed the pictures or link to anywhere that posted them. (The Daily Kos article embedded them, so no link, but they were at least critical of the fact of their release.)

Youtube paid channels might be a thing I guess

There's a website called AdAge.com.  I didn't know that. SourceFed's latest video, YouTube To Unveil Paid Subscriptions?!, is about the rumor that YouTube may, soon, be offering paid subscriptions.  Link to the video. Embedded below.

This sounds like an awesome step up past the sponsored channels that YouTube has been funding this past year.  I love Crash Course and SciShow, and I don't mind Felicia Day's channel so much that it makes me want to unsubscribe.  Of course, I don't want those channels to jump up to a pay model -- especially with Crash Course and SciShow, that would kind of defeat the purpose.  But they do make a great proof of concept that YouTube creators can generate consistent, high-quality content that's worth a greater investment than just "You have access to our upload page."

Imagine if Tor had a YouTube channel, that financed quality adaptations of sci fi and fantasy books, the way HBO is doing for Game of Thrones.  Imagine if getting enough subscribers and jumping over to YouTube had been an option for Joss Whedon when Firefly got cancelled.

According to AdAge.com,

It's not clear which channels will be part of the first paid-subscription rollout, but it is believed that YouTube will lean on the media companies that have already shown the ability to develop large followings on the video platform, including networks like Machinima, Maker Studios and Fullscreen. YouTube is also looking outside its current roster of partners for candidates.

I don't think it would go over very well with fans if old channels threw up a paywall for all their new content.  But I think those channels could expand into higher quality, higher production-value work, that would go up on a new channel, and I think external producers of higher-level content might be able to step down on the payscale the way groups like Machinima would be stepping up -- like, imagine if Pixar had a channel, that just produced those shorts from the start of their movies?

This is a great example of the kinds of things that the internet and companies like Google are doing, not just to open up new opportunities for existing art to thrive, but to create new levels at which art can be successful, unpinned from the constraints of pre-existing time slots or demand based on which advertisers were willing to pay.

(via Boing Boing) There's an artist named Michelle Vaughan, who has recently come out with a series called "100 Tweets."  It's 100 cards printed in different, randomly selected colors, featuring personally selected tweets.  This one is $90, but if it were much cheaper I'd get one for everyone in my school studying Journalism or Goverment.

Many of them are funny, but for the record, here are a few of my other favorites:

Is magic art?

Cory Doctorow posted a video, embedded below, that asks that question: [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNGDoroJtYw]

A lot of the magicians interviewed draw a distinction between hobbyists, or birthday party performers, and the people who "raise magic ... to an artistic level."  This distinction bugs me -- particularly, it bothers me because in more mainstream artistic professions, we acknowledge that practitioners are artists even if they aren't creating their own art, even if they aren't very good at it.

Acting is a good example.  A performer who is in a school production of Romeo and Juliet is participating in the creation of art.  If they do a bad job, then they do a bad job.  But you can't fail to create art of some quality if you're trying to do something artistic.  Reproducing other peoples' art is art.  Reproducing banal, overwrought art is art.  Doing magic tricks that you learned in a book, badly, is still art.

art v. pornography

One of the magicians said, "If a person doesn't feel, there is no art."  He dismisses pornography as not artistic, because it's too visceral, and drew the analogy between that and magic.  He called most magicians 'magic pornographers.'

This highlights the biggest problem I have with arguments about what is or isn't art -- people dismiss the kinds of emotions that seem to relate most to our bodies, or our visceral experience of life, as not-art.  People say that cooking isn't art, that porn isn't art, that, apparently, magic isn't art, because the emotions and experiences they evoke are present, rather than evoking something less present, some sort of sense about the future or the past.

I guess what they're defending is a sense of art as immortality -- for example, they dismiss any artist that does other people's tricks, and argue that what makes a trick artistic is trying to put your own emotions, your own story, into it -- but I think we're seriously missing out if that's all that we consider art.

Art doesn't have to be a unique expression of the person creating it.  Art can be a more general expression of an idea, by someone who just wants to help that idea along.  Amateur magicians who want to help create a sense of wonder in the world are artists because they're working to encourage and promote the importance of an emotion.

