Monday, October 29, 2012

Are Prompt-Based Creative Challenges Antithetical to Art?

Simple Support
My entry in this week's Single Frame Stories challenge. The prompt is "simple".
A few weeks ago, I invited a social networking acquaintance to participate in the Single Frame Stories challenge. As a practicing artist, he seemed a bit offended at the idea of putting his inspiration-based Muse in the service of a prompt-based creative challenge. I appreciate his devotion to an artistic ethic, but I don't believe that waiting for unbidden inspiration is necessarily the most authentic way to access and actualize creative vision. As a matter of fact, I experience creative challenges in quite the opposite way . . . as an affirmation of my creative source rather than her prostitution. I think the difference in our viewpoints is a matter of our emotional response to the task rather than anything inherent in the format itself.

My knee-jerk reaction to a prompt that doesn't initially inspire me is probably a lot like my social network friend's. I respond to it emotionally, as if some external authority figure is trying to tell me what to do. I resolve to not waste my time on such an unworthy idea and turn my mind to other matters. But there's something in me that won't let go. I find my mind turning to the prompt at odd times, in the midst of some random activity, or as I fall to sleep or awaken. So although my conscious mind has rejected it, my subconscious mind has received it as a seed. Eventually, an idea emerges and I end up contributing one or more works. Not always brilliant. Sometimes cliched.  But almost always providing me with some fresh insight that I would have otherwise not experienced.


R. said...

All art is challenge-based

- coming up with pigments that will stick to the canvas and resist chemical changes over the years

- picking the right material from which to sculpt that gigantic frog-guardian figure

- using the right language and symbols from which to craft literature

- selectic fabric, methods of connection fabric to fabric, and the body upon which to drape it for "fashion"

and so on.

Even the pretty stuff on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel started with "Hey, man. Read this book. It's due in a decade. Try not to drop anything on the dudes in robes million around under the scaffolding, and keep your hands offa the altar boys. The boss doesn't like anyone messing around with his private harem, if you catch my drift."


Gypsy Quixote said...

I don't really give it much thought. And I like it that way. Prompts to me happen in life all around, every day. I call them inspiration. But one thing I do ignore intentionally are artist/writing prompts. They are grade school tools to engage the newly creative at best. I used them in creative writing class when I was 16 and didn't need them then. I don't speak for anyone but myself here, but if I'm not inspired by daily existence among the unwashed masses then it's my own problem to wrestle with, no prompt is going to help me through.

I can appreciate the togetherness that arises from your single frame stories or Crap's 100 word stories. But I can't really say that I care for much of the "art" that they produce. I tend to think that those tools are good for the otherwise uncreative or burgeoning creative person to dip their toe in the water. But for any artist like myself who is well into their own muse and comfortable with their own creative processes, it feels like being invited to join a Creative Writing 105 class.

Hope this doesn't offend anyone, not meant to. I'm simply way past the need for prompts, and happily so. I found my writing voice in my teens and have never needed to look back or seek inspiration. And as I tweeted recently, I don't care that it's a virtual world, I hold all that we do and create up to the same standards of quality as I do in RL. I know that many in SL are working with short form, nearly meme like approaches to being creative, and although I respect the vision, which seems to stem from the platform itself, I fail to see quality in much of what is produced, at least not quality that will stand the test of time.

Find your own muse, because in the end there are no prompts. In the end the class is over and you must stand on your own inspiration and creation.

Otherwise you are nothing but a student.

Botgirl Questi said...

The value of short form creative exercises is less in the outcome than in the process. Although we may be "inspired by daily existence," the inspiration we notice is based upon our habitual ways of looking at the world. By submitting to an external process such as a weekly challenge, we are forced to delve into areas that would otherwise not get our attention.

Personally, I hope to be a student until the day I die

Gypsy Quixote said...

I understand where you're coming from. But I prefer the forced challenge that life throws at me, as an individual, over those pre-formed and doled out by my peers. I'm not so stupid as to need outside force to bring my attention to things I'm not concerned with. There are reason why I care about what I do and how I spend my creative resources. There really is plenty to chew on in this crazy world of ours. And yes, be a student forever, I am too. But study what you want, not what is suggested by peer groups. And honestly, as a final note, I spent a lot of time in Nashville where collaboration and prompts rule the day among the songwriting elites. It makes me kinda sick to be immersed in the creative process with other artists, and leads to a narrow, guild-ed view of accomplishment that can often bear little resemblance to reality and produces nothing of value to the whole of humanity that lives outside the classroom. I don't hang with artists, I hang with people. I don't want to write with or about artists, I want to write around and about people and ideas that are a product of my own life journey.

Consider the real folk musicians vs Nashville musicians, I think you can see the value in living creatively free from the dogma of others.

Botgirl Questi said...

I hear you and appreciate this discussion. I actually hate working collaboratively in real-time on creative projects.

