Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Limiting the artist

'Thirty Six' app makes you a thoughtful photographer again, article.
It allows the user to take black-and-white pics on their iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. However, the brilliance behind the app is that it works like a film camera. The app operates on a system of film rolls of 36 exposures each.

It is really weird how too much freedom is often bad for the artist. It can be paralyzing, like standing in a bare desert, which way to go? If there's a road, it's easier.

In Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, he talks about how one of his Creative Writing students had writers block. Which persisted until he told her to write about their town. The main street. The low numbers end. Starting with the first brick on the first building. Then her dam burst.

(Dang, it's nigh 30 years since I read that, maybe I should do it again. Though I objected to the whole book being about how to define quality, and then he ended just saying that it can't be defined. Of course it can, it's how good something is, how well it works according to purpose, or its innate characteristics.)


Pat McGee said...

Digression on definition of quality: I agree that it can't be defined - in general. _I_ can define it as how well it works according to _MY_ purpose. But that doesn't extend to how well it works for someone else's purpose.

I got to this by way of studying software testing. The definition of 'bug' that we found most productive was: "Something that matters to someone who matters."

Under that definition, what qualifies as a bug changes constantly, depending on who's doing the defining. If the name of a programmer is misspelled on the credits page, that's one thing. If the President's name is misspelled, that's quite another.

This may not satisfy purists who want to give everything a definition, but it sure worked well for us.

Bruce said...

I think I should reread ZAMM again myself. I completely agree with the problem of too much freedom in photography. I used to think that weekly contests that you see on some photo websites were kind of silly, but they do serve to reduce the amount of freedom both in time and in subject matter.

Reducing freedom in the number of exposures is tricky. It might make an interesting social video game. In the app you would choose from a list of ongoing contests and press "Go." The app would count your photos until you pressed the "Submit" button. The app would deduct points for lots of photos, also deduct points for more than, say, 12 hours of elapsed time between Go and Submit. Maybe even deduct points for cropping and post processing.

Submitting the photo would allow it to be rated by other people playing the app. Other players would have 24 hours or so to rate your photo. Good ratings plus low points would make the winner. Rating other people's photos would qualify you to submit photos to a new contest.

ttl said...

It is really weird how too much freedom is often bad for the artist.

I have brought this concept up here several times in the past. I have even used this very example of how a limited number of exposures can force the mind to be more creative (i.e. channel more directly). I have also presented similar examples from the world of audio and painting, among others.

In each of those discussions you more or less disagreed with me, taking the position that the freedom of unlimited exposures and the possibility of unlimited editing after-the-fact always outweigh any psychological benefits one might get from a Now medium.

It sounds like you have now finally had a change of heart in this. I am curious what made you think about this differently?

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Indeed you have.

It's more like I'm presenting the other side. I've always been split about it. But my inner protest that it *should* not be like this is very strong. I feel it's a failure of the mind if we need outside forces to limit us, to do good work.
There is clearly something to it, I just feel like it's like a cyclist who needs somebody to hold his bike upright, and I don't understand why it should happen.

Maybe I'm more accepting of this now because of recent failures trying to make art, having forced me into a more accepting or apathetic state of mind. Not sure. Maybe if/when my block lifts, I'll feel differently again, who knows.

Bert said...

For my part, I think that both ways are valuable, just not in the same context. The mind does need to be trained, no matter what the activity is. As photography goes, a game like what Bruce suggests is an excellent training tool, both allowing and forcing the trainee to focus on specific topics for each exercise, and a time constraint prevents indefinite blockage.

But once you've defined what you want to achieve in a given project, constraints become just that, obstacles in your way. My perception, anyway.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

That sounds about right.
When you are a trained and functioning artist, my feeling is that whatever constraints you need should be provided by the idea you want to express and the knowledge of what techniques will aid it, and which will be superflous, or muddle it up, or waste resources.