A meeting with an animator

Today I was sitting in a design studio working on a 3D model of an Uzbek knife for 3D printing and rehearsal. It was a silent day as most of the students here just finished with their final thesis presentations. As such, all the visitors the studio had was few and rare.

However, there was one animation student who had some life experience behind him looking for some help to cut some of his presentation paper. Well, as a service person I left my work for a moment to make measurements to his work and properly cutting with one of the worst cutters I have joy to use.

What’s the point in this? The man used to be a painter, an artist by his words.

We talked about creativity within field of design and animation, and he agreed that using the word creativity is dangerous. While this man did hold back from completely agreeing, like any sensible person would, he did saw the value from both sides. He put the difference between his paintings and his new studies with animation like this;

Creative painting is free and I always could do whatever I wanted, whereas I’ve found that with animation I need to take care of what I do; I need to check the measurements and make it right and better time after time because it’s not just for myself. With animation, I have to face the reality and try to become a master craftsman in what I do.

After this, he had to leave to return his presentation paper.

If we have people like him aiming to become masters in order to go beyond, then there is a glimmer of hope. That glimmer tells that there should be people who think the same way.

However, he said something that I had never stopped to wonder before; as an animator he had to face reality. This reality he mentions is nothing but real life, the places we all work and where we need to make ends. We are here, interacting with each other. Often you hear and see artists being in he league of their own, that they are special and unique in ways that we can’t understand. That’s all good and fine, and that also means that these same people usually live in the cloud castles and are removed from the daily lives of people who pay money for their art.

You can’t remove yourself from reality if you wish to make your living through it. Of course, there are people who are willing to fellate these artist and enforce the delusions. It’s not just creators need to aim to make past works obsolete, but those who are willing to dosh the cash needs to enforce that as well by demanding high quality.

Fetishized art

I got into few discussions about art recently. Well, discussion is the wrong way to put when it’s people screaming from the bottom of their lungs and refusing to listen what other people had to say. Art, it makes people mad.

I generally refuse to outright say anything about what I think of art, or what is art. Here, I’ll come out clean; I consider things as art as long as they’re done by artists. If a person who is not an artist, say a movie director, calls his movie as art, he is a stupid director. If a musician calls himself as an artist, I wish him to show his art to me. If he were to put on some music, then I call him a liar. He is producing music he made as a musician.

Not everything is art. Everything doesn’t need to be art in order to be appreciated. Books, films, games, music, plays and advertisement are not art. They are what they are. Writers, directors, coders, musicians, actors and visual designers are not artists. These people are what they are.

It is incredibly insulting to call thing X as art if it’s not. Otherwise you’re showing ignorance.

Then, what DO you regard a art?
you may ask. Read it from above; art is done by artists. But isn’t art all about expressing yourself in various ways? In that case me farting at you because of that comment is a form of art. No, expressing yourself is not art. It is widely believed that all things can be considered art, but in same vain everything could be considered porn.

To make a proper argument we need to forget ifs, coulds, and perhapses. Art is art. Saying that a certain film could be art automatically invalidates the proposition. Are you saying that things can’t be two or more things at the same time? No. Dissecting things into lower categories automatically open this door, and a film can be many things. A book is a labour of the writer, the person who designs the cover, the person who is taking care of the machines that ultimately compile the physical book and the person who edited it. The text itself is made by the writer and the editor/s, and if there has been no editor then there’s something wrong.

Whenever I see a product made by an artist that is not art, I see a pile of scraps. People tend to call themselves artists and this sort of false artist-hood is lifted into an icon status.

I call this the bullshit-hood.

It seems that a lot of people connect art with experience, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I find it very laughable that a lot of people start spewing words about being touched, moved and other emotional stuff. If art is supposed to touch you on some emotional level, then I guess punching your nose in is art as well. I mean, you will feel something because of it, right?

