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Monday, March 10, 2008

Will new media breed new artists?

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal wrote a piece last week titled 'Size Matters. Morgenstern seems to side with David Lynch: movies are intended to be seen on the big screen, not on an iPod or in a Web browser window.

And a lot of the Web content that's proving popular, Morgenstern complains, is about titillation: what better way to capture a viewer's attention than to present an attractive actress in a bikini?

I'd point out that a lot of the movies that made movies popular in the first place featured foxy ladies doing things you didn't ordinarily see ladies do in the 1890s. Like Annabelle and her serpentine dance:

Morgenstern also writes, "No one has any illusions that the new media, in their current configurations, will create new Coppolas, Altmans or Renoirs."

I took issue with that, and sent Morgenstern the e-mail below. (He covers his behind a little bit with the phrase "in their current configurations.")

But there is a solid observation later in the article. Morgenstern writes:

    How do multitasking, multicurious, multiprivileged, multidistracted and multiscattered kids process information? With all those windows open on their digital world, how will they follow complex narratives? What will sing to them, stir their souls, seize their imaginations? There isn't a soul in the entertainment business who claims to have an answer, and who isn't worried about not having one.

Spot on.

My e-mail is below... I'll update you if I get a response.


Dear Joe-

I was bothered by your blanket dismissal of the possibility that new technologies like the iPod and cell phone might eventually give us a new kind of artist. ("No one has any illusions that the new media, in their current configurations, will create new Coppolas, Altmans or Renoirs.")

I think that if one were a theater critic in the 1890s, one would've had to say the same thing about film. The first movies shown in the first Kinetoscope Parlor (it opened in 1894 on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan) were amateurish compared to the sophisticated theatrical offerings of the day. Among them were "Roosters," "Barber Shop," and "Wrestling" -- pretty much pointless (except for showing off Edison's new technology), and certainly plotless. They were silent, short, and in black-and-white, while theater offered speech, color, and music stretching over the course of an entire evening.

It would have been difficult to imagine at that moment the contributions that D.W. Griffith, Howard Hawks, Capra, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Cassavetes, and the Farrelly Brothers would eventually make.

I submit that we're at a similar moment with visual storytelling on cell phones, iPods, and the Web.

Maybe these technologies won't breed new "film" artists -- but they will breed some kind of new artists...

Best regards,

Scott Kirsner

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  • You do the right thing there to point that out.

    I take exception to the idea that new media 'in its current configuration' or not is incapable of producing some amazing talents.

    i like to think of all this as a large creative sandbox that allows refinement and mistakes whilst providing feedback and community.

    I believe that the next generation of talent will be better balanced and understand their audience in a way that some of the old-timers just can't.

    By Blogger Adam_Y, at 11:13 AM  

  • i think morgenstern shows his lack of perspective on the issue with this line:

    "With all those windows open on their digital world, how will they follow complex narratives?"

    did he not read 'everything bad is good for you'? does he not understand that it's not that attention spans are getting shorter, it's that humans are processing information faster. these "kids" need more complex plotlines and media styles. they're sophisticated, which quite frankly most popular entertainment for far too long has not been.

    By Blogger deepstructure, at 12:13 PM  

  • Yes, kids are processing information faster so we have:

    -- short bursts of multiple story plot-lines on multiple media slowly intertwining to reveal a much larger context to the whole story. (

    -- short burst entertainment that can be revisited for a similar experience. (

    Because clearly, the storytelling doesn't occur just with video, but with prose, Facebook or Myspace pages, Message boards, Flickr sets, audio podcasts, Issuu magazines, etc...

    If that isn't more dense, more complex narrative then what is?

    By Blogger Cunningham, at 2:45 PM  

  • I concur with Cunningham. I think that these old fogies are seeing the death of the Aristotelian narrative form and they are scared. For those of us who have worked in non-western media, the transition is not unclear at all. Non-linear storytelling is the bedrock of most cultures outside the west. The only problem at this point is convincing monied people that this is where it is heading!

    By Blogger GB, at 3:55 PM  

  • gb, could you elaborate on this:

    "Non-linear storytelling is the bedrock of most cultures outside the west."

    complexity is different than linearity. i find your statement hard to believe. i've lived in england, new guinea and the united states. i haven't seen this non-linearity you speak of. i'd be interested in hearing about it.

    By Blogger deepstructure, at 4:04 PM  

  • In most non-western cultures, Papua New Guinea included, individual stories are part of larger "story groups". These story group form a cultural mythology for social groups, but usually tie into great mythologies that span larger geographical regions. These, in turn, relate to the actual history or settling and migration of these peoples. These stories do not stand alone. This non-linearity leads to a deep complexity and almost infinite relations between stories and story elements.

