Posts Tagged ‘internet’

The Simple Truth?

May 4, 2020

 

TRUTH-ELLIPSE-FLAT.jpgIn mainstream and social media, truth is frequently distorted or labeled ‘fake news’ and propagated by those with shadowy ulterior political and/or financial motives who view our well-being as an inconvenient roadblock to those motives. In 1994, I wrote this little story for my ‘Visual Fiction’ column in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that now seems naive, yet strangely relevant…

Everything Midas Moodle touched turned to gold.

Well, not literally; that’s just what the financial media gleefully trumpeted since the software entrepreneur was the most successful man in Wall Street history. Everyone wanted to be his friend and though he was nothing to look at, he suffered no lack of beautiful women. When he wasn’t attending board meetings or scanning spreadsheets, Midas indulged in fits of arcane software coding, ‘just for fun’ he told himself. Of course, he knew these electronic forays always became mega money-makers. Yet the King of CrabApple Computers was profoundly unhappy.

One day, in his office, as he scuffled despondently down the information highway, he heard something crunch beneath his mousepad. Cautiously lifting its corner, he discovered a half-eaten fortune cookie, its fortune still intact. Brushing away the crumbs, he read the simple words that would change his life forever: “Seek The Truth.”  

“Hmmph.” he muttered, then sat back and munched the cookie for a moment. Moodily, he reflected that as his empire had grown, the truth had quietly disappeared from his life. Midas had long ceased to worry about it as lies and unkept promises became the coin of his realm. Would my legendary ‘golden touch’ have survived otherwise?” he wondered. Impulsively, he decided to find out. Pouncing on the escape key, he veered off the internet and headed home.

Creeping impatiently through rush-hour traffic, Midas made up his mind to follow the cookie’s advice. Speeding up the labyrinthine driveway to his palatial estate, he headed for his home office where he sealed the slip of paper into a plastic amulet which he placed around his neck. He packed a small valise, then arranged to distribute his worldly goods to worthy causes. Finally, without a backward glance, he set out to scour the four corners of the earth, leaving no city, town or village unturned in his search of the ‘truth’.

Then, in the seventh month of the seventh year since he’d left home, he heard about a cave in a distant mountain where a strange old woman and her companion had lived for longer than anyone  could remember.

Laboring up the mountain towards a grassy plateau, Midas was unprepared for the chilling sight of a ghost-like figure that seemed to float towards him enveloped in an odd but compelling fragrance. Involuntarily, he shivered, then gazed curiously up at a tall, gaunt woman in a shabby grey tunic beneath a colorful, intricately patterned shawl. Bright azure eyes shone from a wizened face scored by a thousand wrinkles and framed by long, wispy white hair. The entrepreneur listened awestruck as her nearly toothless mouth parted to release a clear musical voice that welcomed him to her humble home.

Because Midas Moodle hadn’t a clue as to whether ‘truth’ was something tangible or merely an idea, he introduced himself and humbly stated the purpose of his quest. The strange old woman glanced shrewdly at his fortune cookie amulet with an inward smile and settled delicately onto a throne-like rock.

“Mr. Moodle, I am Truth”, she began. You simply didn’t recognize me because I left you years ago. You had no need of me as I appeared, naked as Eve in Eden without her fig leaf. At first, my plainspoken manner frightened and annoyed you. Later, as your lies grew more fanciful, I tried to embarrass and scandalize you but to no avail. You pretended that I didn’t exist, condemning me to a lonely eternal life. Midas cringed with guilt.

“Then one day,” she went on, “as I wandered sadly down an alley, I was nearly knocked over by an elegantly dressed fellow whose name turned out to be Parable. He apologized profusely. Then, noticing my wrinkled birthday suit and miserable slouch, he abruptly frowned, “Is there something I can do for you?” he asked solicitously. Sunk in self-pity, I wiped away a tear and moaned, “Oh, I’ve become so old and grungy that no one wants anything to do with me!”

“No kidding,” he sniffed delicately. “Forgive me for saying so, but your breath smells rather like a sewer, too. Anyway, listen; no one cares if you’re old! Look at me,” he preened. “I’m just as old as you are. Why, the older I get, the more attractive and interesting I become! Want to know my secret?”

