I’ve worked two kinds of jobs in my life. Minimum wage and academia jobs. I’ve had friend who’ve dropped out of high school, and others who’ve gotten their Phds (well, they’re working on it). My dad had a Masters and ended up working in a hardware store. I’ve done a lot of thinking about jobs, growing up. As an artist it’s the kind of thing you worry a lot about. In the end it’s a little bit more complicated than the stories we see on our TV screens.
I remember when growing up having teachers tell us “Study hard. If you don’t you’ll end up digging ditches”. I always wondered who they expected to dig the ditches. Someone’s got to do it right?
There’s job bigotry in America. It’s an ingrained part of our national psyche. McDonald’s is the punchline. I’ll tell you where this comes from. We were a nation founded by religious fringes, poor people, and convicts. No one will fight for money as hard as those who don’t have it. Why do you think gangster rap gave way to bling? Why do you think that rednecks who strike it rich on oil sneer at their underlings? Those who grew up with less want it more. They hate it when they leave it behind because deep down in there they see themselves, still vulnerable, young, and afraid. The middle class will drive themselves into debt to keep from being what their parents were.
If you can work an honest job then you’ve got a lot to be proud of. Don’t let others tell you otherwise. Some of the smartest coolest people I’ve known have worked in factories, and some of the dumbest became school teachers. “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”—Mark Twain.
And yet! And yet I can’t help but see the opposite side of this. I’ve seen the good and the bad.
I grew up in a poorer community. The timber industry was the primary job provider until around the time I was born and they packed up and left. What you get is an economic flywheel slowly spinning down. The only jobs now are service industry jobs and it’s just a slow march down now.
My first job was an All-American Classic. Fry-guy in McDonalds. Treated like a machine for 8 hours a day, dispense condiments and change. Always look busy even when you aren’t. Sneaking breaks in the walk-in freezer as my summer sweat frosts on my skin. Work isn’t so bad though. It isn’t the occasional 9 hour shift with no break that makes this hard. It’s the nature of the beast that you’ve got to fight on a daily basis.
See, 400 years ago if you were a carpenter you’d own your shop, and do the work you needed to do and you were paid for it. You didn’t have lots of money, and probably not many TVs or nice new computers. You owned yourself though.
Since then we passed through the industrial age. Work changed. You no longer worked from your home, you went and worked in a factory.* Being a worker changed. A corporation has to treat each person as an interchangeable part on an assembly line. So there are restrictions and rules placed in the workers life to try and standardize their output. Corporations have to put up rules to insure quality work across the board regardless of capabilities. They micromanage down to the minute what you do, because allowing freedom also means that the quality of the worker can be more in question. A good worker knows how to take breaks when he needs, when to pace himself, when to go back and do something over again because it needs to be done right, but a bad worker might not. He might goof off instead of work, or go back and try and fix things that don’t need fixing and therefore waste time and therefore the boss’s precious money.
I can attest to this from personal experience. I also worked in a Mom-and-Pop hamburger joint run by my high-school English teacher. The job wasn’t any different except for how I felt about it.
Work is in our blood. We were built to work. People divide work and play, but thats a modern invention. Play is preparation for work. We need to work, or else we atrophy. In a standard minimum wage job, work is taken out of the equation as much as possible. I’ve worked 6 hours before a customer came in. That’s 6 hours of standing in one place and doing nothing. It’s my idea of tedious hell. When I worked in McDonald’s you weren’t allowed to sit, you weren’t allowed to read, you weren’t allowed to do anything except “look” busy. I remember the constant refrain, for when things got slow “Restock. All. Sauces.” Behind the counter at a McDonald’s is where they put all the little packets of ketchup and mustard and BBQ. I remember restocking so often that I would generally take a sauce out for a customer and immediately replace it with another. A box of 20 sauces with only 1 exchanging hands. A kind of OCD meticulousness to details, constantly trying to straighten every corner and align every plastic fork because you had nothing else to do.
In the Mom and Pop joint, you could bring a book in or work on homework, or just sit around and talk. As long as the job got done when it needed to be done. The reason our boss could give us this kind of trust is because she knew us personally. At McDonald’s we were just another name on the payroll. If you allowed the employees to make their own decisions, then you are asking them to have personal responsibility. Some of them are just going to just stick their mouth on the soft-serve icecream machine instead. Managing these people takes too much discrimination. It requires that the manager hired is capable of making wise choices who in turn is able to hire people who make wise choices. That’s too hard. There’s too much uncertainty there.** So instead of taking that gamble corporations make longer and longer regulations and rules for their employees. This limits autonomy, this leads to unhappiness.
At its heart, being an artist is a working class job. The same guy who made paintings 400 years ago was also the same guy painting signs and the same guy carving beautiful statues was also the same guy building chairs. As young artists, a lot of us want to make it, we want to get out. We want to break into the arts industry but you have to remember, it’s still an industry. The problems plague it less but the trap is still there. I’d rather be a free and happy ditch digger than a millionaire artist trapped by contract and there’s no shame in doing both.