Not everyone has something new to say, and there's power and significance in creating art that's just there to say "I agree," or "Hey, remember, this is important."  That's why cooking is art.  That's why porn is (granted, sometimes extremely problematic) art.  That's why magic is art.[1. I should note that there are certainly examples of self-immortalization in cooking, porn, and magic.  Unfortunately, the case that usually gets made in this argument is "That's not really porn," or "That's not really just a magic trick," and I imagine there must be cases where someone or other has argued, "That's not really food."]

I think that we have an intuitive understanding that art is important, and I think that dismissing things as being not-art is an attempt to avoid accepting responsibility for one's relationship with culture.

That is all.

The Economist on webcomics

(via Boing Boing)

The typical format for a web comic was established a decade or more ago, says Zach Weiner, the writer of “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal”, or “SMBC” (below). It has not changed much since. Most cartoonists update on a regular basis—daily, or every other day—and run in sequence. “I think that’s purely because that’s what the old newspapers used to do,” says Mr Weiner. But whereas many newspaper comics tried to appeal to as many people as possible, often with lame, fairly universal jokes, online cartoonists are free to be experimental, in both content and form.

The Economist has published an article about the rise of webcomics, and the transformative effect they have had on the medium of comics.  They call the article "Triumph of the nerds," but I'll give the (unnamed) writer the benefit of the doubt that she or he didn't have any control over the headline.

It features a history of comics in Western journalism, the particular qualities of webcomics as compared to traditional newspaper comics, and the ways in which webcomics are opening up a significant method of free speech in oppressive nations or cultures.

That last section contained the most content that I hadn't heard before -- the Western webcomics artists they discussed were people I'm already familiar with, but I'm only passingly familiar with comics as a form of serious political dialogue.

 In China cartoons distributed across weibo, a collection of Twitter-like social networks, have become a powerful way of criticising the communist regime. Pi San, a cartoonist and animator from Beijing, creates carefully coded cartoons as a way of subverting China’s strict web-censorship regime. His most popular character, Kuang Kuang, is a lazy schoolboy at a prison-like institution where dissent is routinely persecuted. The drawings, full of jagged lines and dark colours, are as edgy as the politics. One recent animation, poking fun at China’s censorship of references to Ai Weiwei, a controversial artist, was viewed by a million people within just a few hours of its being posted online.

I think this might be the cartoon they're referring to:

 

(via Wild Dollop Appeared)

David Bowie released a single

David Bowie, rockstar, celebrated his birthday this morning by releasing the single for his first new album in over ten years.  The album is scheduled to come out, according to Wikipedia,on March 12th in the United States,  March 8th in Australia, March 11th everywhere else. The album is called The Next Dayand the single is called "Where are we now?"

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOyDTy9DtHQ]

That's the news.  On to the personal stuff:  This is weird.

I mean, it's not weird for Bowie.  This actually seems pretty tame compared to, like, Ziggy Stardust.   But the last time David Bowie came out with something new was 2003.  I was 14 at the time -- I barely knew what music was.  I certainly didn't know how significant David Bowie was, or how much I was eventually going to like him.

So this is the first time I've ever been around for the actual, present moment of David Bowie, like, happening in real life.  And I'm here for it on the day. I'm a fairly skeptical person, but this is one of those kinds of events that one's brain just refuses not to interpret as significant.

So, yes, I am absolutely buying the new David Bowie album on March 12th.

Video games get proper recognition as art

The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) is installing 14 video games as exhibits, meaning you can go to the museum and play these games.  Starting with the most important note:  Yes, Tetris is one of the first fourteen games going in, so they can be reasonably trusted to have some clue how to figure out what games are important.  (Tetris is the best game.) As far as I know, reasonable people no longer defend the premise that video games aren't an art form, but it's cool that some of the best games are getting the formal recognition they deserve within the larger art community, rather than only among the gamer community.

