Friday, July 30, 2010

COMIC-CON 2010 (part 3)

Comic-Con provides a unique vantage point on the digital future of the popular arts.

The invention of digital media had an obvious quantitative impact on art, but I always listen at Comic-Con for early evidence of a qualitative impact.

Everybody knows the quantitative benefits: computers enhance the efficiency, speed and precision of the creation and distribution of images. They permit sharper, more consistent pictures than traditional tools can. They expand the range of possible subject matters by overcoming previous limitations on scale. For example, animators today have the ability to show individual strands of hair, or flowers in a field, or faces in a crowd that once would have been economically impossible to convey.

Yet, it is not clear that any of these miracles crosses the line between quantitative and qualitative change.

Contrast digital art with the invention of oil paint, for example. Many historians believe the invention of oil paint transformed the nature of art qualitatively. It gave artists versatility and sensitivity to create rich, glowing surfaces (such as polished marble, radiant jewels and-- most importantly-- human flesh).



This is supposed to have helped inspire the transition from the medieval obsession with the afterlife...



to the Renaissance focus on the human body and our physical world.

For me, the most fascinating question about the future of digital art is whether HCI (human-computer interaction) has the potential to trigger a similar kind of change.

Can it help make our images more sensitive? Better designed? Can it lead to better compositions? More poignant or evocative or profound images? Can it help make artists visually smarter, or perhaps release some primal aspect of aesthetic communication that has been straightjacketed so long by the limitations of earlier media we're not even aware of it?

One of the more promising areas discussed at Comic-Con emerged in a presentation by USC professor Henry Jenkins on "Transmedia," which he defined as:
The systematic dispersion across multiple platforms of a unified and coordinated entertainment experience, with each platform making its own contribution.
While in many respects transmedia is a marketing concept, it can also alter our experience of creative content by mixing genres together in what seems to be a new and potentially rich way. Digitalization enables people to become part of a movie, or to experience the movie through multiple points of view; to immerse themselves in a story and to later extract parts of it to take back to their own world; to incorporate the content in their own play (think of people using youtube to adapt and perform their own versions of the songs they see on Glee); to move the content from one medium to another, the way bees cross-pollenate. Jenkins impressed me as smart and disciplined.

It's too early to tell, but this strikes me as a variation on the creative experience worth thinking about as we shape our stories and other creative content.

17 Comments:

Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>While in many respects transmedia is a marketing concept, it can also alter our experience of creative content by mixing genres together in what seems to be a new and potentially rich way. <<<

This has certainly been a goal and concern for artists over many centuries. Combining visual art, music, drama, poetry, architecture, sculpture and dance is nothing new. It was called "masque" then it evolved into opera. Today we see combinations of many art forms in the making of movies.

What this chap manages, with those leaden suede-o intellectualoid prose, is to point to something that's been going full-steam in one variation or another, for centuries. Ever notice how, when people were introduced on late nite (night) TV shows, the host would call out their name and the band would strike up an appropriate theme song? Do you see many silent videos on YouTube? Not really. If the maker doesn't want to narrate, they simply play the least appropriate music available. Even waiting on the telephone is almost impossible without a crude attempt at creating a telephonic form of masque.

Ah yes, so many lilies...so little gilding material. Simplicity is all but unknown. Every dish must now become tranformed into an elaborate farcie. To manage all of the elements of a masque or opera and do it well was (and still is)the province of genius...only genius. Still, Everyman continues to offer stuffed telephone messages and YouTube videos.

7/30/2010 12:09 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Jenkins is a very entertaining speaker, but it's just taxonomy... re-naming for the digital age the paraphernalia the movie studios once called "exploitation" and the amateur works that we now call "fan art" and the selling gimmicks the comic book industry once called "cross-overs" and the cocktail party patter about the bible we call "exegesis."

Each "unit" of related art will only ever be as good as the talent and craftsmanship behind it. Same as it ever was.

For any particular web of transmedia surrounding any particular "drillable" work, all the junk will still fall away with time. The only people who will continue to consult (after the moment has passed) the detritus that washes up on shore in the wake of a great cultural work are hard core fans/collectors. Already the "average consumers" I know have replaced their Harry Potter paraphernalia with Vampire 90210 paraphernalia.

7/30/2010 12:17 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

Contrast digital art with the invention of oil paint.

Keep in mind that the invention of oil paint didn't transform the art of painting overnight. The Rubens with which you illustrated that point was done about two centuries later. I reckon two centuries will grant digital art whatever majesty it currently lacks.

