Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Less Said ...

I just ran across this on Twitter:
J. K. Rowling's new revelations about "Harry Potter" make the books look worse in retrospect

The piece it links to (spoiler ... I think) says, in short, that as Rowling explains and reveals various details in the backstory to the Harry Potter universe, all she does is show how much material she left out and should have included, or perhaps that she is simply spinning out a lot of stuff that is just irrelevant.  Which got me to thinking about a couple of things on creative work.

One is the story of a Dadaist artist (IIRC), who when questioned about the meaning of one of his pieces, answered by reciting the alphabet. What he meant, I was told, was that it wasn't his job to impose meaning on the work, but that the viewer was meant to take his own meaning.  The art, in other words, meant whatever it meant for the viewer.

In another moment I remember from school, we were assigned to work on scripts for an English class.  The teacher explained at one point that one should be careful of adding too many instructions behind the spoken lines.  What would remain for the actor or director to interpret if every word comes with descriptions of how to deliver it?  (eg: Jack: (angrily) "I won't do it!")  As a matter of fact, the teacher said, look at Shakespeare's plays.  Aside from instructions to enter or exit ("exeunt" -- always loved that) and the occasional clamour in distance, there are virtually no instructions at all.  The writing itself should carry the meaning.

By corollary, Stephen King in his excellent little book, On Writing, wages war on adverbs, snatching away and murdering them, then burying the bodies without a trace on nearly every page.  And visually, there is a rule of thumb in television news that a well-shot and edited story can be presented with only hard cuts between each shot -- no dissolves or other fancy transitions to cover jarring changes of scene or jump cuts.  And if this is done right, the piece will move smoothly from one shot to the next.

So good art: make your point, present what you want.  Just do it and walk away.  It should speak for itself.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Accidental Art

We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself.
Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes,
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.
 - "Mrs. Robinson" by Simon and Garfunkel

I was reminded when a clip of "Mrs. Robinson" played on the radio of how impressed I am with the lyricism of Paul Simon's work.  This first occurred to me when "Graceland" came out in 1986.  It's not that I was unfamiliar with his stuff before (How could anyone who lived in the 60s and 70s not be?) but that I first noticed how finely built the words in his songs were.

It's not that they are musical, or even poetic.  They seem to rise out of normal conversation, but in those moments of golden, accidental beauty that occasionally happens, phrases that flow so easily -- even when they are commonplace, or seem commonplace -- that they become musical.  It was while listening to the songs in "Graceland" that I first thought the Simon was actually an incredible writer of short stories who happens to set them to music.

Not to take anything from Simon -- I'm sure he labors mightily over ensuring just the right word lands in just the right place -- but this makes me think of what I've come to call "accidental art."  In my case, it usually comes in the form of things that have fallen in a perfect place, things that I find it hard, if not impossible, not to photograph.  This is one of the reasons I'm never to be seen without a camera, if not several of them.

Ironically, many of the pictures I make in these circumstances are done with the iPhone, because it's not only convenient but the right medium for the ephemeral purpose for me of many of these pictures.  I shoot 'em, put them on Facebook, and move on.  Others, however, are more permanent and either get shot with the Leica or double shot.

These columns, pulled off and stacked in front of a house undergoing renovation, were an irresistible subject to me for weeks, and I'm sure I will feel delight in their rediscovery when I finally process the film.

But the point here is: It's all accidental.  These things weren't placed or sculpted or planned.  They just fell where they did.  The art comes in the seeing of it, and then the capture.  Paul Simon could have overheard all those phrases in "Mrs. Robinson,"  but were they in that order?  And how the music slides with and compliments them ...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Meanwhile, On the Internet ...

"While I’m all in favor of this new world of media startups, where truly well-intentioned people are trying to figure out how the heck to make money from journalism on the Internet, I just need to step up right now and call bullshit on pretty much all the algorithms. Cause you guys just aren’t understanding the importance of a good writer."

So says Erin Biba, "a talented, experienced, smart  science writer."  As she explains, in her short, easy to read, and worthwhile post, "I love the idea of a new world of media that exists solely on the Internet. And I really, really want to be part of it. But I also want to pay my rent and feed my cat. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask. In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and say I’m pretty irritated that I have to ask at all. Actually, screw that, I’m INSULTED by how much you’re trying to pay me. Or not pay me."

Of course, I'm doing this for free, so ...

Speaking of free, Maria Tornberg did a blog post a while back on that very subject.  "In the last week I have found myself in several very uncomfortable situations where I was asked to work for free. First by a person I know, the second time by someone I know a little less and the third time by a stranger," She starts.  "Yes, you heard right. I was approached by people who asked me to do a job, at a day and time suitable to them, without getting paid."

Her point is that we are undermining our own value.  "If you hire me, pay me, with money ... I have bills to pay. I have a company. I‘m an entrepreneur who happens to be an artist."

Finally, Mathew Ingram, referring to another piece, explained a while back that Journalism isn't evolving.  It's being totally replaced by things we don't think of as "journalism."

"On a local level," he says, by way of example, "a whole series of websites and services from LocalWiki or Everyblock to Pinwheel are providing people with information about their neighborhoods ... And many people are duplicating what they used to get from their newspaper by using Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other platforms."

So I'm not sure where that money Tornberg hopes we'll get is coming from, at least in my case.