From Slate:

How will the video games, which necessitate personal human interaction to be fully experienced, be exhibited for the masses? MoMA says that visitors will be able to play the entirety of short games and experience “interactive demonstrations” or emulations of longer and older games. As for the complex universes of games like Dwarf Fortress andEVE Online, MoMA claims it will provide “guided tours of these alternate worlds.”

MoMA is defining the medium that games take place in as the code -- which seems to me to be a good way to categorize it.  They consider the playability of a game to be its essential component, the thing that distinguishes video games, not just as an art form, but as their own art form.  Slate points out that this differs from arguments that video games are art in that they consist of narratives.  It also differs from the point made by Penny Arcade that the collected works of art that go into creating a video game are what make it art ("If a hundred artists create art for five years, how could the result not be art?) -- so, pixel art isn't what earns the video game its status.

Boing Boing posted a list of the 14 games going in to begin with, alongside their years of publication -- the starting number for a collection aiming at 40 games:

  • Pac-Man (1980)
  • Tetris (1984)
  • Another World (1991)
  • Myst (1993)
  • SimCity 2000 (1994)
  • vib-ribbon (1999)
  • The Sims (2000)
  • Katamari Damacy (2004)
  • EVE Online (2003)
  • Dwarf Fortress (2006)
  • Portal (2007)
  • flOw (2006)
  • Passage (2008)
  • Canabalt (2009)

Emphases mine.  Bold=games I've never played.  Italics=games I've never heard of.  I think I've got some reading up to do.

And congratulations to MoMA for making the right decision and including Tetris in the initial selection.

The Hunting of the Snark

I really like Lewis Carroll, primarily his poetry.  I've memorized the Walrus and the Carpenter, and I've tried to memorize the Hunting of the Snark.  The Hunting of the Snark, though, is much longer than the Walrus and the Carpenter, so I (predictably) failed. That said, it's a really excellent story -- the kind that would make a really cool independent short film.

BTW:  Here is a kickstarter video.

There are 19 days left to go in the project, and they're not very close to their goal but they just got linked by Boing Boing, so I'm hopeful. For a $5 pledge, if the project gets funded, you can get a DRM-free digital copy of the film.

Here's the poem, and an excerpt below of one of the many good bits:

 There was one who was famed for the number of things

He forgot when he entered the ship:

His umbrella, his watch, all his jewels and rings,

And the clothes he had bought for the trip.

 

He had forty-two boxes, all carefully packed,

With his name painted clearly on each:

But, since he omitted to mention the fact,

They were all left behind on the beach.

 

The loss of his clothes hardly mattered, because

He had seven coats on when he came,

With three pairs of boots--but the worst of it was,

He had wholly forgotten his name.

So I got Instagram

My partner and I were exploring the various options for smartphone apps last night, and after a series of random downloads, I ended up getting Instagram.

I've been thinking a bit about that decision.  I don't have anything against Instagram, but I'm pretty sure the only reason I didn't get it before now is that I'm aware of the substantial negative reaction to it online.  I've been thinking about that because I feel a little guilty for, not actively rejecting it, but sort of dismissing it.

I figured I should try to know what I was talking about, so I googled "Instagram sucks" and read the first article that showed up.  It's called Why Instagram Sucks, by Ryan Pinkard.

Instagram is bad for photography and bad for art.

I will admit—I’m a college-level photography student, I use Instagram recreationally and I was quickly charmed by its accessible allure. As a consequence of my generation’s nostalgia, I like old, flawed images to a degree I can’t quite explain. I understand the success of the app entirely, and still find amazement in how it can improve a lackluster cellphone image to my tastes.

So what’s my issue?

People have called Instagram a democratizing force, empowering anyone to be creative. I have a problem with this—I don’t think it works. Throwing a filter over an otherwise everyday image is not creative, it’s borderline lazy. A hypersaturated picture of your breakfast cereal is still a picture of your breakfast.

This section (and some lines from the following section -- "Whether you tweet it or Instagram it, no one really cares what you had for breakfast. And given this social media aspect, is art also supposed to be a popularity contest where the “likes” determine the image’s success?") helped me figure out why people dislike it, and why those people are wrong.