7/30/2010 1:46 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I think the thing the digital revolution gives us is a sense of communal play and we must not forget, the family that plays together stays together.

7/30/2010 1:48 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"If the maker doesn't want to narrate, they simply play the least appropriate music available."

Would ya look at that, he does have a sense of humour.

7/30/2010 1:52 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rob and Kev, I agree that the roots of what Jenkins is talking about go back a long way (whether it is the artist's longing to get the combined affect of multiple disciplines, the way Beethoven did with his 9th symphony, or the movie studio's longing to exploit a valuable property).

I think Jenkins understands that too, and tries to distinguish the process he is describing from mere "branding" or "multi-media" art. My understanding of his theory of transmedia, and the part that interests me here, is that by taking all of these art forms-- images, words, music, data-- and converting them to interchangeable bits, we have an opportunity to commingle them in a more seamless way than we ever did before, and to deliver them (through the internet) in a far better and more interactive way than we ever did before. Is that qualitatively different from the historical antecedents you describe?

Jenkins runs through a number of fairly concrete consequences of this effect: we can now pivot and tell the same story through multiple points of view, such as the perspectives of secondary characters, or with alternative endings (did you see the movie Sliding Doors) using the same digital core. We can now drill down and open up pockets of content (have you seen the TV show Lost) and climb back up the ladder in interactive ways. We can have core characters born anew in a variety of persona (mutiple Batmans, for example) or have stories that mean more to the viewer because they are experienced more directly (from Second Life to Youtube simulations of songs or movies).

Some of these dilute the quality and control by the artist, at least in the current, initial stages of the art form. It may be, as Rob suggests, that "Everyman" does not do much to enhance the quality by turning the artist's work into a cooperative project. But it seems likely that this process will make the perception process by the viewer a more personalized, and perhaps more interesting experience. I'm not sure I'm doing Jenkins justice with any of this. I only listened to one lecture by him at Comic-Con. But this general area strikes me as at least potentially the type of qualitative change I was speculating about.

7/30/2010 1:56 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"Already the 'average consumers' I know have replaced their Harry Potter paraphernalia with Vampire 90210 paraphernalia."

That the conversation is faster does not mean that the works can't be as valuable.

I'm sure when the printing press started churning out handbills it must've seemed like everyone lost their focus -- as they moved from merely reading the Bible to suddenly reading many different changing texts on a regular basis.

The conversations speed has changed, that doesn't mean collectively that it cannot have the same depth.

If we compare comedy of the Television which requires a set of authors creating humor steadily in time, to the humor of the internet which grows up organically from the bottom-up we see better comedy on the internet because it can draw on that collective conversation.

7/30/2010 1:59 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

It sounds like Jenkins is just describing folk art, which naturally spreads and morphs more easily now that we have digitial media.

7/30/2010 2:14 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jesse Hamm wrote: "It sounds like Jenkins is just describing folk art, which naturally spreads and morphs more easily now that we have digitial media."

Jesse, I think that's not a bad analogy for some of what is happening here. (Personally, I am a big fan of folk art). But I think there is also an important difference in that people are not just whittling folk art out of a piece of wood. If a housewife takes a copy of Casablanca and digitally substitutes her face for the face of Ingrid Bergman, she is starting with someone else's art-- the story, the script, the costume design and cinematography-- and merely picking and choosing the elements she wants for the experience that will most make her swoon. That sounds different from traditional folk art to me.

7/30/2010 2:51 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

The conflation of fandom with artistry only has value for the purposes of marketing. The fondest wish of a marketer is that his product goes viral and the fans will do his work for him for free.

Interchangeable bits is also of use only to the addicted fan who wants to bask in the world set up by the core drillable work. What endless soap opera isn't comprised of meaningless reiterations of the same old tripe to create faux dramatic complication day after day.

Soap Operas are all tactics and no strategy.

Or, as in the X-men. the strategy is ever present (good mutants, maligned by humanity, yet protect it from the bad mutants.) but it just floats above the episodes without ever having a dramatic arc of its own. This is a very very old idea.

What makes art great is what you don't see, the subtextual structure, not the interchangeable bits that we can collect from the surface. And good structure demands each bit must progress the story or it is a detriment to the work. Seriality always results in bubblegum.

If you have a great experience on a beach, warm day, cool wind, clear sky, water rushing up to your feet and then receding, pulling your feet into the mud slightly... sure you might want to take a pocketful of sand home and a few shells. But these items will only be symbols that refer to the real thing. They have no innate experiential power themselves.

