11 August 2006

on nature

i finished making a mini comic. really just a compilation of sketchbook stuff from the past 2 years. and i gave one to john maeda since i was delivering some over to PLW anyway. in exchange, he gave me a copy of his latest book/exhibit -- "nature"

it's always interesting to see what people choose as beautiful or simple or evocative... all of those things. i was struck by the moth on the asphalt. i found a similar thing when i was in pennsylvania, except it was a spider trying to kill a butterfly. i chased the spider off and saved the butterfly('s now dead body). butterflies and moths fascinate me. especially when i see close-up pictures of them. the scales. the proboscis. they're so delicate. the scene from pennsylvania also stuck with me because it was a simple reminder that nature is impermanent and not as "nice" as we'd like to think -- things die; things are killed; things bleed; things hurt; things in nature exist because there's no option not to. only humans seem to try to live outside of this.

i guess at this point i could make some comment about sartre's statement that we brought about our own existence. or maybe something about vegetarianism. or something else philosophical. but i think i'll just leave it at existence. past and future don't matter; there is only now and what must be done.

Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed. -- from the futurist manifesto


(Quotes from the books in grey. The Q: parts are the interviewer. A: is John Maeda. Hopefully he'll forgive my copious usage of his book to further my own discourse)

Q: When you are using the mouse to draw, do you have a clear idea of what the result will be on the screen?
A: At least 90% of the time I can predict what's going to happen. It's the 10% of the time that gets me excited. It's the same way when you're working with any material. You can draw a perfect picture of a person, but nobody will care about it. But if you draw a perfect picture of a person on some kind of oddly constructed material, something happens. Something bad happens. But that bad, for those who are creatively trained can be really good. It doesn't happen all the time but when it does it is a moment that should be appreciated, (p.16).

I can definitely vouch for this sentiment from my own creative standpoint. I mean... part of the reason I think that people are unimpressed with realistic images any more is because of the prominence of photography in our every day lives. More and more, I value the "mistakes" that happen in my work.

Q: Do you think it's more difficult for someone who's been trained as a computer engineer to start to think intuitively? Or do you find it more difficult to help the person who is artistically trained to think technically?
A: That's the perfect question, and it's something that I often think about. The answer is that it is much harder to get someone who is technically trained to move over to the artistic side. I'm not sure why. I think it's because the thinking space of a technologist tens to be narrow and focused -- this makes it hard for them to accept that waht might be "wrong" is sometimes right. The artist's mind is always open and diverging -- on the other hand this makes it hard for them to enter the constrained space of programmatic thinking. At times it can be suffocating, (p.16).

Oh man. Definitely a question I often ponder. I mean. I guess I feel strange coming at this from the standpoint of someone who considers herself both an artist and an engineer. But sometimes I think that mechanical engineering -- at least when it comes to mechanical design -- isn't so different from art. Mechanical design feels very intuitive. At some point, you need the equations to chek out your design to make sure it's ok, but the beginning... it's intuition. And this is one reason I think that designers get better with age. Intuition builds off of experience. And the 10% "accidents" still happen in the mechanical world.

Q: Many contemporary art movements have emphasized the importance of the artist's intention or idea over the technical mastery of materials. It may seem surprising but the computer is so complex to use as a medium that it seems to demand a return to the fundamentals of technical mastery or craftsmanship. How important is craftsmanship in your own work?
A: this is a really great question because I've changed my position so many times on this over the last decade. The fact that I make my own art is important to me. This approach, I realize, is not so popular today.
However, the general public, if you care about them, still thinks that artists make things. For example, they'll go to see Christo's Gates in New York City. The average person thinks there's this guy named Christo who put these gates together one by one, painted them orange and put them all over New York. When the average person realizes the artist had this amazing concept but did not actually build the piece with his or her own hands, they may get kind of confused.
Q: Or disappointed.
A: Or disappointed. A more sophisticated person can understand that the actual making of art may not be nearly as important as what the art actually represents. However, I've discovered that I'm very interested in the 95% of the population that may be disappointed.
In the field of technology-related art, there are very few who have both technical mastery of the computer and creative ideas. There are those who have just the ideas without the skills to make, who use massive bands of technologists as their construction team. this is today's dominant production model. It does not differ from making a Hollywood film in some senses. I wish to be thought of as more of a personal preference, (p.19).

Based on how much of my art has changed from the 10% of "mistakes" I've made, I think there is validity to the idea that should be artists who have a hands-on relationship to their medium. In some respects, if you're working in concepts, you're only limited by your brain... your conceptual model. But you might not understand why such concepts might never come
into being. To contrast, though, if you work in concepts, you might be the one who pushes some new technology to be further developed to help realize your concept. I guess it's two sides of the same coin, in some sense. You have a concept, and when you try to realize it, you might run into problems. Sometimes these problems change your concept. Other times, you figure out a way to conform the materials to your vision. I think one positive aspect of actually working with materials is the ability to explore the limits of the materials yourself. There's a lot of knowledge to be found through physical interaction. I think the trick is knowing when to be conceptual and when to be intuitive about your process. Sometimes the materials "know" more than you do.

Q: You often emphasize the importance of developing a deeper and more human relationship with the computer. Can you explain what you mean by this? As an artist is your relationship to the computer less human or humane than the relationship of a painter to his brushes or paints and canvas?
A: I was visiting one of my mentors in Japan when his friend, a traditional landscape painter in the Japanese style, dropped by his studio. The visitor smelled like paint and he had all of the attributes of someone who has been touched by his medium in a way that carries a kind of romanticism. What I lament is that my work with the computer has left me nothing but scars inside my hand tissue that are entirely invisible. I'm not saying I want a pixel-inflicted scar on my face, but sometimes I feel that the way I realize my digital artwork could be seen in the same way as a person that creates Excel spreadsheets. What differentiates a digital artist from a conventional office worker? (p.20).

Good question. Again, something I've been pondering. And I think I came to my conclusion that my own interests lie in the physical interfaces to the computer. Maybe it's my training as a mechanical engineer. Maybe it's my love for pens and pencils and paper. I don't know. But I have a special fondness for the physical interaction. I guess that maybe it's that I like the tactile knowledge... I like intuition. And in some ways, I don't feel the same intuition about the art I create on a computer. Except with OPENSTUDIO. And then, it's more of a fondness for the simplicity and the fact that the digital tools don't cover up the physical flaws. I've ended up with a lot of mistakes on OS, and I find that I like a lot of them. Maybe in some way, I feel that OS allows for that 10% to happen. And because the interface doesn't allow for perfectionistic tweaking, I tend to leave them.

Maybe there is a romanticism attached to materials. I think this is partially due to the history of the materials. The smells, the feeling of using them, the sounds of using them... they all evoke a rich and diverse past. The computer doesn't have this past yet.

The past is something that is evoked. Objects don't carry the past with them, they simply evoke what you know about its past... you fill in the blanks. Maybe if there were a rich history of computer art, things would be different. But mostly for me, computers evoke MS Paint and photoshop and childhood when computers were still so new. And work. Computers evoke work. But the same can be said for the fact that pens evoke the feeling of taking notes in class and writing the numbers 1-100 because my teachers said I had to.

I don't know. Just some thoughts.


  1. " Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
    Cannot bear very much reality.
    Time past and time future
    What might have been and what has been
    Point to one end, which is always present." - t.s. elliot

    ;) hm... also something about ritual and objects and memory and repetition and uniqueness and specialness and mundaneness....

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