Musician, writer, artist, gardener, Jane-of-all-trades.
I keep astonishingly busy with a wide variety of things and this blog may seem random in consequence. Expect Mass Effect fanfic (including the ongoing saga of pilot-lovin' Rhi Shepard), thoughts on disability, politics, and a liberal helping of goats. Especially baby goats.
I think one of the most fundamental misapprehensions people have about the value of commissions is that no one really gets told how mass production defrays costs to the consumer. So, when they see the prices for custom artwork online, they expect the retail prices they see in stores, and it doesn’t work like that.
You go to the poster section at wal-mart. There’s an amazing poster there. It’s got dragons. It’s got wizards. It’s huge. It’s, what, 12 bucks? Awesome, good deal. You can afford that. It’s as much as three or four cheeseburgers, dang, that’s some serious amounts of art.
You go on the internet. Some asshole wants 12 bucks for a crappy sketch of one character sort of standing there. What the fuck? It looks like crap. It’s nothing compared to the poster you just bought from a store. If that dragon poster is worth 12 bucks, this dumbass sketch should be one buck. Maybe fifty cents. That’s if you’re being generous. You don’t even get a print, it’s just going to be a file on your computer, it’s not even actually real! What a rip off.
The thing is, that sketch took an hour, or two hours, or maybe even four hours. The artist drew it for a fraction of minimum wage. Drawing is hard. It took thousands of hours and a really special kind of dedicated self loathing to learn to do that. It might have taken thousands of bucks of tuition money, which means semesters, which means years of early mornings and late nights and maybe even some crying here and there.
Your dragon poster was not made by a guy who got paid 12 bucks. Your awesome dragon poster was made by a guy who got paid hundreds of bucks. Maybe thousands. Because a company paid him, and then turned around and made even more thousands of dollars off that artwork, by selling instances of it to multiple people, 12 bucks at a time. It’s called mass production, and it leaves the general public with no real clue as to the sheer amount of time and effort and skill that goes into every single thing they can buy for the price of a couple cheeseburgers.
Artists who work on commission don’t generally have the advantage of mass production. Every picture is made new and custom for each client. Instead of charging the hundreds of dollars an hour a professional artist could ask for from a company, we’re asking for just enough to get by, and sometimes a hell of a lot less than that. Because it’s what people will pay, because it’s what they think art is worth, because it’s what a lot of young, naive, desperate artists are willing to agree their art is worth, and because there’s always going to be some kid who thinks they’re being ripped off because they don’t really get what they’re being asked to pay for.
I should have some pithy and clever thing to say here to wrap it up but all I can think to say is basically the whole situation is sad and scary and I hope eventually we’ll all have a better way to deal with each other, and everyone will be a lot clearer on what it takes to do art and to get art.
I scanned it, uploaded it, and sat back for my usual episode of art angst—I painted something noxiously cute and relatively simple, without a background, that did not particularly stretch me in any way, merely because I thought it was funny and wanted to do a stripey design with my PITT pens, the shame, the shame.
I had a buyer within—I double checked the time stamps—six minutes.
I thought “Man, the thrill of selling it really goes a long way to negating the guilt of having done it in the first place.”
Then I thought, “Whoa, I’m letting commercial success overcome my art guilt! I have SOLD OUT! ARRGH! Get thee to art confession! Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned—I have painted simple and cute and sold it and felt less guilty for having sold it!”
Then I thought, “Is it actually possible for a commercial artist to sell out? I mean, without, y’know, hardcore porn or working for Disney or something?”
Then I thought, “No, that makes me feel less guilty, so it can’t be right.”
Then I thought, “Bunnychicken!” for no apparent reason. (That happens a lot.)
Then I thought, “If the measure of not selling out is forcing yourself to do things that nobody would put money down for, it’s dumb and in it’s own way just as reactionary as do things people do want, because you’re selling out to the mystique of not selling out, damnit, which is a total sell-out.”