*Unless you were a lady, which incidentally lead to the current stereotypes of “man’s work” and “women’s work”. Used to be everyone took care of the house, and the crops, and the babies together. Because, yah know, work needed to be done. Who cares who did it?
** This is why movies are so expensive and can still be total duds. There are a lot of moving parts, and the wrong person anywhere in the chain can screw up the whole process entirely. That’s why good teams tend to stick together so much is because it gives a better guarantee of success.
Links and stuff that deals with this stuff:
Yeah, know what I mean?
You know how people always talk about the past? How everyone was a racist idiot who hated women and didn’t understand easy stuff like physics*. I have a problem with this because most of the time it really only shows ignorance for history. It’s based in the almost universal sentiment, held since the dawn of time that “People before us were dumb, because they’re not us now!”
Of course we’ve all heard the thing about Victorians being so prudish that they covered their table’s legs so guys wouldn’t jizz in their pants. This kind of thing constantly gets said despite the fact that its not in the least bit true. Just the other day I heard someone repeat this same myth… except they were talking about people in the 1930s. It’s not really about whether or not it’s true, we just think we’re better. 100 years from now they’ll probably say the same thing about us.
Yes we don’t lynch people because they were a different color anymore. But racism is still an issue in our society And the actual number of lynchings, even at its height were paltry compared to the number of African American children who died due to poor nutrition. The real issue was almost always a more fundamental power structure problem. The problems of race isn’t just discrimination, its fundamental problems of power, identity, and class struggle. It certainly is a lot more complex than merely “White people sure hated black people back in the day!”
I know its in jest but I think people half take some of this stuff seriously.
I mean, it’s obviously photoshopped. And I think anyone with a brain can see that this isn’t real. But I bet you quite a few people do, and even if they do realize it isn’t real the sentiment sticks. Man people in the past were duuuuumb.
Okay okay, so back in the day they did do things like give cocaine to babies but we do some pretty stupid stuff today too. How many people give homeopathic medicines to their children, or refuse to vaccine out of some crazy idea that it’s the cause of autism (hint: it doesn’t.)
It’s easy to feel superior. Afterall, they’re all dead! Ha! Take that grandpa!
The thing is, while we’re constantly improving technology and stuff like that, human nature remains the same. People are going to be dicks no matter if they have a club or a rifle or a laser gun. Feeling superior is really just an excuse to avoid self examination of oneself. What common myths of our own times aren’t true? What are the glaring moral oversights that happen in our day in age? What stupid beliefs are common, and what fallacies can we avoid?
But seriously don’t give your baby herion:
*actually more complex than you think. Trying to figure out gravity from scratch is a pretty mind bending proposition. Radio Lab did an excellent piece on this
I like hyper realist art, even though I don’t think I could ever do it myself. Looking at it, I’ve always felt it looked “more real than reality”. I think I’ve figured out why that is.
Firstly, I felt that maybe it was breaking down complex images to a point where we could see them better. Sort of like a very subtle impressionism.
This may be true but I realized the real issue is focus.
I like producing macro-photography because I have an interest in getting up close to things.
Check this out:
See how the edges are blurry? That’s because of the limited depth of field that cameras have. Your eyes have this too, but you don’t notice it because your brain has the highest focus of retinas on the center of your vision, the part where your focus is.
That was the closest I could get to the subject without it blurring out. There’s a limit to how close your vision can focus. Try sticking your finger up to your eye, and you’ll see what I mean.
I’m actually nearsighted slightly so I can see detail a little closer than most people. I sacrifice long distance vision for that.
However if you want to get a closer view of a subject you can use special macro lenses. They can focus much closer to the subject.
See how close it gets?
It takes a special lens to focus that close. Your eye alone can’t do that.
The effect of having such a close field of focus is that the depth of that field is much smaller. You’ll notice that a mere space of millimeters is in focus and the rest blurs.
So if you look at Hyper-realist work, you’ll notice 2 things.
This is a painting by one of my favorite hyper realist, Steve Mills
1) Everything is in focus (some of the background gets fuzzy but most of the subjects are in crystal clear focus)
2) Sharp focus on close up objects
In this way, hyperrealism is able to be “more real than reality” because the artist can capture all subjects in focus and at close range. This is one o the strengths of painting over photography, is how it doesn’t have to worry about things like depth of field etc.
A hyper realist painting mimics the way you perceive reality, in that, in your cognition of your surrounds, everything you focus on is in focus.
And it allows you to perceive and object on a far more detailed and intimate level than you would be able to otherwise due to the limitations of the human eye. Hyperrealism in effect allows you to see the world more than you physical are capable of, and in a more natural way than macro photography.
