I’ll preface by saying I’m not absolved of any of my own critique. I definitely have and still do write lots of artsy and hyper-embellished experiential bullshit when it comes to explaining what we do. One of the main goals of my writing in general is to un-embellish what we do. So here we go.
I’m calling full bullshit on 90% of explanations and write ups about interactive media, real-time media, generative media, and experiential media.
I’ve created what I think is a fair and decent analogy as to why, but first, let’s look at some examples of problems.
WTF does this mean?
Here’s a few quick links I had read earlier today, no offence to anyone, the actual products themselves are great and quite interesting, but we need to talk about presentation.
- This link is like 1 million billion words about a website that loads a set of 10 tracks from ~260 tracks pre-made tracks, time and location play a factor in selection, and it’s got a new fangled database to not repeat sets.
- This link: I honestly just stopped even bothering to read this one once it cranked from 0 to 100% in like 2 sentences.
- This link: the portfolio section is literally one nonsensical one-liner after another, written by yours truly (told you, I’m not absolved).
Ok so there’s some flowery and embellished language examples, but what’s the big deal? Why do I care? Can’t we just say whatever we want and really get into it and be deep?
Let’s not be fine artists
So this may be a stretch but I find it very applicable. “New media artists” (including all the types of media I listed previously) need to be more like musicians and less like fine artists. No disrespect to fine artists, keep doing what you’re doing, but music is something that most people on the planet are:
- Involved with in some way
- Can appreciate to a certain level
- Continuously have supported for decades
Fine arts have generally been a niche in comparison. You can’t argue that. There’s no Spotify for fine art, and people don’t exactly sell out stadiums regularly for fine art exhibitions.
So do we want to be a field/activity/area of interest that most of the planet can participate in, or do we want to be a niche activity? There’s certainly money and career opportunities in fine arts. Paintings by masters sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, lesser works can definitely pay a months rent. So it’s not like one decision is better than the other, but I strongly believe we should aim down the path of mass adoption.
This is why how we talk about our work is very important. We’re making a conscious decision whether what we say is accessible or not. When we say things that are multi-adjective flare terms that one-up what you read someone else call their work last week, that may be great for our egos and maybe impress some high-end agency/clients, but we’re locking out regular people. I’ve written about the importance of accessibility of our work to the masses for it’s longevity. I think it applies doubly here.
People can’t relate to “Real-time Interactive Water Projection” or “Gamefied Mobile-Driven Experience” (culprit: myself) but people can relate to “heavy rock song but with some cool funky bass and some influence from jazz” and “nice R&B tune with some rock elements”. I don’t think we should just completely destroy a rich vocabulary that we are cultivating, but I think the works should speak for themselves. I mean the “rock” genre has tons of bands that are very different from each other, and yes there are hilarious sub-genres, but people aren’t afraid to just use the simpler of the explanations for the benefit of accessibility.
We’re a rock band. We’re ok with that.
I believe most people can make great stuff if we give them the tools, understanding, and a chance to experiment and do so. That’s why music is popular and will remain popular. Some reasons include:
- There’s an infinite number of ways to learn guitar or piano (many for free)
- The barrier to entry is extremely affordable because of the economies of scale
- It’s culturally acceptable for people to be shitty at it
This doesn’t make rock bands any less exciting to see live or people any less excited for Kanye or Frank Ocean’s new albums. The opposite actually. When popular bands play live people get into the music much more because they can relate their experiences with what they see and they can understand what’s going on. They get it. It’s that simple. Our works can be the same, but they won’t be if we continue down our current path.
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What do we do?
I think we need to stop the ego battles and arms races and just be real for a moment with ourselves and commit to being more open, transparent, and accessible. Here’s a list of things I myself will commit to doing more of from now on:
- Explain projects with a simpler vocabulary that people will actually understand
- Write tutorials with less bullshit
- Do not one-up other people’s descriptions of work and engage in verbal arms race
- Not go onto philosophical tangents when explaining a work (it’s happened)