Then I thought, “Yeah, but once you’ve thought of that, no matter what you do is selling out because everything could be percieved as selling out somehow, and the only way to avoid selling out is to do your own thing without even thinking about selling out, damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead, and stop worrying about it.”
Then I stopped and ran that last bit through my head a few times to see if I could understand it the second time through, which I could, but only barely, and I really wasn’t sure whether that meant it was okay to paint mice in ponchoes or not.
Then I thought “Fireworks! The crow has FIREWORKS, not toilet paper!” which was important to something unrelated.
Then I thought, “Screw it, it’s a mouse wearing a poncho and a chicken. If that’s selling out, there is no hope for any of us.”
Then I thought, “Man, I could really use a nap.” And in this, at least, I was unanimous.
And that constituted my art angst moment for the day. Tune in next week for another exciting episode of “Ursula Wrestles With The Demons Of Art,” which, we predict, will end in another exciting nap.
Video games figured out they were art but they still don’t know that art is bullshit. Everyone else figured this out in 1915. They forgot it instantly, but you can look it up in a book to see how silly it is that not just games, but books, film, music and literally everything else is highly self-conscious about their status as art because art is art because someone says it is art and that is that. For example, my orchid has just told me that anime is art, and I must deffer to its beautiful purple flowers and PHD in art history. If you would like to be recognized as art by say, a mammal has tenure at an american university, chances are that you might want to appeal to what he thinks is art.
That’s the extremely cynical analysis of art and like most cynicism it’s true enough to convincingly mislead. While it’s true that mammalian professors are not nearly as open minded as my fabulous purple orchid, they’re usually smart enough to be able to tell at least 85% of the time whether art has created something original and true and whether the art is bullshitting everyone. If a game’s artistic aspirations are obvious and making you cringe, it is almost always because the work has the signifiers of art and high culture (like the classical music you suggest) but it’s just sort of there without craft or meaning or intentionality.
Indiecade is a different venue for art than the Louvre, but within the genre of art that fits in the venue there’s stuff that’s true and beautiful and stuff that’s less so and stuff that drastically isn’t. What is great art that is true and beautiful and what is great art that fits in a particular subculture or discourse community’s vision of art are two different questions that appear exactly the same to whoever is running said discourse community.
Specifically, games are embracing classical art because video games have embarrassed themselves so much with orcs and space marines that the safest antidote is the cool embrace of the classics. Games might go for classical imagery because it is recognizable As Art, unlike Dada and modernism and all that weird shit made by godless communists that snide jerks say their kids could paint. Like pretty much every philosophical or artistic movement ever, games are reacting against one thing (hideously corporate billion dollar entertainment industry) by going to another thing (the equivalent from a couple hundred years ago that’s actually good). Beneath what seems like a kind of shallow grab at the appearance of art is a sincere attempt to grasp the basics of art that appear so absent from so much of the vast body of the medium.
The mere fact you’re pointing it out, as others have, signifies that we’re probably going to see games move away from classical imagery the more tryhard and shallow the gestures appear. But one big problem is that the ways games tend to be visually interesting are either associated with retro nostalgia or with cutting edge hollywood SFX. So maybe games are having problems being confident in their imagery because what makes it unique is part of what gets it discounted as art. Sworcery more or less successfully made pixel art feel like “art” so maybe we’ll see stuff like that first. Lots of Dada games (vidiot game comes to mind) already exist; maybe when when Andi wins the IGF with a game you can complete in five seconds with no win condition we’ll get the modernism of games or something (that’s not a joke, I hope she does).
I apologize if you already have this, but I think you might want this cat licking its butt as a medieval reaction.
Thomas of Cantimpré, Liber de natura rerum, France ca. 1290.
Valenciennes, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 320, fol. 72r
I think this just stands on its own, to be honest. I know my day just got a little brighter.
Joker is starting to look like Joker and Rhi is starting to look like Rhi! IT’S AWESOME! \o/
I’m really kind of upset that I have to go to bed within the hour. Dammit, clock, STOP for awhile, okay? THERE IS ART TO BE DONE.