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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

On Art, Artist and Creativity

On Art, Artist and Creativity

An Essay By

Alexander Gordon Jahans

I sit at a cross roads. The best three years of my life have passed and similarly the worst of my depression post-university seems to be over. Things can now start getting better. Similarly it seems media and creativity is at a crossroads. While traditional media remakes and rehashes old stories, new media reinvents the present as something new and different. The fans have become the critics and nothing is truly original any more. Indeed I find myself an idiot playing at creativity and reviewing yet simultaneously more formally trained as a writer and reviewer than any of the reviewers I admire. The student has become the master yet remains an apprentice to amateurs. The world is tipsy turvy and I think we are all finally coming to realisation that up is relative.

Now being an arrogant sod, and also because all art is subjective and thus I believe you need the context of me to gain meaning from my reviews I shall start with me. Long story short: I was bullied, left school, discovered Doctor Who and Writing, went to college, changed my name to Gordon Jones when I went to university and upon leaving took up my old name again confident that I could weild it and stand strong once more. I failed. 

Three months worth of depression later here I sit surrounded by empty soda bottles and cans and decaying wet cat food sachets (because I have a cat, not because I ate it). When I first used the name Alex Jahans I freed myself from hatred and bullying by realising that I was an individual with agency and I didn't need anyone's permission to stay away from pain. It was powerful life changing moment of saying "fuck it" and walking away from my problems then having the strength of will to say no to the threats and bribes my parents gave me to go back to school. My depression this time around was caused by making the same choice on the first day of a job and my salvation this time lies in trusting others to help me overcome the problems that trap me in a cycle of self loathing and over analysis of my mistakes and flaws. I am metaphorically speaking my own bully and my apotheosis lies in walking towards the structure and responsibility society represents. To bed freed this time I must give up my freedoms. The wheel turns and the story remains the same, once as tragedy then again as comedy.

So how does this relate to art? Well Videogames and the community that thrives off them is undergoing the great tragedy. Ethics in games journalism. That phrase has almost become a slur. The rage and abuse caused by a movement that at least in part purports to be about the nature of video games as art, journalists as artists and let's plays as reinvention and recreation of existing art as something new. An entire culture of regurgitating existing art is at war as it tries to define rules for this new age.

Television and film meanwhile has entered the comedy stage. I mean stealing ideas or being "inspired" is nothing new for these old media but now instead of causing controversy it is mocked by amateurs as it so obviously fumbles in the dark of the dying media to find something, anything worth keeping film alive for. Indeed the films that are seen as truly great are comparable to work of the new media. They form a new kind of trinity of successful online adjacent film styles. At the top of the trinity sits the all father, the genuinely great film that begs to be dissected by film critics and film students. This is where you get the Inceptions, the Dark Knights and the Circles. Films about layered meanings and philosophical or scientific theories and questions. Films that make the viewer think about the world. 
Next you have the holy ghost, the rollercoaster ride. The reason it's the holy ghost is that the Rollercoaster ride film style is intangible, not limited by genre or excluded from the other film styles. This is the film that you watch, have an awesome experience, good or bad, then immediately tell everyone about because "Holy shit! Guys, you have to see this thing!" before sitting in a corner with your friends and talking about it because that thing was so amazing and you didn't quite have time to get over it before the film ended so you take to social media and write fanfic or make fanvids or talk about how it's written.
Finally you have the film style that can walk among the common youtubers and be recognised as one of their own.  This is a film style that can represent the freedom and vision of a youtube driven film but with the budget to make up for youtube film failings. This film style like the all father has a clear vision and identity but unlike the all father it's not made by some great all knowing auteur but rather a pseudoamateur like the critics. Films of this sort are Source Code, Galaxy Quest and Bird Man.

Everything else, every remake and adaptation that just tries to tell a good story with some degree of faith is doomed to failure because if you aren't making a film for fans to spot references, critics to textually analyse or fan girls to squee about then the new media does not care and in an age of advertising as a constant people no longer give a shit about it unless their chosen critic, letsplayer fanvidder or tumblr user covers it. 

Marketing is dead, word of mouth is key and quality rises while mere competence sinks into obscurity.