    Does this help clarify?

    By Blogger GB, at 4:14 PM  

  • I would also point to Manga which often diverges from the main story to highlight a certain character and his back story, then returns to the main plot a few chapters later.

    This is a readily accepted practice amongst the manga reading audience and actually encouraged.

    In essence, the main plot is relatively simplistic while the characterization is deeper and more meaningful.

    By Blogger Cunningham, at 4:35 PM  

  • perhaps we're working with different versions of "non-linear". telling smaller stories that fit within a larger tapestry don't constitute non-linearity for me. the stories are still told linearly for the most part. same for the manga example.

    diverging from the main story line isn't the same as telling a story non-linearly (as in 'memento' or 'pulp fiction'). many serialized tv shows often diverge from their main theme to focus on a particular character's individual side-story. i wouldn't call this non-linear.

    By Blogger deepstructure, at 5:45 PM  

  • So you're suggesting flashbacks, being the form for non-linear.

    MEMENTO is extremely linear - it just happens to be backward.

    PULP FICTION also follows the manga storytelling - going off on a tangent to fill in the back story of the characters.

    LOST is a form of non-linear storytelling. We know some of the people get off the island, and now we're going back and filling in how that happened.

    I don't think we're talking apples and oranges here, more Golden Delicious v. Macintosh.

    The point of all this is that the audience today juggles multiple story points in their heads for quite awhile as the narrative unfolds (in many different ways) and reassembles that narrative when the story is concluded.

    I think it's going to take some extremely talented folks to pull that off and make an entertaining experience for the viewer (or am I looking for the word participant here since the multimedia of the internet makes the whole process more immersive?).

    And Morgenstern supposes that there is no art to this - hah!

    By Blogger Cunningham, at 7:38 PM  

  • What I was trying to highlight is that these non-western stories often are outside time and sometimes outside space. I can diagram it better than explain it linearly! Think of a series of concentric circles. Each circle represents a story concept or characterization. Then draw a line as to either bisect or cut through part of the concentric circles. Each intersection is a moment in the story.

    Most non-Western storytelling seems linear and representational to the young and outsiders, but most is highly allegorical. The allegories transcend the sometimes linear story upon which it is hung.

    Following a plot "to-the-point" is solely a western idea.

    By Blogger GB, at 7:50 PM  

  • cunningham - you're mistaken, neither pulp nor memento are linear. we literally see events out of order in the timeline.

    in memento the sections are revealed in reverse chronological order, but each section plays out linearly (as it must to be intelligible). we watch a section in forward linear progression up to a point, then we jump to a point not next in the chronological progression of the story, either backwards or forwards. we jump to a point significantly previous to our original starting point.

    that is decidedly non-linear. it is a consistent pattern, but it is not linear. the only way a film would be linear and backwards would be if it was literally played backwards.

    in pulp fiction there's a scene where our two main characters show up wearing different clothes because of something we haven't witnessed yet (a character in the scene even comments on it). later we see that scene play out and learn what happened. again, very obviously not linear.

    i must have misunderstood your manga point. i didn't realize you were talking about flashbacks. that would indeed be non-linear.

    having multiple story lines is not non-linear if they are all happening at the same time and are part of overall presentation.

    lost, with it's flashbacks and flashforwards would classify as non-linear.

    obviously there's a sliding scale of non-linearity, from the accepted style of using flashbacks to fill in story points to wildly out of sequence (slaughterhouse five).

    gb - i guess im not equipped to understand what you're talking about. it sounds like cultural interpretation rather than a real difference - in that those cultures are getting more out of the story than a simple linear progression (perhaps like aesop's fables?), but you still mention them being hung on a "linear story".

    for me the rule is time. if it's told out of time, it's non-linear. if the next event is 20 years in the future, that's not non-linear. if it's in the past, that's non-linear.

    story2oh is a great example because one can experience (from what i understand of it), the story very non-linearly, learning pieces of it as you uncover the various media - much like researching a story in the news - the pieces get filled in the more you uncover.

    of course, im not at all enamored so far with "new media." i have no desire to be involved in the artists creation, nor do i want to scour the web in a scavenger hunt looking for it. i want to go somewhere and sit at the foot of a great yarn-weaver and enjoy a well-told tale.

    By Blogger deepstructure, at 8:37 PM  

  • of course, im not at all enamored so far with "new media." i have no desire to be involved in the artists creation, nor do i want to scour the web in a scavenger hunt looking for it. i want to go somewhere and sit at the foot of a great yarn-weaver and enjoy a well-told tale.