But sarcasm aside, art has become a some sort of super-cultural thing in that nothing has value if it’s not considered art, or that if it’s considered art then it’s something you can drool over and feel good about. Art has become intellectual masturbation during the last century and has been passed to current generations. Isn’t it the nature of things such as language to evolve with time? Yes, that would be a valid argument if you didn’t look like an asshat while making that argument. During the 1900’s art itself was expanded in many ways, and because of this certain people managed to put their own twist in there. Perhaps the most robust and stupid example of things going to hell are all the anti-art movements we’ve seen, most prominent being the Dada. I won’t hide my personal dislike when it comes to Dada. [Eww.Edit]

Perhaps nowadays we hare having sort of overt pro-art movement without realizing, where everything, almost literally, needs to be art. You can’t have experiences unless it’s artistic or made through art. When you have not enough words to describe something, it’s called artistic. Everything needs to be creative; art. It’s a fetish, where over a certain limit you can’t seem to enjoy a thing unless you begin to regard it as art. Why not think that thing as something extremely well crafted product aimed to give you the experience? it doesn’t drop it’s value, and if it does, then you have a problem.

I see no reason to hide behind the veil of art. I don’t do art, I’m not an artist of any sorts. I’m a craftsman who really tries to be designer. What I do is not art, and I won’t argue against my customer if he wants to see it as such when I am working. Outside work, outside the field where I don’t need to be the one serving, I will tell this person on my views about art and everyone involved when it comes to my products. Then again, I’ve had many good discussions with my customers on the different views on art, and most of them agree that when thought a little deeper, many things are not art. It’s very easy to throw that term in there and let it sink, but sometimes we just need to stop thinking rather than spewing out opinions we don’t really back. Belittling a well made product by calling it art is something I wish to avoid with my clients, just as I never play Visual Novels.

If you ask a proper designer if design is art, they will grudgingly answer you no. Taking pride on your work is important, but as a customer I wish you’d also recognise the value of their profession.

An artist has the opportunity to live in the artscape where a lot of people want to go into. Art is born from artscape, and artscape thrives on creativity. Still, if you need to consider things that were not made by artists as art, then I guess we all are artist, everything is art from BigMac to the lenses of my glasses. You can’t have double standards.

Then who is an artist? Who decides what makes an artist?
I know a slew of people who have a certified paper from an artschool that allows me to call them artists. You may want to call people without education artists, but then again you don’t call your friend a teacher when he teaches you on something. You don’t call your mom an artisan when she weaves you a nice pair of socks.

While this is an extreme way to put it, it’s also completely true; you are not an artist just by someone calling you. You need something more than nice pictures to become an artist. Even artist needs to be schooled, and without a question there is a number of artists that have taught themselves everything they know. Jack Kirby learned everything from the streets by observing the everyday life. The again, Jack Kirby wasn’t an artist, he was a master comic illustrator and a storyteller.

By any other name, rose, yada yada

Designer as a profession is nothing new. It is a continuation of certain craftsman traditions, be it in the entertainment business or not, but the visibility and the importance of people who sole purpose is to design for others rose after the Industrial Revolution. Artists and craftsmen fulfilled the role of designers we have nowadays. Government officials were the ones who engineered the service design. For example, during the Black Death’s rampage, the British government made a complete plan to to create a separate graveyard for the plague victims and laid them down in certain way. The same official also designed a method to transport these bodies to the graveyard to begin with, and practically designed the modern street cleaning system in the medieval times. By modern standards these might not sound anything special, but during Dark Ages this kind of things were the absolute apex of service design. Imagine if somebody would put up a service that would start cleaning your streets that are overflowing with faeces and animal intestines. Yes, it would be revolutionary.

And yet we do not call none of these people as designers. They were government officials. To take an extreme example, Da Vinci can be described as a designer of his time. Yes, above all else he was a genius and an artist (in the real meaning of the word, not in the meaning that’s generally used these days) but also an artisan. He designed a lot of things that were ultimately never made, but would’ve worked. Da Vinci really was a man of man talents, so why would we not call him a designer as well?