The short answer is that it's elitist.  The long answer is that it's a particularly toxic kind of elitism that's simultaneously anti-amateur and anti-intellectual.  It's anti-amateur for obvious reasons -- people of limited skill or training are still able to make certain kinds of pictures very well using Instagram that would otherwise require a certain amount of expertise, or at least of having been a certain age and in a certain place (and have owned certain things, and have known better how to use them, and have kept them.)

It's also anti-intellectual, for two reasons.  One, critics presume that the content on Instagram isn't worth serious contemplation.  "No one really cares what you had for breakfast."  John Green criticized this style of dismissal in a Swoodilypoopers video called Why I Like Art:

A frequent criticism of contemporary art is that it isn't really art because 'I could do that' misses the really vital fact that that's something that you say when you aren't paying attention[... .]  That's something you say when you're trying to [dismiss] something intellectually, and [not] think hard.

(To be absolutely clear, John Green was defending professional contemporary art, not Instagram, and I don't know for certain that he would agree with this application of his argument.)

Instagram may not consist of people spending weeks or months of time composing pictures.  It does, however, consist of pictures people choose to take for reasons that are important to them.  You may disagree -- you may think that some photos reflect values you think are wrong.  I think Ayn Rand's philosophy is irrational and insane.  But I don't reject the Fountainhead by claiming it's not art.

Two, it argues for art as a sort of walled garden arena.  Something you have to earn your way into.  I don't know if Ryan Pinkard believes this, but I've heard a lot of artists quote Picasso's line, "Every child is an artist.  The problem is to remain an artist once we grow up."

Media like Instagram let more people than ever before express their sense of art.  It lets more people than ever remain artists.  You certainly don't have to try to consume all the art on Instagram -- it would be impossible, it's impossible to consume all of any media now -- but dismissing it as not-art, sub-art, anti-artistic or degrading is misanthropic, anti-intellectual and elitist.

Ryan Pinkard ultimately recants the premise of his article, so I guess he's not that bad.  It seems like he just found a niche for an angry rant, and found a way to write it then create plausible deniability for himself.

 

the RGB Colorspace Atlas

(via Silliestlovesongs on tumblr)

This book, by artist Tauba Auerbach, contains every color producible by combining red, green and blue.    In theory, at least.  I'm not sure whether it's strictly accurate.  Still, it's an incredibly beautiful book, and I want one.

I've pretty much always believed that books are extraordinary items, but the categories of books that are extraordinary not for the stories in them but for the physical qualities of the books themselves is a lot bigger than I realized.  There's the Google Dictionary, which, instead of definitions, contains the first Google image search result for every word.  And there are books like House of Leaves, which requires the book's form to tell the story it contains.

I'm not any good at predicting the future, but my guess is that the transition towards ebooks and cheap publishing is going to free up a lot more space for a broader selection of kinds of art -- of books that depend more on their book-ness, and stories of broader selection and style.

Drinking and Art

Did you know? is one of  my favorite tumblr blogs, and they had a particularly good weekend.  I've had several of their tabs open for a few days now, because I wanted to blog about them.  Ultimately, the one I settled on was this:

I've suspected this for a while -- I don't think there's anyone who can reasonably defend the claim that getting blackout drunk can help smooth the work of a creative endeavor, but the effects of light drinking can only help.  In one of my favorite New Yorker articles, Drinking Games, Malcolm Gladwell explains:

Steele and his colleague Robert Josephs's explanation is that we've misread the effects of alcohol on the brain. Its principal effect is to narrow our emotional and mental field of vision. It causes, they write, "a state of shortsightedness in which superficially understood, immediate aspects of experience have a disproportionate influence on behavior and emotion."

Alcohol makes the thing in the foreground even more salient and the thing in the background disappear. That's why drinking makes you think you are attractive when the world thinks otherwise: the alcohol removes the little constraining voice from the outside world that normally keeps our self-assessments in check. Drinking relaxes the man watching football because the game is front and center, and alcohol makes every secondary consideration fade away. But in a quiet bar his problems are front and center—and every potentially comforting or mitigating thought recedes. Drunkenness is not disinhibition. Drunkenness is myopia.

