Paradigm Shift: Art versus Computers and Software

I published my first book last week, after putting in four months of work and lots of chronic overthinking. It’s version one. Full disclosure: it may never be done, it might be phased out over the next five years. I am okay with both of those possible outcomes.

I can’t claim I would have been okay with that years ago. I am still adjusting to it now.

Coming from an art background, it was hard to let go last Tuesday, admit I was at a stopping place. ‘Was it perfect enough, or pretty darn close? I suspect old school (20th century and prior) artists, writers, creators all struggle with letting their work out into the big, bad world. Each one wants to be original. Each one wants to have thought of everything. Each one fears getting dismissed as sloppy, or reeking “amateur”. The presumption is, when you’ve stopped work, it’s finished, right?It’s ready for release into the marketplace. With artwork, literature, sculpture–if you bought a piece, the original artist doesn’t come to your house and enhance their artwork’s features every three to six months after that. You might pay to have a piece repaired or restored by a professional, but that’s to bring back lost quality, not add features or functionality. To boot, restoration is a one-time visit, not a recurring one.

But then there’s the world of computers, video games and software. Each one really changed how we operate and think about everything that came before, including art, books, and film.

In computer software and hardware, the work is created and recreated. It’s always in progress until it’s ended entirely. Its business operates on a “let’s set goals, meet those goals, reach milestones, release product version, await feedback about bugs and requested changes, use those to set new goals, then repeat process” path. Buyers are expected to provide feedback, not just buy and go away happy.

This presented me with a paradigm shift, and a lot of food for thought when producing my first e-book:

• Why print something on paper when restaurants change hours, websites, menus, etc. all the time?

• Why not make it easier to access a restaurant’s website by linking to it so a potential diner can scope out the place for his or herself?

• Why not have a collective grid of what days the restaurants are open so people don’t drive miles to find out a restaurant (they wanted to try) was not open that day? or that time of day?

• Why not, if a critical mass of changes does arise, create a new version and upload it to the internet in a matter of hours, and notify users of the update?

• Why not use twitter, email and a blog to accept comments and commentary, which can be channeled into the next version? And the next version can be announced on those same platforms so users know you, the author, are listening?

This is a really different way of thinking about creating books, art, music–basically any creative material, than the one I had growing up. Yes, as a student, my peers and teacher would critique my work, but that was different. Once the assignment was due, the collaboration was over.

This book would not, and could not, have happened without my husband. It would be impossible to list all the things, technological and otherwise, I still would not know a darn thing about if it we hadn’t met in 2003, become friends, and then much more. If only I could return the favor. [If you are reading this, I love you with all my heart. Thanks sweetie.]

FOOTNOTE: I looked up the word ‘upgrade’ because I was curious how old it was. According to Dictionary.com‘s listing, that word dates back to the 1870s. Prior to computers, though, it referred to moving up a hill or incline, and being promoted in the military or another organization.

A Choice of Weapons

“Nothing came easy. I was just born with a need to explore every tool shop of my mind, and with long searching and hard work. I became devoted to my restlessness.”—Gordon Parks 

We were re-watching the late Gordon Parks‘ documentary, Half Past Autumn last night. And among the many books Parks wrote in his life is 1967’s A Choice Of Weapons.

I feel compelled to read it, and furthermore, be an activist for art education.  There’s something that happened a few years ago that still sticks with me…

I was volunteering for my company, reading to 2 boys, or they were practicing reading to me.  The kids were about 7-8 years old and class troublemakers. Basically I was there to read with these kids so they could practice their reading, and so class could go on schedule without interruption. One day, unbeknownst to me, a local art therapist (AT) came to the school. Had I known I would have rescheduled. Anyway, the AT invited the kids to a room of large tables, about six chairs each, with pieces of paper, pencils, and crayons. She had a boombox playing soft, tranquil music in the background. She asked the kids to draw whatever they felt like.

I like to draw, I can draw, but I wasn’t going to show off in front of children. I slowly and carelessly doodled a penguin mom and baby in a cartoony way.

When I looked up, the kids at our table were not drawing–instead, they were watching me. Some handed me cash to do theirs. I didn’t accept any cash, and didn’t do any kids work for them. I was completely appalled at this experience. I still am years later.  

I knew this was an underprivileged K-4 school when I volunteered, and the emphasis was on literacy more than anything else. But I was and still am angered that these kids probably hadn’t had anything like an art class since coloring in daycare or kindergarten; why else would they be stumped and just want to get it over with? Why would 7-8 year olds not be thrilled to “play on paper’, and draw from their imaginations? I know they had it in them, all children do.

If the minimum investment is made in American children, how do they know their value and potential, and share that value and potential with the world? As American children, they deserve so much better than what they are getting. 

  • It scares me when kids (who aren’t even teenagers yet) are just doing what they have to do to pass the test or fulfill a task.
  • It scares me that we expect talent to be displayed early on in many activities, or a kid just shouldn’t bother with it at all. A talent, even if someone possesses it, must be practiced regularly to increase skill and mastery. By encouraging quitting instead, all we teach a kid is give up when things are difficult, and keep looking. And life promises much more difficult than easy. Quitting everything means achieving nothing.
  • It scares me when I encounter kids don’t have art, music, theater, or PE in their school. If they didn’t have it, they won’t demand it for their kids, and they won’t care about arts in their community, or on a national level. 

 So A Choice of Weapons is on my list.I have a feeling its themes are as timely as they were in 1967.