There has been some opposition from my friends. The idea does not seem to suit them, to call artists and artisans of old as designers. After all, such name or profession never existed. Then we might as well go back and call the dinosaurs are ROAR as the name “dinosaur” did not exist in some 80 million years ago. I do understand why it would feel odd to call someone like him a designer, but he fits the bill quite well. The truth nevertheless is that designer, as a profession, did not exist before Industrial Revolution. Here, by any other name, the rose would smell different.

Designing stems from combination of fine arts and crafts with a twist of all that is service. Names and terms are important, and time shows that while certain things change. We call dinosaurs as dinosaurs, and those who know the language of the dead thunder lizards may call them ROAR still.

P.S. This post was made because I lost another bet. Damn my bad luck.

Artscape

I find myself reading things about artists. Mostly comments from my Editor, but weird texts in general. I don’t hang much on message boards, but sometimes I wander into the depths of the Internet just to see what it holds for me. Usually I come back with a hangover and red eyes.

I don’t pan artists or their field. Every work has their place in society, and artists hang in the cultural department quite a lot. As an entity, an artist is meant to do art and I do not mean this in any art is in the eye of the beholder way. No, I mean actual art that is sculptures, paintings, and all that high end art. A video game developer is not an artist, neither is a businessman or a blogger.

The reason people call people who are not artists as such can be found in the Industrial Revolution. Before that artisans and artists were a closer entity. The game changer was industrialisation, which allowed mass production of goods that werepreviously made by craftsmen, who also at this point were very close to artists we think nowadays. Prior to the Revolution an artisan made a cup and painted it to look pretty. This person was both a craftsman and an artist. During the Revolution when these cups saw mass production, these craftsmen found that their cups weren’t selling enough, and that other bunch of people began to paint these mass produced cups. They could either join the factories or attack the factories, which mostly ended up in a bloody fight.

Artisans have a certain degree of license of being artistic, as do most craftsmen. However, this does not make them artists of any kind. I bring harsh words on people who act like artists, not to artists themselves.

Artists have a freedom that I envy, but this freedom also brings a rather heavy burden that I really don’t mind not having. While I wake up in the morning and curse that I need to weld some pipes and straighten what I screwed up yesterday, an artist can just change the canvas or slap some new paint on and be done with it. I can’t do that, I need to find why things went like they went so that it won’t happen again. It’s hard, it takes time and most of the time it’s frustrating, especially in projects that are only about prototypes and proof of concepts.

Artists do not live in the real world, they live in the artscape. The population of the world allows this, and it’s good for them. Here and there artists find something to feed on, and continue living there and bringing us some great works of art. The rest of us live in the real world, where success matters. A lot of us would like to live in the artscape and some people invade this space, only to find out that what they’re doing is a long way from art and artists. It’s true that anyone can enter the artscape if they have enough money to support their visions, like some film directors and musicians, but the rest of us just watch their goings and discuss why these people put millions into projects that nobody wants.

To a large extent, artists do need to serve the public. They have a position held high, and because of this unique position in culture we expect them to give us culture back. Actual artists, the people who really do know their field, know that they have very little leeway to screw things up. They need to bring us something we need and want. If they don’t, they’ll find themselves starving and even worse; forgotten. Even artists need to follow the line of public service. Vast amount of people working as designers or whatnot follow the image of romanticised artist, and this is nothing short of sad and pathetic.

After the Industrial Revolution the traditional role of artists was shattered. Designers’ position was born in its wake. What had traditionally been a part of artists’ work was now taken to a more serving purpose. However, the general populace, either because of theirignorance or simply because they do not understand the division, still regards bulk of industries standing on art and creativity.

I’ve used the term creative industries to represent films, musics etc. This is a misnomer and I apologise. They are about creation, but only artists create. This is their blessing and a curse. I intend to produce, but unlike in creation there are levels of quality and demand I need to meet in order to stay in the business. So does everybody else who is not an artist.