My disagreement isn't whether this kind of thing would be good for you. It's clearly an issue that you feel very strongly about. (You can lead an artist to crayons, but you can't make him color.) My issue is with the general disparagement you express for those who make different choices.

One key reason I promote amateur creative practice is to combat the type of elitist attitude you describe in Nashville. Ironically, by discounting out of hand the work of people who participate in prompt-based challenge, you end up promoting an equally elitist point of view.

A prompt doesn't dictate point of view. It barely dictates subject matter. From what I've seen, it actually promotes independent thought and expression. It also provides a venue for people who may be accomplished in one area, such as writing, to explore new creative dimensions such as visual art.

Finally, in my own life, I'm a lot more concerned about freeing myself from my own ignorance rather than from the dogma of others.

Botgirl Questi said...

As a personal example of how participating in prompt-based challenges has sparked my own creativity, here's my 100 Word Stories video channel.

Gypsy Quixote said...

I really don't mean to disparage anyone, I'm only defending my own decision to not partake, as it seemed that this post was pointed at me (funny that it was provoked by our conversation over "drive" isn't it? Were you driven? By me?). I don't want to speak for anyone or discourage anyone, we all have our own path and level of artistic balance to pursue.

I simply don't need it. Is that acceptable? To be a fully engaged artist with my own pursuits and inspirations, my own body of work spanning decades, and my own, very developed and comfortable processes for creating .. is it not ok to simply not need what you offer? Because I don't think you would level the same argument against a more well known artist. I'm no Bob Dylan, but I'm also no amateur and I think that may be the problem with your perception of me. You don't know my work, my songs, my CDs, my level of artistic altruism or the amount of hard earned success that I've won through doggedly sticking to my guns. You only know me via twitter and SL, and that is only a shadow of my life at best. I know it's easy to see me as just another SL'er on twitter with opinions and attitudes, I don't brag or carry my past successes into SL or twitter, I'm a solo artist now and trying to strike out on my own for the first time in my life and I don't care to use my very successful run as a DIY touring bandleader or the acclaim that my songwriting got from the Nashville elites as leverage.

But I know me very well, I remember when I decided in my youth to buck all trends and accept no formulas, to follow my own path and never be cornered by a suggested process or someone else's advice. And I know how happy it has made me, how pure my songs feel and how individual my style has become through this process. I've never feared my own ignorance, I accept my faults but insist on turning my own pages to my own life nonetheless. And it has suited me perfectly well, it has defined me and liberated me, it allowed me to partake and survive in Nashville with zero fear of succumbing to their dogma. I simply live creatively, without thinking much about it, because I'm confident in who I am, I trust myself to the extent that I never need to look back or worry about what I said or wrote because I know it all comes from the same place, my place.

If that makes me elitist in your eyes then so be it. I know myself well enough that the charge only makes me giggle and feel a little sorry for you. There is no elitism in being true to yourself, it is a survival technique that has served artists well since the very beginning of time. As for my attitude towards the work you promote .. well, you put yourself out there, to be judged by those around you. Perhaps it would be beneficial to realize that everyone around you is not an amateur. And if all you want are amateur opinions then you are out of luck, this is the real world too, and your work will be judged for it's true merits, not just by the mirror of your amateur collaborators or for it's level of brilliance in purely SL terms.

Gypsy Quixote said...

Yes, I feel that a whole lot of SL creativity falls far short of artistry. I think SL is a great place for amateurs to be inspired and engage the creative mind, but I reserve the right to judge all that is presented as "art" on the same level as I would Bob Dylan or Andy Warhol. And I don't believe that any real artists cling to prompts or suggestions once they find their own voice. Graduate from class and ye shall be judged thusly, as a non-amatuer who should be able to prompt themselves, quietly and alone, and produce work that is original and long standing.

In closing, I'm an artist and an opinionated prick. You really have no idea, as I temper most of my opinions for the public good. Social networks are a tricky place for artists, I'm sure you're aware of this, I'm sure you follow many other artists who would lead you down the same path if you attempted to "prompt" them. It's all good, I hold no ill will or I never would have given you the time of day, but know who you are asking into class, and be aware that if you ask an artists opinion, you will have to accept what they give you, right or wrong. Artists aren't responsible to you or any class or idea, only to their own muse. You may as well be asking an old time farmer to come grow herbs in a greenhouse full of fledgling gardeners.

Botgirl Questi said...

I wasn't directing this post at you (or anyone else) in particular. The Twitter exchange was just a jumping off point for an exploration of how choosing to respond to an arbitrary external prompt could inspire authentic creative expression.

I think one root difference in our POVs is that I don't see a chasm between people who see themselves as artists (with a few genius exceptions) and the creative potentialof the rest of us. I'm writing not just as an amateur enthusiast, but also as a pretty successful professional creative.

In any case, I have listened to some of your work. I'm a fan. We should jam some time. :)

Gypsy Quixote said...