7/30/2010 2:56 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Richard, my paraphernalia comment is related to the marketing that Jenkins is referencing, not to the actual quality of the drillable/core works themselves.

7/30/2010 2:58 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

David --

"If a housewife takes a copy of Casablanca and digitally substitutes her face for the face of Ingrid Bergman, she is starting with someone else's art"

That sounds like folk narrative to me. Like the development of fairytales, legends, King Arthur, Robin Hood, Brer Rabbit, etc. Folks begin with an existing narrative and add and subtract as they see fit.

7/30/2010 3:02 PM  
Blogger StimmeDesHerzens said...

simply no time for the comic-con trio. but to take you back a tad "I meant "panmixia" in the technical sense: random, indiscriminate mating without regard to the particular traits of your partners." According to your entry it heightens the chances for success by increasing the variables. Yea...ok. Will be in Philly in 3 weeks. To breath in the air of CULTURE ! :-) (cough cough!) I hope it won't be too hot. Don't think I'll peruse the comic cons, as you know i prefer the victorian valentines!

7/30/2010 10:59 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Philly repasent.

7/31/2010 1:21 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev wrote, "The conflation of fandom with artistry only has value for the purposes of marketing."

Kev, how is this different from saying, "the conflation of audience and artist only has value for the purposes of enhancing the audience's enjoyment of the work"? Tailoring a creative work to the desires of individual viewers will probably erode artistic quality but that doesn't mean it won't enhance the experience for the viewer (and thus the marketing results for the company).

Jesse Hamm wrote, "That sounds like folk narrative to me. Like the development of fairytales, legends, King Arthur, Robin Hood, Brer Rabbit, etc."

Jesse, I would draw a distinction between writing a story that fits into the Arthurian legend and using a computer program to put on that cool hat that some costume designer created for Ingrid Bergman, recite the lines that some script writer wrote for her, and get into a hot and heavy clinch with Humphrey Bogart. There's not a whole lot of creativity in that process that I would label as "folk art."

8/01/2010 3:06 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Kev wrote, "The conflation of fandom with artistry only has value for the purposes of marketing."

Kev, how is this different from saying, "the conflation of audience and artist only has value for the purposes of enhancing the audience's enjoyment of the work"? Tailoring a creative work to the desires of individual viewers will probably erode artistic quality but that doesn't mean it won't enhance the experience for the viewer (and thus the marketing results for the company).

Fans don't understand where the power of art comes from, which is structure. The moral force of a work is played out in the structure subliminally... and that is what makes the art meaningful. (People tend to not understand that when they consult narratives, they are actually looking for moral information about the world.) It is this inner structure that anchors the fantasy and keeps it from being saccharine. Thereby, great work refreshes rather than leadens.

This inner moral force of a work seeps upward from the structure and makes everything on the surface resonant.

The fan becomes mesmerized with the resonating surface, same as with a great painting. And this is what makes them think the surface itself is the source of wonder. But this mistake is just how the intellect mis-responds to an affective, direct appeal to the moral imagination. The emotional afterglow of the moral force of a work is something the intellect/ego does not understand. So it fumbles to regain its footing by taking out its microscope.

If you let the fans reconfigure the art, their lack of understanding will guide the process. They will think they are making the bestest ice cream sunday in the whole wide world at Baskin Robbins, with twelve different kinds of sprinkles, three different syrups, 8 different flavors of ice cream, gummy bears, oreo crumbles, almonds, blueberries... but in reality they will end up with a great big pile of sugary, slimy, melted junk food.

For example, the later three star wars movies are much richer in terms of design and decor than the original three... but all of it is completely dead spiritually because the newer movies have zero moral force, slack structures, and unrelatable characters. (I think concept artists had more to do with the new star wars movies then George Lucas' talent)

It isn't the fault of the flower that it looks wan. The problem is the gardener hasn't provided it with nourisment and hasn’t framed it in its proper setting.

Forensic Fandom is misguided intellectualization. It proliferates the flowers as it gets further and further away from fertile soil and then it become moribund as the lilies wilt. It wastes time and denies outside reality and those who participate in it eventually get a sinking feeling about the quality of their character.

Which is all to say, the entertainment value of a great art is directly tied in with its quality. To reduce quality is to reduce entertainment value. This is not adding to an experience... it is diminishing returns.

The way I see it, the Forensic fandom of Transmedia is a woefully misguided attempt to create more gold by adding lead to it.

8/01/2010 1:04 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Triumph of the Cyborg Composer:
http://tinyurl.com/yd4jd9q

8/01/2010 5:02 PM  

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