Part of the suggested reading prior to my first semester at ETC is a book called The Spark: Igniting the Creative Fire That Lives Within Us All, by John U. Bacon. It was a quick read.
The book presents a behind-the-scenes look at Cirque Du Soleil, and the culture they cultivate. It’s presented via the fictional story of a sports agent who takes a sabbatical with Cirque. Mild spoilers ahead (though it’s not a very spoilable book). Continue reading
I follow Roger Ebert’s blog. I don’t just like his reviews (which I find concise, insightful and entertaining) but his perspective on life is refreshingly sensible. He’s got his head squarely on his shoulders, and without being inflexible or unwilling to accept change he is unswayed by the mad fashions of the new and extreme.
In his latest post he reflects on how movie criticism is no longer a viable career. It’s been taken over by bloggers and hobbyists, and has been thus improved. The confidence and humility he expresses is, itself, humbling.
He then offers this career advice: Find out all you can, and see what you can do with it. I love that! Truly the heart of being a lifetime academic. Why did none of my college professors ever introduce me to Ebert’s writing?
So when he says video games are not fine art, I don’t really have a problem with that. The man’s got a lot more experience than me, and for him to say video games are mere entertainments isn’t much of an insult… he’s made a living on lots of entertainments and a little bit of art. What do I think? I think a lot of art goes into games, and that games can be elegant and beautiful and meaningful. I don’t think they’re fine art, and if they were, I’m not sure I’d want to play them (with the exception of certain interactive fiction which feels more like literature than game).
Along with artists that have been my inspiration for a while, I love to discover new inspiring artists. Today I was for the first time introduced to Saul Steinberg (1914-1999) via Scott McCloud’s blog. Steinberg was an artist whose work appeared in the New Yorker for decades. Looking over his work, I feel like he falls somewhere between Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Shel Silverstein (1930-1999), wielding the fine control and minimalism of the former and the wild daring scrawl of the latter to create thoughtful and intelligent images.
Another artist I would love to be like is Scott McCloud (whose home online is at ScottMcCloud.com). He’s probably given more thought to his art than any other artist I’ve encountered; Scott strives to understand and to share his understanding of the comic. He has carefully analyzed the place comics hold within the worlds of art and communication, studying concepts of abstraction, representation, meaning, space, time and language. And like the best minds in software (*cough* Knuth *cough*) he documents the medium from within itself, producing meta-comics that use a visual vocabulary to describe that vocabulary to us. The result is some of the most clear and intentional work you will ever see. Scott exemplifies the idea that comics can be an extremely clear mode of communication, so much so that he was hired to write the documentation for Google Chrome. Go read it. Now.
Scott is also pushing the boundaries of how technology (specifically the internet) can and will change cartoons, comics, and the visual arts. His TED talk is an entertaining look at his work in this area in under 20 minutes. Scott, thanks for blazing trails and then helping the rest of us to follow!
Here’s another sketch tribute to one of my earliest art heroes: Mark Kistler, television drawing teacher! He’s got a site over at Draw3D.com. I still have never seen Mark on TV, but as a young boy I was given the Imagination Station book and tore through its pages, learning important concepts such as foreshortening, perspective, and shading. Just as important, Mark has a way with making everything bigger, better, more more more! He loves to add fantastic details that make his cartoons more cartoony than just about any I have ever seen. He taught me that “Drool is cool!”, that if a three-story castle is good, a thirty-story castle must be even better, and when in doubt, cram as many windows, doors, ladders, waterfalls, banners, propeller hats, people and pencils as possible into your drawing. And shade everything! The clutter may not always be tasteful, but it was the best drawing practice a kid could possibly get. Mark was such a good teacher through his book that in sixth grade I used it to teach a drawing lesson to my class. If you know an aspiring young cartoonist, I can’t recommend any book more than Mark’s.
Mark, you’re one of my art heroes! Thank you!
I thought that while I’m getting back into sketching I should say thank you to some artists that I really admire and would like to imitate. First up is Scott Johnson over at MyExtraLife.com. Scott’s artwork has always struck me as sort of Muppet-ish, and coming from me that’s a compliment. Not only is his drawing fantastic and distinctive, his sense of humor is terrific. If you dig through his enormous comic archive you will find comics that are witty, droll, or just plain weird. To seal the deal, he frequently makes fun of Mario. Scott, your work is awesome and you are one of my art heroes!
This picture is of Jeff the Dog (one of Scott’s characters) and a person in Scott’s style. Maybe it’s me! Based on these two comics.
Judging for the 2009 Interactive Fiction Competition is underway. There are twenty-four entries this year, and twelve prizes. I think I’ll have to submit something next year.
Anyway, everyone’s a critic, and I’m judging games. You can too – anyone who plays at least five of the games can vote. My analysis is not deep – I’m just trying to expose myself to as much IF as I can, and let my natural like or dislike of each dictate my ratings. I’ll be posting impressions here, and updating this post as I play more.
EDIT: I have now played all 24 games in this year’s comp. I’ve given them relative grades past the break.
Ratings and spoilers follow…