when the work is never done

There is an oft quoted misnomer surrounding the maintenance of the Forth rail bridge which spans the Firth of Forth on the way into Edinburgh. It is said that as the bridge is so long - upwards of 2.5 km - that once you have finished painting it you have to go back and start all over again. There is some curious fun in imagining the hardy painters, like Sisyphus with his boulder, living a constant yet noble task in keeping the mighty and spectacular structure safe from the wear of the notoriously brutal Scottish elements. Unsung heroes filled with the purpose of a never ending function.
Last week I wrote a little on the benefits of art and creative pursuits; on the unerring dedication to the process of creation and I began thinking, thinking about my (possibly overzealous) use of the term process and its near undefinable hidden structure on the way we produce art.

I think its natural to think of creativity as a verb, as something done and acted upon. But in the world we live in connotations of action and process are inherently bound to a sense of time, a need to define both a beginning and an end. In terms of art these boundaries can be hard to pin down and have, in the past, been up for much philosophical debate.
In 2001, during the filming of their visceral documentary 'Some kind of monster' Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich is asked his opinons and refers to a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat he is seated below.

"You know, where does he feel that there's enough of that kind of gold thing? How come there isn't another strokes up in that black area up there, where it's kind of bare? Where are the starting points and the end points, if you know what I mean? When's a song done? What the fuck does that mean, anyway? Done. When's a record done? You know, where does a record start? Where does it end? Where does the process start? Where does the process end? All that type of stuff. Do you know what I mean? It's really interesting."

While not hugely eloquent it is interesting to see someone who has had a creative career spanning over twenty years with dozens of writing credits to his name show some loss in the face of the concept. Incidentally the painting 'Profit I' (seen above) went on to sell for $5 million, a new record for a Basquiat, that is until 2008 when Ulrich sold another of the artists works for $14 million.

Painting on grand scale such as Basquiat is known for bringing forth questions such as this, when did it start? When does it end? Art itself is filled with such a keen sense of overarching inspiration it can be argued that artists have been preparing a piece all their lives. The myriad of influences and sensory cues which lead to the artists sense of self tell that the creative process may have no real beginning at all. As for its end? I'll refer to one of Europe's most famous and beloved polymaths, Leonardo di Vinci who is quoted on the subject with.

"Art is never finished, only abandoned."

To take a more modern tract it seems that the creative world as we know it really is taking this simple and beautiful sentiment to heart.     
For some time the interactivity available between artist and fans has given itself to surprising collaborations. Releasing the base recorded elements of an album can extend the life and the subsequent interest in a record by allowing anyone the chance to rebuild it as they see fit, it can also create an entire community based on the remixes they create from your sounds. With the prevalence and now acceptance of the myriad facets to electronic music it seems that the once abhorred remix is widely seen as an extension to a record with artists from Britney Spears to Radiohead releasing official remix companions to their albums.

The modern connected world has done so much to influence our ability to continue refining our arts by means of communication. It is now easier than ever to garner information and opinions from existing and potential fans, allowing those doing the creating the ability to cater more directly by interacting with a potential audience. 
In this world of near infinite interactivity there are few mediums that compare to that of video gaming, claims to the level of defined 'art' or not, it's very nature becomes fatally flawed if it does not have users to interact with it, to use it. It is unsurprising then to see the gaming industry do more in terms of 'never finishing' its processes than most other artforms combined.

The current model for gaming is rife with additional content, whether free or paid for, made to enhance or increase the scope of a game. Racing games constantly provide gamers with new cars and tracks to try while music and rhythm based games release new tracks only a few days behind their real-world release in the music charts. The concept of being able to continue the creative process even after the physical box and disc is in the store can give developers an opportunity to expand and digress in innovative and entertaining ways such as 'Red dead redemption's' 'Undead nightmare' addon. This post production piece threw the already set western background headlong into the realm of zombie horror with a slew of nods to the wealth of cannon already available to fans of the genre.

Bethesda's open-world fantasy hit 'Skyrim' used its updatable capacity to consistently patch bugs and problems plaguing the console versions of the release, much in the way that Valve's steam store runs near constant updates to the games it houses. The biggest controversy in this field of late has been with the final chapter to role-playing epic 'Mass effect', upon release and completion of the third in the series fans were deeply unhappy with the climax, claiming to be disappointed and disrespected in terms of their overall input and loyalty to the franchise. In response Canadian developers Bioware have agreed to ostensibly re-write the ending to better serve fans expectations in piece of downloadable content set to arrive later this year.

This raises some serious questions as to how the 'its never finished' ideal may damage a product. This interactivity can create a near infinite feedback loop between the consumer and the artist, the criticism of each release being fed back into the process and ultimately affecting the way the created art may be view or consumed in the future. Where, for the users/consumers, this is consistently fulfilling as magically all voiced prayers are answered, for the artist/creator the switch may not be so comfortable. There seems to be a sense of privilege to this argument, 'I'm paying so I should get what I want!' But, where respect for ones audience and healthy collaboration can be the synergy of a whole package, it can serve to undermine the intended goal of the artist. It would be thought of as absurd and damned right offensive to ask an author to rewrite a passage or conclusion to appease and demographic, or to expect a musician to transpose their record to genre decided upon by a webforum of fans. Yet, here in the world of increasing interactivity it seems that is what the market voice has decided should be written into the rulebook.

I like the concept or art never being 'done', Ulrich is right, what does that even mean anyway? That ambiguity is part of the process; art is never finished, not because we abandon it but because creative processes accept imperfection and flaw as a natural and integral part of the whole. 
A painting is done when further brush strokes can only serve to cover up the truest form of the image. 
A record is done when to polish and change it further undermines its structure or intent. 
A novel is done when, even though you are aware of their existence, a more beautiful and incisive collection of words simply wont present themselves.
But even these are only the guesses and estimates I can fathom at this moment, they are all up for interpretation and we bestowed our trust on artists to interpret them for us.  

All I can say for sure is that this blog is done, now.    

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