Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Treating Your Computer Like a Person

(or) How To Stay Natural In Your Digital Workspace

Facebook; Twitter; Tumblr; these are the new business cards for artists. Meanwhile, Adobe, Apple and Avid are our new palettes. This means that, despite our best attempts, the pendulum has swung away from "organic" experiences such as songwriter's nights, gallery openings, spacious recording studios and photography darkrooms towards sitting alone at a computer screen squeezing a mouse.

Sit tight, I'm not going to rant against the advent of technology. Yes, through its evolution, digital telecommunication has come to reflect and even embody the natural environment; but the days of the computers taking over are still a distant nightmare. I'm a firm advocate of the technosphere. There are, however, two problems that immediately come to the fore, especially for artists who have been forced to comply with the shift to computers:

  • First: the notion of blending the instant-now of the internet with the creative process itself. 
  • Second: the sedentary nature of working on digital projects. Even working in a photography studio or a printshop offers more blood circulation than sitting at a desk, but few of us have access to such luxuries.

These problems can be solved simply by reminding yourself who's boss. Everything digital is created by people. We resemble gods more than we ever have before—if we put our minds to it, we have full control over whatever we hold in our hands to the extent that it becomes a weapon, transcendent of time and space. Sure, you might spot some sorry folks letting phones and laptops run their lives, but true artists and visionaries prioritize sun, water and fresh air, bending the power of digital technology to their will.

the April 1, 2013 Episode of
Too Much Information with Benjamin Walker and Douglas Rushkoff
"If you understand the biases of the digital landscape, this thing [the internet] can be the next stage of human civilization...the possiblity of using the atemporal bias of digital technology to totally overturn the corporate hegemony; to reify the 'sustainability jones;' to promote a much more sort of 'Occupy' version of reality than the Koch's version of reality; is right at our fingertips...the way they [the younger generation] can restore their sensory processing mechanisms (the big diseases of the day are sensory processing disorders like autism and Aspergers, the inability to engage eye-to-eye) is to be able to do pattern recognition: soften your gaze and see how some things are like other things..."

Using All Five Senses to Make Your Digital Project Human

  • See: Before you begin, try to see the final product. What does it look like in your wildest dreams? Don't expect to achieve this fantasy, but know it's a great place to start.
  • Feel: Create a practice version of your piece and feel out all of its extremities—this will both inspire ideas you hadn't had before and help you avoid experimenting with your real project.
  • Hear: Always keep your ears open to what your work is "telling" you. Sometimes we urge our art to be something it cannot. When your project says, "I am never going to be able to do that," listen. 
  • Smell: When you cook, certain essences that you couldn't originally smell will emerge. What aspects of your work sneak out of nowhere and surprise you as you are building it? Keep your nose open, and if you smell some new ideas, nurture them.
  • Taste: Test it out before you serve it. If it's a photo, let your eyes get used to it in a frame for a few days in different places in your house. If it's a recording, listen to it from beginning to end on multiple sound systems. Don't let your audience be the first taste-testers.

I'm awash in projects. If I'm not in the studio recording a couple of new songs, I'm in front of Photoshop, writing a new short story or interviewing folks for a documentary. To cope, I created a detailed calendar and forced myself to stick to it: deadlines, work days, release dates: I successfully disciplined myself as my own manager. The problem emerged as I put the calendar first and my art second. I was working more efficiently, but the quality was falling short. 

In an effort to be an artist with a capital "A," I did away with my deadlines, decided to let my product tell me when it was final and began to focus strongly on the five reminders listed above—usually during an invigorating hike or a midnight swim. Remember, these reminders can only set in if you go over them during your re-charge time, not while you're working. Take the time necessary to be thorough, don't just race to meet a deadline.

"But," counters Professional Pete, "You can't work without deadlines. You'll never feel truly driven, you'll float in the conceptional phase and the project will never get finished." Pete raises a great point. It's hard for us artists to blend in with the professional world. By nature, our biggest challenge is seeing a project through to the end, let alone meeting another person's deadline. I'm arguing for a happy medium: stay true to your calling, put the standard of excellence before your due date, but keep the blood of your project flowing in such a way that it's begging you to finish it.

It's too easy in this techno-modern environment to put recency over relevance; Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube... it all nags you to keep feeding it, keep it fresh and active. This miraculous new marketing convenience at our fingertips compels even the most thoughtful artists (especially budding young ones) to shell out material when it's not ready. But make sure you're feeding it only the finest work. Don't resist the digital network: make it prettier. And don't forget to get some fresh air!

Post Script:
When your work is ineffective, does it a reflect your body, your mind or your soul?

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