So, that's a reasonably respected reporter discussing the work of an established scientist.  The thoroughly unscientific provisional conclusion I've drawn from this is that having a drink or two while I work will probably help block out the otherwise disabling awareness that Tumblr is just a few clicks away.

TIME Magazine's article in their health section, the one to which the above Did You Know refers, goes further than that:

 Increasingly, science is confirming that altered states of consciousness — whether induced by drugs, alcohol, sleepiness, travel or anything else that removes us from our usual way of seeing the world — do indeed improve creative thought. The inhibition of what researchers call executive functioning, which includes focus and planning — abilities that decline when we’re under the influence — may be what lets us generate new ideas and innovative solutions, instead of remaining fixed on the task at hand.

The study, which, thankfully, TIME actually links to, is published in Consciousness and Cognition, a peer-reviewed journal with a self-explanatory name.

The article also dips into the risks of this kind of finding -- whether attention-focusing drugs like Ritalin diminish creative thinking, and whether this contributes to the rate of addiction in artists:

Having less executive control before you even take drugs means you’ll have less ability to stop once you start.

That would increase addiction risk two ways — by increasing desire to use, and by increasing the risk from use that occurs. And of course, the more high-profile creative types who become addicted, the more it seems that drugs and alcohol must be crucial to creativity. And that itself would attract even more artists to initiate drug use, escalating the cycle.

Personally, I know I'm prone to addiction, so I weigh my decisions to drink very carefully against the various risks, especially dependence. In a world governed entirely by my own preferences, I'd have access to professionals that can help me regulate my use of chemicals to adjust my state of mind to my preference.  By which I mean, I'd be able to get prescriptions for gin and LSD from my psychiatrist.

A whole new kind of 3D image

(via Boing Boing) Some of technological advancement is stuff like confirming the existence of the Higgs Boson, studying the fabric that gives particles mass and making huge leaps in the most basic levels of understanding -- or, getting a vehicle the size of a Mini Cooper to land on the surface of another planet intact and send high-resolution photos.

But sometimes, technology is some people figuring out clever uses for old knowledge, maybe noticing that we can do something now just because we have refined enough tools, that we always could have imagined, but didn't.

These may be less awe-inspiring, but I think they're way cooler to learn about -- perhaps only because I can wrap my head around the whole of their implications (maybe), but mostly just because they're so damn clever.

Scientists at the University of California: Santa Cruz have figured out how to print a 2D(ish) picture that looks 3D, but not the 3D we're used to -- this kind of image reflects light as though it were a 3D object in the paper.

I don't know how to describe what this does, because I've never seen anything like it.  In the realm of image creation, it's basically a totally new thing, and that's one of the coolest things that technology gives us.

Right now, the technology is at about the level of dot-matrix printers, which is so out-of-date we don't even generally use it for receipts anymore, but I can only barely imagine what it will be like to look at one of these pictures in five years of improving technology, and then in five more years of price dropping.  I want a Van Gogh print that responds to light like you're looking at the actual shape of the oil paint sticking off the canvas.  And I really want some of the art made specifically for this medium.

Here's the video about it.  Watch it.  They manage to successfully explain what they're doing.

Penny Arcade Sells Out

I had thought I blogged about this when it first came out, but it appears I didn't.  Anyone who follows comics on the internet has by now probably heard of Penny Arcade's Kickstarter campaign, "Penny Arcade sells out," in which they're trying to raise $1 million so that they can take down advertising on their site, entirely. The campaign's basic goal was $250 thousand, and they made that very quickly.  For that, the leaderboard ad on the home page will be removed.  I checked back today, and it's currently at $364,461, which is enough to unlock the first stretch goal at $325 thousand, a 6 page comic strip.  I don't know why that one's in there, but it's nice that they put a bunch of other cool stuff around all the goals for ad removal.

I checked back today honestly expecting for them to be at or close to the $1 million goal.  I figured if anyone was going to raise that much on Kickstarter in the first week or so, it would be Penny Arcade.  They're not even close yet, but there are still 22 days to go.

