This is for those of you out there trying to create something new. Bucking trends. Swimming upstream. Letting your dreams come to life through one medium or another. You’re making art.
Please take care of yourself.
I know, I know. Pot, kettle. I’ve been struggling with self-care, myself. Seeing therapists, taking medication, working through issues through journaling and my Innercom Chatter project (more on that as it develops), allowing myself breaks and celebrating minor victories. Unfortunately, I have not done things like eat regular meals, get more exercise, stick to my vegan path as much as I’d like, or remain in strong communication with friends. I mean, I’m not shutting myself off, but I’m not exactly being outgoing and gregarious either. It’s usually an invitation from a friend that gets me out, not me seeking to be around friends. It’s a narrow distinction.
Anyway. Self-care is a thing you should be doing.
Whether you’re caught up in creating, berating yourself for not creating enough, or hating whatever it is you’ve created, remind yourself that it’s okay. You’re only human. You’re allowed to give yourself some breathing room, take breaks, and breathe, for crying out loud. It’s something I need to remind myself of every day, and yes, some days are better than others. That’ll be the way for you, too.
Just remember that you’re worth taking care of. And, at the end of the day, the best and most reliable person you have to take care of you is you.
I think it’s normal for creative types to experience a measure of jealousy in the entertainment they enjoy. “Why didn’t I think of that?” “How do they do that?” “What are they doing right that I’m doing wrong?” So go the thoughts one can have when consuming media in line with what one wants to create themselves. Jealousy can become trepidation and even fear. Why try to create something new where something new that’s very similar has already been created?
When I run into this question, I try to remind myself of what I feel is the correct answer: Try to create anyway.
It’s difficult, at times, not to care about the works other have done that lay within our interests and skill set. We want to know the competition, after all, to gauge our chances at meeting with the same level of success. We want that knowledge, that assurance, even if it means we have to give up on our ideas because, according to all of the evidence, the ideas don’t stand a chance.
That knowledge, as essential as it seems, gives rise to our fears. We’re afraid our dreams aren’t good enough. That our ideas will never find an audience. That at the end of all things, all we’ll have to show for our desire to create is some disconnected scraps of thought and art, a bitter feeling of repeated and callous rejection, and a whole lot of wasted time.
You shouldn’t be afraid of these things. And if you want to give your dreams a fighting chance, you can’t be afraid of them.
It doesn’t matter if what you want to do has been done. What matters is, how are you going to do it? What parts of your creation will set it apart from others? Why is it yours? Answering those questions, instead of the others I posed, will help you move forward, create more, and bring your dreams to life. You’ll find confidence and joy in doing so. And you will leave your fears behind.
The world needs more creators. Go forth, and make something new. And when you do it, do it without fear.
I would be one of the first people to stand on rooftops to declare video games as a legitimate form of art. They convey stories in a way not possible in books, music, cinema, or the stage. They combine many forms of media into a singular experience to entertain and engage. Until now, there have not been a lot of games that fully encapsulate the experience of a work of art, the sort of thing that defies description and speaks to the engaged on a personal level. Some immerse with gameplay mechanics while others focus on story. Many video games struggle with balance between the two. Journey does it with such ease, it’s almost painful in its sublime beauty.
I had a feeling I’d start gushing about the game once I started typing. I’ll try and reign it in.
Journey is both the title and premise of this little PS3 exclusive indy title from thatgamecompany. Your character, nameless and without speech, begins by some markers at the edge of the desert. In the distance is a mountain, from which pours a geyser of light into the sky. It is mysterious and ominous at the same time, and it is your sole destination. You are gifted with a scarf, and when the scarf’s embroidery glows, you can use it to fly a little. That is literally all you know at the beginning of the game.
Games have taken great strides in immersion over the years, and one of the biggest steps has been the minimization of user interface. While impossible for things like MMOs, the less overt information that clogs the screen, the more room there is for the design team to show their work. Journey is almost completely without UI. There’s no health bar to speak of, no prompts for quick time events, no directional arrows or minimap or equipment or sub menus. You are shown an outline of your controller at brief moments when you start out, demonstrating how to act in one of the two permitted ways other than movement: you can fly, and you can sing. When you sing, you not only emit notes, a small sigil appears above your head; it is the mark you make upon the world.
As you travel, you may see other marks and hear other notes. As much as the expanse between you and the mountain yawns wide and desolate, you are not alone in your journey. Other players are with you, and some may try to endear themselves to you by helping out while others run in circles or sit quietly. You can leave them behind you, of course, pressing ever onward, but there’s no guarantee one won’t try to keep up. Yet, the path you must take is lonely, filled with signs that something terrible happened in the past, and there are perils ahead that are daunting to face on your own. You will not know the people you meet in Journey, at least not until the very end of the game when their names are displayed, but you can get a feel for them based on how they move, how much they sing, and how often they wait for you if you fall behind as you float, fly, leap, and slide from one obstacle to the next.