Well, if you've listened to my work then you know that I'm only a folkie and far from genius, and you know damned well that folk/blues is the original three chord DIY punk music .. so how you could think that I see a chasm between artists and common folk is beyond me. I'm all about the commoners voice, I teach and encourage it. I have literally thrust instruments into people's hands and showed them how to make their own music. One of my pupils became the finest upright bassist I have ever known right before my very eyes and to this day she makes a decent living from it, so I know what is possible and appreciate the rewards that come from encouraging amateurs. It's just that as a creator, I've lived with my style for all of my life, and this is an area for me that has no compromise, I know what works for me and I'm not interested in anything else. I don't want to create to anyone's prompts but my own. Period.

I think you know that I'm a fan of your work .. but that's just it, I hold people like you and Whiskey Day to a higher level. I see the enormous potential and level of intellect and I expect more than I would from some. I don't mean to judge all who contribute to your project with a sweeping generalization, I haven't even looked at recent submissions. I'm simply responding to the question of an artist engaging in prompts, or not.

I wouldn't engage many people in this kind of debate, I don't have time, but obviously I look up to you and respect what you do. And I know you are more of a question mark than an answer, which is why I felt driven to expand on my answer ;)

And I hope you don't hold what you've heard online against me, those are just covers from my fledgling days as a vocalist. I'll get my own work up soon .. and I didn't know you played, would love to hear what you do some time, although jamming via dual stream scares the pants off me.

R. said...

After reading all this, I get the feeling I'm supposed to want to punch someone in the face, but I'm not sure who I'm supposed to punch in the face and how hard.


I think of the Weekly Challenges as more of an open mike improv kinda deal, not a class. If there were nitpicking and evaluation and peer-editing going on - okay, sure... I prefer honeycrisp apples and college-ruled paper.

It's not for everyone, planet of seven billion people, to each their own, leaves more room at the bar for the fun drinkers, etc.

Or, as said by a dude with a more interesting hat and facial hair:

"People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like." - Lincoln


Botgirl Questi said...

Yeah. I think the heat of the conversation was based on underlying issues that may have little or nothing to do with the way participants actually experience the weekly challenges. That said, at least a couple of people have reported that they do use them as a way to explore and develop creative abilities in new areas.

It would be interesting to ask 100 Word and Single Frame story entrants about the main reasons they participate.

Gypsy Quixote said...

Bring it on Crap! I've been punched in the face through the internets by the best of 'em!

JK, actually you summed it up perfectly well, it's not for everybody. And why should it be? Those who need it use it, those who don't pass it up. There are many tools to inspire, prompts are just one. And obviously the use of a prompt is a tried and tested tool. I'm not against it, I just don't use it.

And I like your open mic analogy better than my classroom analogy. Kinda like the open mic I attend in RL on a weekly basis, I love the concept and togetherness, but I go outside to smoke during many of the performances ;)

Cecil Hirvi said...

Nice to see a legitimate exchange on this topic.

It's very easy for some artists to feel "loved" in an environment they are comfortable with. Take seriously only the ones who realize this then do what they can to make you hate them instead.

Deoridhe said...

Speaking as one of the Single Frame participants, I do it because it gets me back to the roots of why I started to take pictures in Second Life, as a form of easy self-expression of what I was doing on a given day. I know I lean much more heavily on my design background (using the squares) and incorporating words, and even more photoshopping techniques, than I do with my usual pictures. I also find that often the words "crawl inside" and dovetail with other things I'm thinking of at the time - sometimes pushing the thoughts out to soon, but I've been pleased with a few of them.

The discussion of what art is, though, is much broader than this conversation. Art as a challenge to society is relatively new, and comes largely out of cultural changes. Art as decoration, as memorial, as sign of wealth, as any number of things is much older and seems often to not be considered "art" anymore by people on the avant gard edge (I tend to be a bit more of a classicist, even when I was doing abstract art for class it vaguely annoyed me). I'm reminded, though, of an artist I knew who was also a substitute teacher to pay the bills, who got the learning to do exquisite nudes that would make the patrons in the Renaissance blush and gave it all up to stick figures in various ironic, metaphorical responses to assignments at her school (schooling for art is another huge argument in the art world). I remember thinking at the time that it was a shame, me being more of a hyper-realist with surrealistic-tendencies than anything, but it was clear she was following something; some internal prompt.

So on the one hand, I can see the validity in the need for artists to have those internal prompts. On the other hand, as someone whose work is both an art and a craft but which is not easily recorded at all except in the lives of my clients, I find the idea of responding to prompts something which inverse-prisms the riotousness of my every day life into a single point, even if just for a minute, that might somehow capture a bit of the endless counterpoints of my life. It's possible to capture that without a prism, but the prism makes it easier.

R. said...

Looking back, I now know who I should have punched in the face and how hard.