Lacking money, I won't be contributing, but I do think this is a good idea.  For a long time now, the model for financing online content has been "We can't think of anything better than ads," and I'm happy to see people who have the power to overcome that issue reaching out to try and change things.

If this works, I can honestly imagine an artistic future in which the culture of art is that people voluntarily contribute to the art they love.  Eventually we might even be able to finance the kind of blockbusters that Hollywood pumps out -- though I expect we'd only get the Nolan style films, and lose out on the Transformers franchise.  But I'm not complaining.

Art Matters

I've heard a lot of people, in my life, say that art is not terribly important.  That, for example, if we need to cut the budget, the thing to do is to cut down on arts -- that all the essentials need to be absolutely satisfied before we even consider spending any money on art. I wish I had some sort of magic power, by which I could show them a world entirely without art.  There would be no written histories apart from farming records and ledgers, where there was no music, all forms of media (if they ever came to exist) present nothing but dry, boring news.  Houses would have no aesthetic flourishes, being made out of a sturdy shape with no unnecessary paint on the walls (the outsides might all be barnhouse red, because it prevents rot) and the cabinets would be boxes with flat, planklike doors.

After a long day at their painfully boring job, unlightened by jokes, music or interior design, they'll come home to their show-less TVs, no books, no games or interesting bits of wall to stare at.

Even that's not far enough, though.  There are always decisions to be made about making things that come down to more than just what's most functional.  Those decisions are aesthetic.  Still, I think no one from this world who were moved to that one could handle it.

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It's hard to say what art is for, exactly. It's easy to see, if you're not trying to deny it, that art is necessary for positive life experience.  But it's very difficult to explain exactly why -- and, for critics, it's very easy to refute any proposal, because all you have to do is find one niche piece of art that, for most people, contradicts the claim, and you seem to have a case.

You don't, actually, because one of the important things about art is that it varies hugely in appeal.  Soccer, dance and civil war reenactment aren't my cup of tea, but they're all activities that require a lot of work and culminate in the putting on of a show.  I don't think a sane definition of art could exclude them.

Meanwhile, hyper-ironic, self-referencing social commentary humor (like A Softer World) is right up my alley. When I show it to people, they'll often insist that there's absolutely nothing remotely funny about it, and that no one could possibly find it entertaining.  At the time, they're generally blissfully unaware of how uninteresting I find football to be.

The thing about the majority view, though, is that there are plenty of people who are totally cool with the idea that art is useless, because they see "art" as that weird stuff with the squares and a bunch of old paintings that people pretend to like to seem important.  But grounding a definition of art in personal preference can't possibly build a usable definition.  The definition of art can't be "Frank from Baltimore likes it."

So, here's my proposal.  I say that art is:  any act, or result of an act, which adds value.

A book is the product of an act of arranging words which has made those words, on that paper in that ink, more valuable than their component parts.  A sport is an interaction between groups of people who make their skills valuable.  A well-constructed bottle and label can actually make wine taste better.  Wine, by the way, is value-enhanced fruit juice.

Good art adds lots of value.  Bad art might only add value in your own eyes.  Controversial art might even decrease value in some people's eyes.

I'm tempted to add "or attempts to add" to the proposed definition, but I'm not sure it works quite that way.  I think there is such a thing as failed art.

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By that definition, which I sincerely believe, art is definitely important.  I mean, it's basically the only important thing.

Which is why it annoys me when people complain about artists and art.

The Unbearable Uncertainty Of Ebooks | Learn Out Live!

I found a cool article this morning about ebooks, where they touch on one of my favorite advantages of information technology:

The flexibility part I already discussed above (changing fonts, size, paragraphs, etc.). But what about ubiquity?

Instead of lugging around cardboard boxes full of dictionaries and paperback novels the next time you move, you can put all of them on your ereader, slip it into your pocket and be done with it. And if they’re in the cloud, there’s no need to even carry a device. A username and password is enough.

