Art, technology

The artistic endeavor is one thing I’ve been constantly intrigued by. It has proved to be difficult to pin down an exact form to a task like writing; describing the creative process as inspired and spontaneous does not shed any more light. On the contrary, one can quite easily describe utilitarian efforts like engineering – the effort generates a set of functions that others can make use of, and someone pays for that utility, be it a bridge, a fence or a computer program. No wonder parents balk at the idea of their children entering the arts.

I like to think of myself as somewhat enlightened, and for a while been slinging around phrases like life as art as a motto to live life. Upon further examination, I sheepishly admit that the true essence of that phrase escapes me. Even as I stroll around famous art galleries scrutinizing art pieces, famous and less so alike, I could scrape together at best a half answer. Art, at certain angles, appear to be alike to engineering efforts. At the highest levels, artists possess a level and precision of technique that is unparalleled. However, that never guarantees a minimum bar of artistic output – and that’s puzzling.

A few hot summer days ago, I recall my standing in a small but well curated art gallery in Portland admiring a set of beautiful renditions of off the road scenes meticulously captured on small postcard sized ceramic coated card stock. The artist was there to speak about her process. I gained a deep appreciation to the process she had to go through to create them. There was a structure: motivation, theme, applications of techniques accumulated over the years that came out of traditional study and experimentation. On top of that structure there seems to be something very organic about the process, almost whimsical perhaps. Her pieces lend themselves well to being judged on the precision of execution, but that seems to miss the point. What is art? I shake my fists metaphorically at the metaphorical deity as I left the premises.

I am fond of pounding on keys, be it for code or prose. Previously a little bit more of the former, lately a little bit more of the latter. For me, writing is a process of serializing (in the computer science sense of the word) emotions and thoughts into words. In general, writing – and by extension the reading of writing – has to take on this form by the natural restrictions imposed by the medium and the nature of language. Thoughts however ebbs and flows like waves on a beautiful morning surf. The crests and the troughs come in unpredictable but rhythmic pulses, and beneath the surface, a bevy of undercurrents move in various different directions. The serialization of these sensations require a clever manipulation of sequence and events, which requires technique. On top of that, the writer (or artist) gets to mold, sculpt, play these lines using the unique expressiveness of each language, the visual structure, tonal quality, rhymes, puns and so on. It’s almost a prove that almost everything is language, lines, notes and words, and vice versa. But this does not get me any closer to what it means to make art, and why we do it.

I write because the very act of writing drains the emotions out of my body as I lay them on (the metaphorical) paper. This gives me the space to refill myself with energy, and soldier on in this act of life.

My fondness for various endeavors in the arts continue to go on the sidelines as I indulge my (misplaced) feeling of superiority of being able to master certain aspects of technology. My love for novels gradually paved way to a library consisting of only non fiction books. Knowledge above all. Science, science, science, I chanted. My uneasiness only grows more restless.

There are moments in life where a well placed quotation connects two dots. An article in Fast Company that I chanced upon opportunistically provided that a-ha moment. Tony Fadell, then VP of iPod remarked in an interview “Design at Apple was product, product, product until about 2001. Then Apple’s design became experiential.”

I could only cynically smirk at product, product, product as I know it too well. The second part of the sentence though contains the key concept. Steve Jobs is always keen on saying that he stands on the crossroad of technology and humanities. So how did his return to Apple changed the culture there? Then it clicked for me. Experiential, experience, Experience. Art is about experiences.

I felt time rewind around me, where scenes of past flew by as quickly as they came. Art works that I’ve seen made a brief stop before vanishing, and almost instinctively I noted down the experience and the emotions that it induced in me. Almost too quickly, and not before long, the hallucinations flew by and I was left with myself staring at a blinking computer screen.

I gently pinched the word between my fingers, almost as if testing the resilience of the concept. The value of art seems to be its ability to induce an experience in its audiences. While art draws largely from the self, it is ultimately an act that is as successful as the amount of people it is able to affect. It is like an invisible thread weaving through the human social fabric linking one person to another to the next.

Art distributes emotions and feelings; it invokes a set of feelings that resonates between each one of us. This explains how artists like musicians are able to produce songs that shape the trajectory and direction of cultural discourse in society. Because it summons a hidden shared emotion that explodes outwards like a burst of fireworks.

Which is how some products and services can have experiences which induces heightened senses from it’s consumers. It is a combination of all the senses that it simulates on the user/audience that elevates it from being a mere function to attracting legions of dedicated fans. A product gains a point of view, almost humanized, and crosses the threshold to connect people to a common, superior plane of experience. This is what we all labor for.

And so I took this very realization I had on my palms, folded it neatly and placed it into my heart sleeve. It gave me a compass to soldier on, navigating this vast unexplored landscape where technology meets art.