[Warning: There are no links to exciting new projects in the following post.]
As usual, when I’m between quarters (or between massive projects), I get introspective. It’s not something I do consciously; I just find myself taking a few steps backward and looking at whatever it is I’ve been hammering on with so much gusto, so much conviction, and in some cases, so much righteousness.
Motionographer is one of those things. But it’s not really Motionographer that I’m hammering on, it’s the monolithic structure of Motion Graphics, an ever-growing behemoth cobbled together from thousands of disparate parts by millions of hands. Interestingly, as the specter of this Tower of Babel looms larger, my attraction to it fades.
I think a lot of you can relate to the following quote from my favorite philosopher, Alan Watts, in which he talks about our economy of stimulation:
“The perfect ‘subject’ for the aims of this economy is the person who continually itches his ears with the radio, preferably using the portable kind which can go with him at all hours and in all places. His eyes flit without rest from television screen, to newspaper, to magazine, keeping him in a sort of orgasm-without-release through a series of teasing glimpses of shiny automobiles, shiny female bodies, and other sensuous surfaces, interspersed with such restorers of sensitivityÃ¢â‚¬â€?shock treatmentsÃ¢â‚¬â€?as ‘human interest’ shots of criminals, mangled bodies, wrecked airplanes, prize fights, and burning buildings. …
“Animals spend much of their time dozing and idling pleasantly, but, because life is short, human beings must cram into the years the highest possible amount of consciousness, alertness, and chronic insomnia so as to be sure not to miss the last fragment of startling pleasure.”
[61-62 of The Wisdom of Insecurity]
Watts wrote that in 1951. Substitute iPod or PSP for radio, and it becomes perfectly current.
Pardon me for lumping you all into a group with myself, but we are the person that Watts describes above. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be reading (or writing, as the case may be) this blog. This blog, and motion graphics in general, are obsessed with stimulation, especially the particular kind of stimulation we get from seeing a new style or revering a new twist on an old narrative.
More than any other design field (even fashion), I believe that motion graphics excels in the endless pursuit of “itching eyes.” Its reliance upon technology combined with its limited channels of distribution to millions of people make it the most ingratiating Super Slave to stimulation the world has ever known.
But we are like Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail. The more we consume the visual junk food we produce, the more we make it impossible to ever feel satisfied. We are addicts constantly upping the dose of our favorite drug just to get back to that unattainable first high.
Some people will write all this off as being burned out. They’ll say I’ve just spent too much time working on my projects and looking at motion graphics. All I need is a little time off.
Unfortunately, that won’t work. That’s the equivalent of removing myself from the sun after getting a sunburn and thinking that the sun will never burn me again. It will. No matter how tan I get, the sun will still scorch my skin, resulting either in carcinoma or a leathery shell covering my body that can barely detect the ocean breeze.
I recently started reading Tibor Kalman’s Perverse Optimist, because that’s what you’re supposed to read when you’re burned out on design. I was struck by a passage in the introduction:
The work just changes as [Kalman’s] sense of his audience expands; at the beginning it isÃ¢â‚¬â€?as with most start-up design firmsÃ¢â‚¬â€?the person paying for design services who begs to be startled. Then it is the rest of the design profession that Kalman is attempting to jolt out of complacency. Finally and most ambitiously, it is the general public that falls into his sights, with Colors, Chairman and the 42nd Street and the exhibition projects.
I’m not sure when the general public started reading Colors, but the above intro rings hollow, regardless of how many people have bowed at the design of Kalman. The truth is that Kalman was an elitist, and he designed for elites, even when (especially when?) he was designing for large audiences. I’m guilty of the same thing. I mean, what is the Cream O’ the Crop if not a VIP club for elites? The only difference is that, unlike Kalman, I can barely design my way out of a paper bag.
The problem is that design that effectively communicates its message to the largest audience is very rarely “startling” or new. It is often effective because it is predictable and reliable. This is why design trends are important. Even though over-reliance on trends often leads to creative atrophy, a prudent employment of trends is a way of coding messages for particular audiences so that they “get it,” so that the message is communicated to them (and sometimes only them) in a way that not only makes sense but is attractive, too.
When you’re constantly concerned with startling people with design, you’ll often leave them in the dust, just as so much contemporary art leaves Joe Everyman scratching his head. I find it funny that so much public art is completely lost on the public. In trying to create something that is truly new (as opposed to a clever twist on the old) and that is simultaneously for a general audience, you invariably lose a good chunk of your audience.
We as designers have a truly warped sense of this reality. We see a new commercial or music video that startles AND communicates its message to us, and we think the work is a success. The only real way to judge success, though, is to put the spot in front of its relevant audience and watch them react (or not react) to it. If Colors was for general audiences, I’d love to put it in my mom’s hands and watch her reaction. Or my brother’s. They’d be thoroughly untouched by it, despite its graphic imagery and “startling” visuals. It would merely glance off their minds like a Jackson Pollock painting or a John Cage symphony.
And yet I will carry on with this blog. That’s the part that amazes me. And many of you will continue reading it. Even after we realize we’re gnawing on our own tails, we go right on chewing away, thinking perhaps that the flavor will change or that the pain of devouring ourselves will miraculously cease.
Next up, I’ll be posting some new work that I think you’re really going to dig. After that, I’ll post some stuff that you won’t be into as much, but then soon after that, I’ll post something really rad. Just wait. You’ll see.