And now we come to the issue of creativity. With so many critics there is this obsession with objective value judgements. I've lost track of the amount of times I have stated my opinion on a subject only to be told I am objectively wrong because I'm comparing apples to oranges or because a lot of people on some website disagree with me. Like so what? So fucking what? If I saw you loved someone and they weren't my type I wouldn't tell you you were wrong, I'd congratulate you on finding happiness. Criticism is for the creators of content to make use of by seeing what the majority of their target market thinks about their content but it is also for the individual viewer in an audience to use in aiding how they spend their time and money. I, as a reviewer, am not telling you what to think. I am telling you what I think because you may find it useful. If you disagree with me, fine. There is going to be at least five other reviewers who agree with you. The point is not for us all to be happy and uniformly correct in our opinions, it's for us to each be uniquely happy with how we spend our time and that doesn't mean that uniformity is bad either, just that it should be an accident as a result of all these different people individually having unique opinions that happen to be the same.

It is for this reason that I never have writer's block but can't edit for toffee. I mean when all art is inherently subjective and rule 34 is a thing how can I ever objectively improve on my work? 

I feel I must point out here that I got a 2:1 BA(hons) in Creative and Professional Writing and Film Studies from the University of Wolverhampton and a Distinction Merit of a BTec in Media and TV Production at Farnham College. I am not some ignorant fanboy playing at writing. Hell I got a B in Teaching Writing as part of my university course and basically wrote an essay on why teaching writing and reviewing writing is redundant for exactly this reason: Art is subjective.

By contrast I got a B in Science as part of my gcses because I loved reading about genetics and physics, the electromagnetic spectrum and quantum mechanics. I love how glorious madness can be objectively provable through experimentation and rigorous analysis. I'm no scientist by any means but I am fascinated with it and upon applying it to the social sciences of media and the study of media I find that it is so much tissue paper against a machine gun.

New media and old media is dependent upon the analysis and "objective" judgement of media, something that as I've just outlined is all but impossible. There are some things though that one would think can be objectively judged. You may not be able to objectively judge a story but you can judge its spelling, grammar and syntax, the consistency of character portrayal and tone, the morality of the representation and the quality of the presentation of the story. Video games may be subjectively enjoyed or hated for many different reasons but bugs and glitches are objectively wrong and the texture of objects can be objectively judged, even certain extremes of poor gameplay or physics.

Where this all falls down of course is when time is taken into account, as Civilisation advances technology and morality will change, as will dialogue. I get around this paradox by saying that the present is always better than the past and hate Shakespeare and the original trilogy of Star Wars as a result. The past is wrong by the standards of today and so I dislike it but you try to point out to the critics that Harry Potter is better than Romeo and Juliet and the Phantom Menace has better special effects, world building and story than the original Star Wars. They believe that I am objectively wrong because contextually Star Wars was an amazing film when it was released and the Phantom Menace was a wretched film, when it was released. Whether that is true or not is not for me to debate but lets point out the holes with a modern day example: Minecraft.

Minecraft is in many ways objectively crap, shall we count the ways? 
  1. No story.
  2. No characters.
  3. Poorly optimised graphics engine.
  4. Aesthetics that look distinctly amateur.
  5. Repetitive gameplay.
  6. Little to no direction.
  7. Very little to actually do.
And yet Minecraft is one of the most successful games of all time because it gave us a sandpit then stood back and let us play. It's no secret that minecraft is one of the most demanded let's plays and that's, I think, because there is no artist dictating the nature of the art with his creativity. Rather there is a studio providing a canvas and paint so we may be the artists. We modded it with texture packs and skins and adventure maps. We made the aesthetics and the story, the progression and things to do. We advertised it and we reviewed it and we loved it because unlike Assassin's Creed Unity or the Order 1666 it was not sold as a beautiful story with progression and interesting game mechanics. It was sold as a sandbox where you mine and you craft and that philosophy extended outside of the game. The triple A games talking the talk are objectively in many ways better than minecraft but because they fail to walk the walk they are bad games while minecraft is a good game.

I think this on balance is where I fall down as an artist and journalist myself. I try to be all things to all people and fail in every respect so I can't edit because there is no framework within which my art can be objectively judged and that is the catch with coming up with something original. There is no Aristotelian objectively perfect form to aspire to. You cannot judge fairly that which has never been done before and thus you cannot edit it either.