    And I think that is the difference between our generation and the generations coming after us. It's becoming clearer and clear that the web audience is looking for a story but they are also looking for a participatory experience. Part story, part "game", part socializing?

    By Blogger Cunningham, at 12:33 PM  

  • you've hit it cunningham, it definitely seems to be that the characterization is participatory versus traditional. but i really wonder if that's what everyone wants in the future. you may well be right that this is our generations way of not understanding the next - but i love participatory entertainment (i saw 'tamara' numerous times and thoroughly enjoyed it).

    perhaps it's just because, as scott points out with his film example, that this is such the nascent phase of interactive entertainment. i've read 'the diamond age' et. al. perhaps when we're all jacked in all the time, participatory entertainment will be the norm. for now i don't seen tons of people jumping on the arg bandwagon.

    By Blogger deepstructure, at 12:39 PM  

  • of course i have to add a caveat - im a huge multi-player fps gamer. as much as i want to be a narrative storyteller as a fimmaker, i often find myself walking away from the television to engage in an entertainment form that's more interactive.

    and now that voice-chat has been added to online gaming, that element you pointed out cunningham, socialization, has added yet another attractive element to the entertainment - the ability to more fully interact with other human beings.

    in fact, the main server i play on is called 'the after hours pub'. it consists of players who although there to play, are just as much there to chat and hang out.

    By Blogger deepstructure, at 12:43 PM  

  • I'm glad you brought up Diamond Age because that is where I see it all going. The problem, as I pointed out earlier, is convincing the ent.execs that this is what is going to work. They are basing everything off of last year's successes.

    The problem with this kind of vision is that you need a lot of time (=money) to establish a critical mass of story elements linked to interactive and live experiences.

    I am hoping that my feature film will led to that.

    By Blogger GB, at 4:39 PM  

  • This whole debate thus far both pro and con is speculation and lacks any hard evidence one way or another.

    Science says that viewing environment, screen size, resolution, contrast, volume levels, frequency response change how we perceive visuals and sound, including emotional, physical, mental responses. Numerous studies back this up.

    So, actually, both extremes of the argument are correct. Lynch is absolutely correct - you watch a film on the iPhone, you are losing roughly 75 to 90% of the original material depending on audio config.

    But Scott and his defenders are also absolutely correct. Cellphone viewing, interactive web, games are new mediums for artist and new kinds of artists will be created.

    If you watch Crysis or Call of Duty on a big screen without any ability to interact or control the game, you are missing huge amounts of what it offers. So no question that cellphones, games, interactive web stuff will create new artists, some of which will impact our world significantly.

    This is basically an argument about two perspectives on new mediums. New mediums come and go all the time in art. Some stay, some stay big, some remain as niches, some evolve.

    The only real questions are how will this new mediums evolve - when HD video on the web is quick and easy for most viewers, will anyone still make 320 X 240 webisodes?

    Are texting, im, twitter and other short-attention span stuff going to increase or will their be a counter-reaction?

    Personally, the new opportunities with technology, collaboration and more have made my screen bigger. I'm currently working on an indie IMAX film, 100% digitally created on homebuilt computers.

    Guaranteed to never be available on a cellphone near you...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:19 PM  

  • He's a stuffy fuddy-duddy. At least that's what they called guys like Morgenstern back in the 20th Century.

    Of course the web and new technologies is going to create new artists! How can it not? It will also reveal millions to be talentless time-wasters, who would otherwise have tried to convince us that they really should be making movies if only someone gave them the money to do it. Now you don't need the money. You really just need the talent and that's a rarer commodity indeed.

    I'm not sure how you can't see mdotstrange ("We Are the Strange") or Susan Buice and Arin Crumley ("Four Eyed Monsters") as a few of the many new and very talented artists coming out of the "web."

    I'm not really sure what Morgenstern even means when he says it's hard to imagine the next Coppola coming out of the "camera phone generation." Coppola would be the first to admit himself, that were he 50 years younger he'd be grabbing a camera phone and making his first movie using just that!

    By Blogger Helena Handbasket, at 8:59 AM  

  • Speaking of Coppola, let the man speak for himself.

    *Just to say it's not possible to leave comments without a Blogger account, which is unfortunate. Updating to the new blogger comments system means commenting is open to all. :)

    By Blogger Robert Croma, at 12:54 PM  

  • I agree w/ you, Scott. Artists *will* emerge and their genius will consist of leveraging the multitasking, multicurious, multidistracting and multiscattered nature of the medium to weave complex narratives. I can't wait.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 1:30 PM  

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