Evolving art direction VS change of art direction

When a series of anything has been around of multiple years, it’s art direction changes with the times. If you take a look at Super Mario Bros. as it was and how it is now, you see that the art direction hasn’t really changed that much, but it follows more streamlined and cleaner computer generated images that are popular nowadays. Similarly Mega Man’s art evolved game by game, and you can see not only the series evolution, but also the artists’ evolution and changes whenever something was changed. Films are more subtle in this regard, but the most blatant example would be Star Wars, which went from original trilogy’s utilitarian approach to a handcrafted sleekness in the prequel trilogy. If you read Star Wars comics and see the animations, you can see that simple designs of the lightsabers changed as the technology allowed more intricate and complex designs. Nevertheless, the art direction changed only in when Episode I was made. While McQuarrie was there doing his own stuff, other artists’ were hired for the job. It shows that they really weren’t craftsmen McQuarrie was, and it shows in the films’ world. It wasn’t applauded, but it wasn’t really taken consideration as the film had much more difficulties other than art direction.

A change in art direction in a franchise will always be a double-edged sword that will most likely make the company pay more than they wanted. We know that keeping the old customers is much easier than gaining new ones, and a drastic change in a franchise’s art direction may cause the current customer base to distance themselves, and at the same time cause no interest in the potential customers.

However, an art direction must evolve as the franchise grows. This doesn’t mean that the series has to have a change in the direction, but a gradual shift in quality and emphasize. A staggering art direction will not keep much interest in the customer base.

Craftsmen who work as visual artists have to keep this in mind as well. An artist who wants to give his own twist to an existing franchise has all rights to do it on his own. However, putting his own twist there when he is working on the franchise is a stupid and selfish deed. Customers are not expecting to see your style and wishes, but the style and direction that has been there. An artist should evolve the direction, not change it.

Of course, this matter has the most impact in mediums that rely the most on art direction, such as animation and video games. You may hear someone complain that a character used to loo better or similar when talking about animation, which shows that change in art direction isn’t the best option to attract new audience.

In animation it has to be taken account that even if the franchise stays the same, the series might not. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has seen various incarnations with vastly different art direction, and they all have fared better or worse. The two main animation series utilize completely different approach to the art direction in general, but other one of these actually follows more keypoints of the original comic for better or worse. With this kind of differences it is more about opinion than anything else. However, the art direction in the original TMNT comics have always stayed the same, it has just evolved, par few guess starring artists putting their own twist to things in general. I’d say that TMNT is actually a pretty good example of art direction that has stayed true to its roots while evolving all the time, they it should be.

When Mega Man X8 was first announced the fandom was split in two due to the new art direction. Gone was the old direction and CAPCOM had brought in completely new artists and designers just to change things and attract new customers. They failed to note that Mega Man was already part of the pop-culture and everybody knew what a Mega Man looked like. The new direction didn’t look like Mega Man, and possible customers merely passed the game as a knock-off or as last attempt to regain the series’ glory… which it was. If CAPCOM had gone with the evolving art direction and emphasized more the game’s development and quality, the title would’ve been much better. X8 wasn’t a cheap game to produce, and it sold less that anticipated. The art direction not only failed to attract new audience, but caused their existing customer base to dwindle down, as people lost interest in the game. I was one of them who bought the game later on much cheaper simply because the art direction.

While this seems like a stupid reason, change in art direction is always the first sign of more changes in the franchise.

Art direction tells a lot about the franchise itself. It gives the first impression, and that first impression has to be good one. When an instalment takes another path than its predecessor, the art direction usually changes to reflect this. When an instalment continues to continue on the same path as the predecessor, the art direction evolves to reflect this.

But sometimes the art just changes without no real reason. This’ll bug the customers to no end, and wavering customer loyalty is a bad thing when you’re trying to keep selling your products.


An example of change in art direction with no real reason. Notice how the character’s bodies have become completely different and couldn’t be recognized as the same characters. While certain aspect have kept, they are not character defining traits any more and adds nothing to the appearance. This is NOT how you give your own twist to a work that should be selling

Approaching artists’ and craftsmens’ difference

I had this discussion few times around with my friend; I should learn to create more attracting pictures outside my own comfort zone. Naturally I joke that I should just draw erotic images for the change of pace, but usually this is just thrown aside that it would be enough to draw naked women. This made me think the difference I myself have as an artist and as an artisan.