Unfortunately, there are some barriers to this ubiquity. These barriers however are more of an economic and political than a technical kind.

The Unbearable Uncertainty Of Ebooks | Learn Out Live!.

Prequels planned to "Watchmen"

[repost from my facebook] “I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago.” -- Alan Moore

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/01/books/dc-comics-plans-prequels-to-watchmen-series.html?_r=1

In other news: major publishers are writing plays exploring the childhoods of Romeo and Juliet, and a playwright has been hired to write a 3rd act for Waiting for Godot, titled: "Godot shows up."

[/repost]

I don't know why DC is doing this.  Or, rather, I do, because I understand that they're a profit driven company, and the 2-major-publishers thing in mainstream comics damages the ability of innovative artists to build careers in non-mainstream ways, which furthermore hobbles comics as a medium toward the goal of achieving widespread acknowledgement and legitimacy.

I think the biggest thing that bothers me about this project is that DC is treating it like Watchmen is just like any of their other titles.  They're just expanding on the setting and storyline, like they do with Batman and Superman.  But where the other characters contain culturally iconic characters, even iconic narratives with highly regarded manifestations, "Watchmen" is, more than most other comics, a work unto itself.

It just doesn't make sense to do further exploration of the "Watchmen" narrative.  It's the sort of thing that really does belong to the specific artists who created it, and if anyone were to expand on it, it should be them, and they should have the call not to.  Alan Moore has made it very clear that he doesn't want this to happen, and I think that should be what goes down.

Granted, though, I understand DC's desire to profit on this property.  And I would understand if they wanted to do tribute work, in admiration of "Watchmen" but without a claim to the position of canon.

This isn't like George Lucas making the Star Wars prequels.  This is like if some major company acquired Star Wars, then, against George Lucas's very public wishes, made 3 new Star Wars movies set before the original trilogy, and tried to insist that they were canonical.

On QC discussing the personal experience of technology

My favorite webcomic, Questionable Content, is in the middle of a story arc that I am absolutely loving.

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Here's a quick summary of the dramatic situation, which you may feel free to skip if you read the comic.

Questionable Content takes place in an alternate reality (or alternate technology) present day.  It generally fades into the background -- so much so that it's hard to notice, when reading the comic, how weirdly different the world they live in actually is.  (I think it fits into a genre common to webcomics of sci fi realism that I'd love to talk about later, but don't want to get into now.)  But in this arc, they're pretty directly talking about the weird tech in their world.

The arc starts here: Hello, Clinton

 

It features 4 characters: 3 humans and an AnthroPC, which is an AI computer-friend.  From left to right on the first panel of the arc, the characters are:

Clinton, an over-eager student;

Hannelore, who grew up on a space station with her super-revolutionary father;

Momo, an AnthroPC who recently upgraded to a person-sized body from a very small one (probably about a foot high);

and Marigold, a socially awkward gamer and anime nerd who's only recently started hanging out with people outside World of Warcraft.

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Now:

The arc is exploring the relationship between people in a society and the advancing technology around that society.  My favorite thing to come out of it so far is the phrase "Innovation Fatigue," which Hannelore attributes to her father.  As she puts it,

Technology is advancing so fast these days, and changing so much, that the average person has to treat it as perfectly normal or they'll be overwhelmed.

At that point in the comic, Hannelore is beginning to get overwhelmed being caught between Clinton's animated optimism and sense of urgency, and Marigold's sense of apathy towards it all.

While they're focusing on the fairly extreme technology in the QC universe, the observations they're making about human experience is notably totally applicable to the real world.  It might not be the same phenomenon, and the events of the changes might not be quite so obviously visible as little, troublemaking robots, but technology in the QC universe is advancing at pretty much the same rate and in pretty much the same way as technology in the real world.

I don't know where Jeph is going with this, but so far he's setting the stage for a really interesting discussion of the difficulty in finding a balance between modernistic utopian excitement and absolute apathy -- a balance which may once have been easy but is now very difficult to find.

It's one of the many examples of ways that, as a species, in the developed world, we're in culturally uncharted territory, and I'm excited to see where this discussion goes.