Sunday, July 27, 2014

Comic Assimilation

Everything's a comic book now. Great, sequential art, hurrah. Comics engage the brain less than reading, which is why they're increasingly popular. They're not as bad as TV, at least.

We have this broken sense that imagination occurs without imagination--that better and better forms of artistic expression will be more and more realistic and representative. Pictures trumped storytelling, moving pictures trumped pictures, movies with sound beat quiet ones, and virtual reality will trump those. Bigger explosions, more closely-detailed scrotal curls, and all that. Even more immersive will be virtual reality where you can pre-select an option to not realize, during the experience, that it's virtual reality, so that you're totally into it, man. And then you'll get out, and it'll be, like, "Woah, so you're the Vince Goldberg? You made that? Oh, man, that was awesome!"

Considering how well brain function shuts down to the TV, will VR show a corresponding drop? No, not really; in fact, it can increase it, but it'll be artificial (and build a dependence that'll have worse long-term effects than TV). What we're missing in representative art is that the magic happens inside the mind. The artist is a medium; the viewer is the artist, and art can only happen when the viewer-artist views what the medium-artist has rendered, and it sparks the viewer-artist's brain to create its own version of what is rendered. That moment, where someone reads, "The elephant was purple, knotty of trunk and weary of eye," and gets some kind of image of the purple elephant--that is the creation; the art. That is the closest way we have of sharing in the wonders of that elephant. The spark happens when the viewer's imagination is engaged, rather than merely the viewer's faculties for directly duplicating--for mere remembering; reproducing--in her or his head, what s/he has already seen.

The better artist, the true artist, causes the viewer to create via viewer's imagination. It is an inclusive, mutual, infinite act. The artist is a teacher and a guide; a flash of a Degas prompts a more intelligent, involved response than careful study of master realism. Even if that ballerina actually existed, rendering her realistically would bar the viewer-artist from knowing her as well as the one who takes the final step beyond an impressioned suggestion. Reproduction, by contrast, is exclusive, singular, and fixed. The photographer has made an argument; the tampon in a teacup is a statement. The viewer applauds; responds; argues; but, the work has already been done. It is a tombstone, inviting you to speculate how that impression got there, but not to complete it yourself.

Better art is superior communication, using but transcending the five senses, and going directly to the source of mind. As "hands off" as possible makes the finest connection. We have to speak or write something down, yes, since we're not particularly telepathic, but while you can exclusively touch braille, see printing, or hear words, getting the full experience with the other four senses shut off, progressively more complicated stages of conveying information result in a processing effect akin to the difference between eating a frozen dinner v. food prepared five minutes ago from real ingredients.

We can never divorce ourselves entirely from the distortion of process while we're here; that's not the point. Even if we grow our own organic food, we might still live fifty miles from an industrial zone, and one or two atoms might float their way onto the tomatoes before we make our marinara. There is a staggering difference, though, between what the organic farmer nurtures for that-evening sale at the Manhattan five star to what the indentured servants reap via machines and Roundup for insertion some months later in the slicer at Mickey D's.

Naturally, we want to make it easier to sell our product, so we start doing more of the work for a lazy population of viewers. They're not smart enough to imagine Superman, so we simply draw him, and then they can't even bother with that anymore, so we animate him, dress some guy up to look like him, and eventually, hire a team of programmers to make a complete VR Superman experience. We lose the ability to describe him in a mouthful, a paragraph, or a page. They lose the ability to take that description and turn it, in their own heads, into the real Superman.

And we've achieved less of a connection. Not only are we all dumber, but by doing the work in advance for the viewer, we've taken away their ability to construct the final image in their head. The Superman they picture will no longer be Superman; it'll be some drawing, or actor, that we've used to make up for our inability to describe anything.

Art dies on the assumption that we have the technology to fully render everything we imagine. We don't. The transcendent quality of what we were thinking of when we first imagined a character--the real thing we made that connection to--is not something we can render. The best thing we can do is to describe it. A viewer-artist can then take that description, put it in their own head, and use it as a conduit to try to connect to the real thing of which we heard our own whisper. That's the connection. And without any spiritual bullshit behind it, it's also the step that most stimulates the brain. It makes us more intelligent and discerning, in tiny steps, to do that kind of thing, which is why prose and sequential art and television and immersion worlds are descending levels of art (even if they're also fun and wonderful and valuable in their own ways).

We can try to draw it, and that's great. There are different realms and different reasons why rendering something in another way might be better. But that bears almost no relationship to why comics got popular during the propaganda years of the Great War, and why the ease of avoiding prose holds increasing appeal to the legions of today-people. Doing a comic, or a movie, is like taking pictures of a single stage performance of a story. It can never be the story, no matter how great it is; it's just one take on it. It's showing someone else your own viewer-art instead of granting them the gift of being able to learn about their own, which is why increasingly "realistic" entertainment is the forte of elites. By fixing in place, "This is the way it was there," art becomes an act of base creation, rather than something transcendent or graceful; a defecation which demands admiration for its source, rather than a channeling of something glorious and faraway that can't be directly experienced from here.

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