Art comes from a french word that means “skilled work, craftmenship”.
Artist used to be artisans. Artists were like carpenters. They had a craft and they did it. This last century has seen a lot of changes in art. The main thing people have become confused on is the “definition” of art. What is art?
There’s a common misattribution here. Many artists will finangle over definitions of art. Whether or not one piece or another is art. Often times their definitions are hard to articulate because they want to exclude “such and such” piece from the category by definition.
I think this is incorrect thinking. It begins with the assumption that “All Art is Good”. The idea that if something is “art” it must be good, right? Or maybe it’s just simpler to not play categorical games. It’s art. It’s just shitty art.
And this makes sense if you think past all the art-school rhetoric. We don’t say something isn’t “plumbing” just because the plumber broke your pipes. It’s still plumbing. It’s just not very good plumbing.
I think the vast majority of circular silly arguments that go on in art circles is due to this misattribution. Lets just call a spade a spade.
What about the kind of post-modern wankery that goes on? Found objects don’t take skill, right? Sticking a urinal or unmade bed isn’t skillful right? Take DJs. They aren’t “musicians” in the classical sense. They don’t write the music. They take bits and bobs from all over the place and mix it together. The first DJs were really just guys who switched between songs and it evolved into something much more complex.
So where do you draw the line between the guy who curates the songs and the guy who creates new songs? DJing is musical found object. That’s a very grey field and a single artist can go in between it. The line between artist and consumer used to be very sharp because artists were primarily craftsmen, like carpenters. With people like Duchamp, artists weren’t about craft, they became about ideas. It’s not skill in handiwork but in conceptual communication.
This isn’t a endorsement of Duchamp, but I recognize that things like the modern design movement has it’s roots in this shift. I think the message he has to convey is inane. As you say people play a lot of philosophical games.
So how about a simpler definition. Art is simply “A visual communication of emotion or idea through a skill”. Duchamp uses intellectual skill to communicate an idea. Van Gogh uses skill with color to convey and emotion. Whether or not it’s good art will depend on the skill of communication and the worth of the idea.
As for Tracey, the ideas are worthless. There is low skill there. Puttering around about the definition is futile though. Either way we can just call it “shit”.
Because of the advances in machines fabrication, things that used to be considered priceless now look “cheap”. If you buy a diamond, the convention is to get flawed ones, because flawless ones can now be man made. Go about 100 years and people would have been falling over themselves for a perfect diamond.
Or take Damien Hirsch’s skull. It’s supposed to be a comment on power and money… or something? Maybe it’s just Hirsch being prick, but the point is if you look at it … it looks really gaudy. It looks cheap. It’s like those “blinged out” iPhone covers you see in the mall.
Anything with too much gold or jewels looks like costume jewelry. Other things now are valued for different (but equally inane) reasons. Dre headphones cost quite a bit, and people buy them for their name. Not for their sound quality (I assure you). The metrics for determining value change but it’s basically the same system. What a weird world we live in.
Want to know something weird about video games as an art form? They’re all backwards from the rest of art. What I mean is that while painting, sculpture, film, and books have progressed from realism to abstraction (Leonardo Da Vinci ——> Picasso), video games have progressed from abstraction to realism (Pong ——> Gears of War).
Lets look at one of the first video games.
That’s Space War, one of the first games made. Way back in 1961 when a bunch of dudes at MIT were fiddling around with computers that were meant for entirely different things. Kind of like how middle schoolers like to spell OBOE and BOOBS with their calculators.
That stuff is really sparse. It had to be. There’s limited resources and coding even that rudimentary game was a real pain.
Let me compare this minimalism to painting.
Here we have a painting by Mondrian (1921)
And here we have a game of Pac-Man (1980)
Okay so maybe De Kooning or Jackson Pollock aren’t drawing animated fruit and hungry ghosts. There’s a connection in abstraction though. By necessity video games were when they first began, abstract. Not only in a visual sense but in their narrative sense. The atari game “Adventure” has you playing a colored dot, moving around colored shapes, to hit or avoid other colored dots. Pointing out the weirdness of a plumber fighting turtles to save fungus or yellow mouths eating spirits goes without saying.
Abstraction to Realism:
This seems pretty opposite of how the rest of art has gone. Compare here a Wilhelm Achenbach (1850) painting:
and a Skryim (2011) screenshot:
Look at film. 1941 Citizen Kane takes great pains to create the illusion of reality while newer works like Tree of Life deliberately subvert that. Classical music attempts to create a rational structure for music while Noise Rock attempt to subvert the very concept of music. The relationship here has too large extent been pretty hostile too. If you don’t know much about art, then I’ll just let you know that modern abstract expressionist tend to take a very poor view of realism, while on the other hand realism tends to call all the abstract fellows as snobs.