Artisan is someone who by the definition has the skill to craft for the customer, someone who knows what works and why. A craftsman has to have some business mind behind it all and respect the customer, as the customer is God; the one we as his servant must please. To be a craftsman is to be a servant. I am here to create these products for you, by your wishes.

An artist approaches his work from his own angle, disregarding everything else. 99% of the images I’ve ever done have been there just to appease my own imagination, my own will and wants. This is how an artist works. They’re selfish beings that can truly blame only themselves when their product, be it painting or game, won’t sell, thus becoming a farce.

This rises a question; can an artists be his own customer? The answer is simple no; you won’t make a living like that.

Thinking back to my own works as an artist, there’s a lot of them. There’s even more in the trash, and then insane amount of images that I’ve completely forgot, as one of my friend keeps reminding me to tease me at worst of times. I’m my hardest critic, and usually this is the point where people talk. It’s completely upside down to demand the highest possible quality from myself, but that’s almost impossible considering that I am not a perfectionist, so somehow it all falls on its face.

There’s nice amount of crafts that I’ve done as well during my active years. However, unlike into my drawings I’ve usually given more than 70% of my effort, sometimes pushing myself so hard that my arms have lost all of their strength. Here I am my hardest critic as well, but at least this time I have a reason; the customer doesn’t want to buy half-assed knives or crooked tables. A sandblasted stone tablet has to be the finest quality, otherwise I’m wasting both my own and customers’ time.

This is the difference between good artists and bad artists. Good artists know that they’re full of crap and usually have a real job to keep their artistic drives afloat. A bad artist basically does the opposite, trying to shove their own to the customers and barely keeping themselves alive. The image of starving artist is ideal to some, but nobody should really live like that. You could call most of modern design students as starving artists anyway, or most culture students anyway.

A good artisan keeps his artistic side always in good condition. A craftsman can’t really work properly without artistic touch, but that touch needs to be in leash and working for the customer. You can’t really understand shapes and forms without certain vision that can’t really be understood otherwise but as “artistic vision.” For example, certain shape in a knife is there for a functional reason, but some shapes are there just for the looks and design choices.

Personally, I’ve chosen to allow myself to become an artist in print material and all that. I’m not really interested to serve the public even if I have more than adequate potential and skills for that. The way I draw and what I draw exists simply to please my own ends. This attitude I have towards my own drawings and such is perhaps the main reason I rarely develop any more; I have no reason to become better than I already am. I’d rather spent that training time in the workshop polishing my skills at welding or in making a steel box. There’s a reason to become better at steelcraft.

Then why I don’t want to polish my skills as an artist, so I could call myself a craftsman in arts’ side as well?

Perhaps it has something to do with my own space, that drawing and such is a place where I can go by myself and fall into my own world without thinking much about the outside world. This kind of model of working doesn’t suit for customer service at all, and you’d better imagine it.

So, imagine that people want artists to work in the entertainment industry. These artists would do something that would entertain themselves and nothing more. They’d build more and more fame on their work that they made for themselves. Basically, the industry would be full of artists who stroke their trophy works. This time it’s almost real, and all those cigars aren’t just cigars.

Now, if craftsmen were to work in the entertainment industry, always finding ways to entertain you, the customer, rather than themselves. Wouldn’t that be better for all? The craftsmen would get their money and customer would get their products. The craftsman might even even do few of his own works if all things go well. A craftsman has that chance; the chance to do whatever he wants at times if all goes well. An artists has no such option.

Then why stay as artist? Because artists are selfish, that’s why. A craftsmen may be selfish, but only few times here and there.

Perhaps this will encourage few artists to become a craftsman instead. I’ll be using my own artistic side in crafts more, if applicable as well.