I nodded half-heartedly.

“Well,” said Parable, “I’ve found that people just can’t handle a naked, truthful idea, but they’ll always entertain one that’s dressed up and smells good!” “Here, I have something for you.” From a deep pocket in his fine velvet cape, he drew out a packet that held a beautiful shawl and an atomizer of Eau de Mystique. “Here you go,” he patted my bony shoulder and turned around so I could try on his gifts. “Ah, that’s much better!” he smiled approvingly.  He then offered me his company and ever since, Parable and I now travel everywhere together! You see,” she continued, “When a truth cannot be told or accepted, we work our magic to make it easier to tell and a bit less painful to accept.”

“Will I ever see you again?” Midas asked hopefully. Truth laughed a lovely musical trill. She had divined that the entrepreneur, having lived without her for so long, wasn’t really sure he wanted her back. “That all depends on you,”  she answered. “We travel as a team, so you can summon us whenever you wish! By the way,” she added, “Don’t worry about your ‘golden touch’. When you employ our services, it will probably glow brighter than ever!” Sighing with relief, Midas admitted, “I’m so tired of living my life in virtual reality; lying and making promises I can’t keep!” “I know,” Truth nodded gently. Then she turned and chirped sweetly at the cave entrance.

An ancient man in an Elizabethan doublet and a russet velvet cape emerged. His deep green eyes and smile were those of a wise child as he quizzically regarded his companion and their visitor. With obvious affection, Truth introduced Parable and explained the nature of Midas’ quest. Parable tilted his head sympathetically and offered a taste of his own wisdom…

“Once you believed that lies were the only coin of your realm,” Parable said, “but you’ve forgotten that your coin really has two sides; truth and lies. Each side can be useful if the coin is flipped with good intentions! The choice was always yours to make!” “But,” he winked, “from now on, when you must tell a lie, remember that it will only be convincing if you mix in a little truth with it!”

Midas stood quietly for a long moment. Then, with a dawning sense of déjà vu, he understood that truth and lies had always been folded inside of him, rather like the fortune in the cookie.

At last, Truth and Parable said to their guest, ” Well, Mr. Moodle,  have we been of help in your quest?”

“Oh, yes!” Midas enthused, feeling reborn. He cordially thanked his hosts and promised to engage their services regularly. As he prepared for the long journey home, a worried expression creased the entrepreneur’s high forehead. He turned to Truth and Parable. ” I was a very wealthy man once,” he said, but thanks to you both,  I’ll be rich again soon enough. Is there anything I can do for you in return?”

Truth pursed her thin lips thoughtfully, shaking her head. But Parable, whose face crinkled mischievously, leaned over to whisper something in his companion’s ear.

Finally, her eyes glittering, the old woman answered, “Oh, okay. You can do just one thing for us. When you speak of us to your friends, tell them that we are as young and beautiful as a god and goddess!”

 

 

State Of The Art-s-s-s: When Is ‘Perfect’ The Enemy Of Good Enough’?

July 1, 2018

 

This week, I attended a Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators business meeting on the techniques of digital illustration.The presenters were several of my fellow illustrators, each specializing in a different area of our industry; editorial, technical, and medical illustration. I couldn’t help but be impressed with their talent, tech savvy and sense of adventure as they demonstrated many of the new digital devices and techniques available to us illustrators. Still, the evening had awakened the old beast of doubt in me, turning up the volume on many issues, even considering my long freelance illustration career. 

I’ve been working ‘tra-digitally’ (a blend of traditional drawing/painting with digital enhancement) for a number of years but came to this approach slowly as I grew more familiar with design software and accepted its promise of production efficiency. What I couldn’t anticipate was the seductiveness of a process that, like coffee, has since become a daily necessity for me as I produce assignment work for clients and publish my own books.

In fact, my use of digital techniques seems to be overriding my love for the unpredictable results and sensual feel of pen, pencil and/or watercolor on paper. Moreover, for better or worse, it has changed the way I think about and ultimately set down an image before declaring it finished.

Though I’ve become accustomed to exercising the endless options of digital ‘tweak-ability’, I now understand that these very options have caused a breach in my self-confidence when I must revert to drawing an image on paper for purposes other than print reproduction such as commissioned portrait.