Before I circle back to all of that personal stuff, regardless of what you may draw from Journey, the beauty of the game cannot be overstated. The visual style is unique and breathtaking, from the way the wind moves the sands of the desert to an entire sequence that seems to take place under water yet clearly is in the open air. Life-forms made of tapestry float past you, ruins lean out from rocks with the weight of history upon them, and watching things react to the sound of your character’s voice never fails to delight. Couple these visuals with the haunting score and keen sound design, and you have a world that may engulf you before you’re aware of what’s happening to you.
I’ve been playing video games most of my life. I started on an old Atari 2600 back in the early 80s, and I’ve been trying new things and challenging games ever since. I’ve been racking my brain to remember a gaming experience like the one I had with Journey, and my memory is coming up short. Games have made me cry before, certainly: the death of a beloved character, watching a protagonist break down, that sort of thing. But for the life of me, I cannot remember a game making weep openly for joy the way Journey did.
I wish I could tell you why. I would love to lay out the entirety of the experience to communicate why I love it so much. But I can’t. I won’t do that to you. I won’t spoil it. You just have to trust me. If you’re reading this, and you own a PS3, you owe it to yourself to buy and play Journey. It is a masterwork of game design, a symphony in digital entertainment form, an exciting and harrowing and touching story from start to finish that you experience not by reading, or watching, but by participating. For me, it reinforces my belief that the very best journeys, in gaming or in life, are the ones we take together.
We as a culture tend to abuse certain turns of phrase. For example, too many people interpret negative opinions as “hate” when “hate” is a visceral and descriptive word for the way a lot of middle American teenagers raised by conservative parents look at their gay classmates. “Awesome” is used to describe gaming and entertainment experiences better than average when they should be reserved for something like the experience of watching all three Lord of the Rings movies back to back in a single day. And then there’s the word “hipster”. The kid in the skinny jeans, unknown indy band t-shirt, thick black Ray-Ban spectacles and Converse high-tops in the back of corner of the trendy coffee shop may not necessarily be a hipster. You won’t know until you walk up to him and he starts talking about how a movie like Antichrist is a refreshing, original and rewarding pinnacle of cinema only unliked by idiots and poor people. This is when you take his large half-caf soy latte and dump it on his stupid hairdo because Antichrist is about as refreshing, original and rewarding as a psych evaluation that’s been framed like it’s to be hung in the Lourve.
On the surface, the plot and narrative has some potential. The story revolves around a married couple who lose a child and have to cope with the loss. The husband is initially emotional but quickly gains control of himself. The wife seems more together at first but slowly spirals through the stages of grief into ever increasing madness. What begins as a haunting and introspective character piece begins peeling away its mask until a horror bleeding from the eyeballs grabs you by the lapels and screams in your face. Talking animals and self-mutilations occur more and more frequently as the movie rumbles towards its climax, in which all hope is lost, reason crumbles in the face of despair and any sort of reliance upon man’s better nature or anything resembling faith is castrated, broken and left in the woods to slowly bleed to death alone and unloved. Did I mention Lars von Trier was going through a major depression when he made this thing?
There were a few scenes that reminded me of The Ring in that we have two people working together to uncover a deeper truth. While in the case of The Ring the threat was external, in both films the two must overcome emotional blocks betwen them to deal with it. What Antichrist lacks is a sense of chemistry and meaning between the leads. The presentation of their relationship feels less intimate and more analytical. Willem Dafoe’s husband quickly moves into the realm of therapy and psychoanalysis and the nature of mourning and fear, never really leaving that position even when things get weird and violent. Meanwhile, poor Charlotte Gainsbourg becomes more and more unhinged as the film trudges on. She begins to conclude that being female makes her the ‘evil’ half of the relationship and rails against that role and its implications before giving into her darker impulses which is when things get bloody and visceral. It’s the woman in the pair that mutilates herself, uses sex as a weapon and ultimately wants to kill her partner and herself. While I picked up on some tacky bits of misogyny in this portrayal of a couple, it was outweighed by the big neon sign hung over the whole affair reading “FUCKING FILM DIRECTOR AT WORK, YOU POSEURS”.
It takes a lot to put up with an auteur director. I give the actors props for sticking with this madness.
Lars von Trier uses interesting techniques and the cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle to present a unique aesthetic in places that really does blow your mind. It’s clear why a lot of people hold him up as the sort of auteur destined to stand with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam when it comes to cinematic storytelling and mind-fuckery. And I have to admit, there are some powerful visuals in Antichrist. There are moments where this movie just looks fantastic. There are images that could be framed as works of art in and of themselves, and when put into motion there is a definite sense of composition involved. From the standpoint of pure technique, I have to say it’s close to perfect. Upon reflection, however, I can’t help but feel the artifice was being used to cover up a very cynical, very pandering intent that really leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
You see, Antichrist‘s intent is more manipulation than it is examination or even narration. The imagery, pace and dialog are all meant to come across as highbrow and introspective but at its core, the movie goes more for the shock value of Saw than any other form of headspacey horror. Rather than build up to a twist ending, even if we were to see it coming, from minute one the movie pushes our face in what is meant to be unnerving imagery and keeps us there without giving us much chance to breathe. It smothers viewers in its faux intensity. I don’t mind a movie setting out to do something unnerving or mentally intense, but usually that intensity comes with some form of depth. Antichrist only looks deep because a beautiful rendition of the ocean floor with really deceptive proportions has been painstakingly painted onto the bottom of the shot glass.