The Real Point:
I must make a confession. This narrative I’ve been weaving is exactly that. A narrative. A story. A lie.
There are true aspects to what I’ve been saying here and the parallels I draw aren’t entirely void. But it’s an over-simplified story. There has always been abstract art alongside realistic art. The history of art doesn’t have a nice easy 3-act structure. While often times that’s the way it’s portrayed, art has gone up and down depending on the needs of the culture. Here’s a very good example:
Zelda. The Legend of Zelda like all other games of it’s time progresses from abstraction to realism as technological boundaries are pushed. And yet… and yet it can draw parallels to a much different kind of art than Picasso or Rembrant.
Check this out:
Medieval and iconographic art is interesting. They don’t really try to be realistic, at least not in the Renaissance tradition of perspective and proportion.
See how the figures sizes don’t change depending on how far away from the foreground? There is some limited difference for things in the far flung background like the castle but the figures in this picture are rendered on a non-realist perspective.
This was an important tool of iconographic art which was more a symbolic art form than a literal pictorial representation.
See how the abbot is bigger than all the little guys? That’s because he’s the HEAD GUY not because he reigns over a monastery of devout dwarfs. (though that would be cool)
So lets look at Zelda. If I asked you what perspective the original games were from, what would you say?
Overhead view right? Or maybe “top down”?
Woah! What the hell is going on here? Nothing is in perspective, see?
Ganon and Link are from some kind of 2/3rd view, the floor seems to be seen from straight above, while all three of the walls are themselves being viewed as if slightly from their opposing side. And if you look at the bushes outside they’re from straight above too while the rocks are only slightly tilted
Zelda’s perspective wasn’t some clever reference to medieval art. It was an demand of function. They were trying to make as much of the game visible for the player. Cubist work flouts expectations trying to go against the realist tradition. Medieval perspective however is primarily a demand of function. The need to show figures clearly and establish their hierarchy of importance. You could say in more ways than one that Link really is an Icon.
Non-realist perspective and rendering isn’t only limited to postmodern paintings. In fact a large proportion of art falls in this tradition.
So what’s my point here? Maybe nothing at all, except a couple observations about the history art in video games and the options that are still wide open for exploration. Games don’t have to shoot for realism to make engaging immersive experiences. This is becoming more obvious as we begin to hit the peak of technology with diminishing returns.
I’m a fan of realism. I’m a fan of abstraction. Perhaps though what I love the most is the kind of sincere and magical art of medieval tapestry and the Zelda games. Where it isn’t a painting about painting about painting, or art about art, but instead just a story. Monks in the field, or a boy with a sword, those pictures which hover between worlds are the most inviting. Between the Real and the Unreal.
It’s the anniversary of the day that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon. I wan to talk about what I remember from that day.
I’m outside Kennedy Airforce Base and I’m five years old. I saw the rockets take off, and it was as bright as the sun, as if it had fallen off the sky onto the ground. I’ve always wanted to be an astronaut.
I’m in my house in front of the TV and the President is on and I’m five years old. He is talking to the whole nation, the whole world and everyone is stiff in rigid in shock and sadness. My parents don’t say a word.
Everyone wants to be an astronaut. It’s pretty much the best job. If you are an astronaut, you’re an epic hero. It’s the best of brain and brawn. You have to be as smart as any scientist, and as physically fit as any sport star. You’re invincible. You’re a real American hero.
Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong went up to the moon today. The President is on the screen talking about it. This is the first TV we have owned. It’s was on half price, and Dad got it for today. He got it to watch the moon landing. It’s just a black and white model and it makes an audio fuzz that only I can hear because I am up close. The President is talking about what is happening to Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.
They won’t be able to make it off the moon. I don’t know why. I was only five. I do know they won’t make it off the moon. They are up there, still in radio contact with NASA but they won’t be coming back down.
The widows-to-be are sitting up on the stage behind the President. Mrs. Aldrin, and Mrs. Armstrong. They look very nice, and they aren’t crying. I think they have probably been crying, because their eyes are red. Buzz and Neil won’t be coming back down to them.
After the President finishes and a clergyman commends their souls to the “deepest of the deeps” the screen goes blank to the station test image. My parents sit there in the cathode grey glow and finally my dad gets up and snaps the knob to the off position. My mom looks at me and give me a hug and asks me if I want to talk but I don’t, because I am five and I mostly want to know why the Lone Ranger reruns aren’t playing tonight. She seems like she wants to talk, but I can’t help her.
We did eventually go to the moon, but it wasn’t for a couple of years. Every time I look up at the moon at night I think of a gravestone. I wonder if, from here, with a big enough telescope I could see the final resting place of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. I sort of know that they probably took the bodies back with them when we finally reached the moon but that doesn’t stop me from thinking of the moon as their last will and testament. It’s a constant companion, every late night when I look out the window and no stars can creep through the light pollution and only the moon is shining.