Where once I was easily satisfied by the look and feel of my early creative efforts, I now automatically examine my work for ‘irregularities or imperfections’ that can be ‘fixed’ with Photoshop instead of appreciating those expressions for what they are; manifestations of my imperfect human creativity. With that thought, the question in the title of this essay, (‘when is ‘perfect’ the enemy of good enough’?) comes into play. Because it is becoming increasingly difficult to decide when an image is finished, the simple answer is ‘always’.  

I’ve often wondered whether working this way causes me to overthink my work, questioning its ‘rightness’ even as I embellish it with seemingly relevant images and stylistic details to the point where its core story or idea is obscured.

At such times, when I become obsessed with locating just the ‘right’ reference image or am impatient with the complexity of creating or digitally editing an illustration for print, those who have known me and my work for many years often remind me that I actually seemed more efficient when I produced my art traditionally from my imagination without the aid of digital software. They are probably right.  

With assignment work, I must consider my client’s requests concerning an illustration’s political and/or social ramifications. This often leads to extensive editing or discarding the image altogether. If I choose to retain the image, it sometimes has to be stripped down to its simplest form to satisfy the requirements of the assignment. This always precludes it from revealing the marks of my thinking/working process. Additionally, I am required to design and size my images so they may be set within a pre-determined space.

Certainly I’ve had to adapt to the tenets of graphic design which embraces the elegant expression of visual splash or memes as powerful as a Twitter ‘tweet’ for instant consumption as opposed to the detailed storytelling subtleties expected of traditional illustration. Is this a good thing? I’m not entirely sure. Yes, it forces the eye and mind to focus on the ‘message’ but perhaps something of its original concept’s character and intent has been lost in translation. 

I have to admit that I do enjoy a major benefit of digitally preparing my illustrations; it grants me more control over my finished printed product as opposed to the old mechanical methods where I had to depend on others for my desired outcome.

Although the new products are now able to simulate every known drawing and painting technique and have enabled me to become a ‘one-stop design shop, I still have questions. If I go totally digital with my art, will I be able to shed my prejudice against creating images on a glass surface that is less sensually direct than paper or canvas? And, should it matter anymore whether I no longer have a frame-able, completely ‘original’ work of art as ‘evidence’ of my efforts? 

One presenter at the meeting proudly proclaimed that he’d fully embraced digital illustration and had ‘gotten over’ his need for original tangible art products. Having appreciated the beauty and intense craftsmanship of his original works, I could, from a pragmatic standpoint, understand why he might have felt that way.

Corporate art collections have diminished over the last few decades while museums and most galleries rarely offer highly promoted exhibits to lesser known artists, preferring to host more profitable exhibits by either box office name artists or long-dead old masters.

In addition, many galleries have upped sales commissions to sometimes more than 50%. The internet has also become a formidable rival to brick and mortar exhibit spaces. It offers an enormous marketplace with affordable entry fees that is overwhelmingly democratic for all creators. So we don’t really depend on exposure through museums and galleries anymore for our livelihood. For this reason, I don’t even carry around a weighty portfolio when I can post my work to potential clients and collectors on social media.

Historically, the disciplines of illustration and graphic design have worked together for both print and digital media. Now, I suspect that the internet (beneficial to our business as it is) is also a great disrupter. With its endless cacophony of sensational news, information, music and images it has of necessity rendered graphic design the dominant force over illustration in order to accommodate our tragically dwindling attention span and capacity for remembering things. 

From this perspective, I suppose I should be discouraged from pursuing my craft in the manner I’ve been trained to do; creating illustrations that intrigue the eye and mind on multiple levels with traditional materials. Of course I can still make intricate images with digital assist but they will appear obscure beside the flashy visual memes that are our current brain candy.

It’s been said that great art reflects the era in which it was made, yet the artist in me refuses to cave. My illustrations and drawings will inevitably emerge as they must because of the question that nips at my conscience; will today’s visual flash preserve and continue to tell future generations the myriad complex stories of who and what we once were or will they require an entire field of scholarship to create a new Rosetta Stone?