Dispatches from Andyland "Your reality, sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever!" — The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

June 29, 2009

The connection between an the artist and tools

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Andrew @ 11:14 pm

Can you picture an artist who claims that they can’t sketch/draw/paint/sculpt or otherwise use  tools to manipulate their medium? Or an author who is can’t write or type? That without using these tools can still create world famous works?

The recent news of Michael Jackson passing away keeps bringing me to this question. The news keeps reminding me of Jackson, and when I think of Jackson, I think about the plagerism lawsuit over The Girl Is Mine. In it Jackson claims that although he doesn’t know how to play an instrument, he composes complete renditions of his songs fully formed out of his head (melody, harmony, counterpoint, rhythm.) , through singing and scatting into a tape recorder. No rough drafts, rewrites, editing etc. The tapes then go to Quincy Jones who arranges the piece and writes out parts for the studio musicians.

I find it hard to believe that someone can have that great of a musical mind they can conceive of these great pieces, and yet not have the ability to correlate that hitting this or that key on a keyboard matches the pitch that is going on inside his head. I would think that eventually tying the notes of those melodies into their names would be necessary, if even as a temporary holding space to work out the rest of it. (or more accurately, since I know of people with physical disabilities creating works under extraordinary difficulty: Christy Brown painting with his left foot, or Richard Stallman dictating code to a transcriber, that the effort to create without learning a tool seems far more burdensome than actually learning it.)

Although I think the story that was given seems implausible, I’m not sure what the true story is. It could be that the work was transformed by musicians piece by piece so that Jackson didn’t realize that it was thoroughly transformed. I’ve known some very clever graphics designers who could do that.  You start by giving your idea of what you want. They already know how they want it to end up, and all the development iterations involve convincing you that their changes are a refinement your idea. It could be that his private deals with unknown songwriters is that they have to give up composer credit for their work. Whatever the real story is, once I decided he was lying about how his music was composed, I decided that the potential that other statements were lies were high.

Maybe its just me though. There have been too many times I’ve been in disagreements with people that the tools that they need to use are “computer stuff” and so they can remain oblivious too it: Salesmen asking me for help setting up an LCD projector and Powerpoint. Web content producers not understanding or caring that a (table embedded in a table embedded in a table)^n embedded in a Javascript document.write() will not render quickly no matter how many servers are added. That when the web server you are using treats URLs case-sensitively, you shouldn’t put the wrong URL on a billboard facing the southeast expressway. Where is the line though? At what point does something become a system needing a technologist to extend or maintain and at what point does a content producer need to accept responsibility to understand the tools of their art?

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