Oh yeah, and there’s a talking fox.
In the spirit of things, here’s a metaphor for you. Watching Antichrist is like seeing Frankenstien’s monster in a tuxedo rape and torture a live subject to death in the Sydney Opera House. The screams of the victim and the purr of motorized machines like chainsaws and vibrators would make an interesting counterpoint to the strains of Bach’s Komm Süsser Tot. The trappings of “true art” and earnestly brilliant shot composition barely distract us from what is essentially an act of dark and personal emotional masturbation. As I said at the opening of this diatribe, people misuse words all the time, and I try to avoid it. So when I say I find Antichrist pretentious, I do so not because of its foreign roots or its style or its sparse imagery. I do because it’s presumptuous, shallow and ultimately empty. It presumes that you can groove on its nihilistic atheist vibe, and if you can’t, be prepared to be considered a pitiable mass media junkie because “you just don’t get it.” I’m sure there will be people out there who will learn of this movie, hear who directed it, find out it’s themes include the destruction of religion, a woman’s growing self-hatred and the ultimate collapse of positivism in the face of the cruelest reality possible, and jump all over it like it’s made of chocolate and orgasms.
Maybe I’m just too much of an idealistic hope-fueled Christ-loving simpleton to key into this thing and feel it speaking to me, but Antichrist was simply not worth watching for me. Dichotomies of emotion and reason have been done better in movies like Inception. Mindfuckery has been done better in movies like End of Evangelion. Intense, unlikeable protagonists in a cynical world seemingly devoid of hope or good vibes has been done better in movies like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans. Elements of movies I’ve thoroughly enjoyed are in here, but like the aformentioned creature, they’ve been stitched together and brought to life by a mad genius blind to his creation’s grotesqueries because of how fulfilled it’s left him personally. You can give it a watch on Netflix Instant if you’re interested in this sort of thing, but when it’s all over, you ain’t exactly going to be singing “Putting on the Ritz” because you’ll probably be too busy throwing up.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.
There is an ever-growing crossroads where art and technology meet. As companies develop easier and shinier ways to put smaller and yet more expensive devices in the hands of consumers, the degree to which technology permeates those consumers’ lives grows. That technology not only makes communication and advertisement easier but also allows artists are more direct route for reaching new audiences, provided the artist in question leverages the tools available.
Art and technology have more in common, though, than just being a medium of expression and its means of distribution. Both are forms of alchemy. Both allow for the creation of something out of nothing.
This blog entry began as a blank text document. Paintings begin as blank canvases. New devices start their lives as empty documents, bits of graph paper or pages in a sketch journal. They all spring from the same source – our imaginations. And imaginations and artistic minds are much like processors, capacitors and bits of memory. The more there are in close proximity working in concert, the more powerful the outcome.
That’s why collaboration and the sharing of ideas is so important. Technology makes this easier than it has ever been, and art is still sought by audiences the world over. The more artists support and promote one another, the more successful everyone becomes as a result. And the more an artist leverages a resource like Twitter or Facebook, the more they can support and promote other artists.
So why is there a divide between art and technology?
Between social media, fundraising means and the advance of media-streaming methods, it should be easier than ever for purveyors of art, from the lowly aspiring novelist to the coordinator of major musical events such as orchestra concerts and ballet performances, to put their labors of love in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Yet some of these artists and art-friends refrain from using these accessible and free-to-use tools. Are they uncertain of the hows and whys? Unaware of their presence or power? Unimpressed by what might seem to be a passing fad?
I wish I knew the answers to these questions. To me, technology is nothing to be feared or scoffed at by the artist. This divide, which is all too real and yawning for some artists, should be seen instead as a crossroads. And as more artists embrace the technology available to them to make their lives easier and give them more time to create, and technology continues to be molded by digital artists and natives, the crossroads will continue to grow until it becomes a town square of its own.
And Philadelphia’s one of the best places for it to happen.
Sure, the west coast of the US is covered with tech talent, AAA game studios, big media moguls, what have you. And New York is the landing zone for art and fashion from the rest of the world. Philadelphia may never attract multi-million dollar corporations bent on harnessing technology or the most glamorous of glamor-making glamorhounds. What it has, does and will attract is fresh, interesting and passionate talent from all walks of life. Much like the technology I’ve discussed, it’s a crossroads for all sorts of people, from the tech-savvy to the artistic and everything in between. And you can bet that, this being Philly, when the exciting stuff starts happening and new ground gets broken as this crossroads continues to expand, somebody’s gonna be loud and obnoxious. Like the guys over at Geekadelphia or Technically Philly, for example.
In any event, I think what those of us who have technical inclinations need to impress upon artists is that the barrier for entry when it comes to valuable tools like social networks and streaming media is not as high as one might think. We need to educate, to network and to ignite imaginations. If we can do this for artists, the artists can in turn do it for the world.