Webcomics, Video Games, Books, Geek Toys, and Life in General

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

If you link to the comic to the right of this column you will find the jumping-off point for this post. I highly recommend reading it before continuing through this post.

All set? Then let's proceed.

First of all, I entirely agree with the premise that limitations play an important role in art form--why else would we categorize artists? The term "expressionist" does not apply to every artist; it can't. Expressionist artists apply a different set of rules to their creative process. Likewise, impressionists, realists, imagists, cubists, surrealists, and dadaists--whether they subscribe to the definitions imposed by these terms or not--recognize that their work differs fundamentally from expressionists.

That a time limit or a page limit or a word limit can be said to be a "feature" of written expression is just as valid. Take haiku, for example: seventeen syllables of imagery, specifically limited in order to distill that image--and distinguish the poetic form from all of the wandering devices of the lyric and free verse genres of poetry.

What of the time limitation on movies? Some would argue that a few directors ignoring this rule means that the rule is meaningless--if millions of fans will sit through a three-hour film, then there is no set time-limit on films. I disagree; rather the fact that even die-hard fans of these directors notice the extreme length of epic films SUPPORTS the argument that a recognized limitation exists.

In other artisitic forms, the limitations are heralded: sixty-second films; single-panel comics or three-panel comics; pencil carving, which would be easier and far more profitable if performed in a larger and more visible medium, but would then no longer BE pencil carving; thirty-minute and sixty-minute television shows--and the fact that longer versions of these shows are forecasted well in advance ("Be sure to tune in for the special two-hour event!") is once again a SUPPORT for the importance of the time-limit rather than a refute.

I'm not trying to say that limitation is everything. Sculpture in a single medium (marble, clay, wood, etc.) is somehow more impressive to me than mixed-media. On the other hand, cartooning involves layer after layer of application, and each layer is a different tool, a different effect.

However, the limitations are what force the creative expression. For those of you who feel you cannot relate to all this talk of creative expression just because you don't doodle or play with play-dough, think about the last time you stayed up late writing a term paper or a proposal against a deadline. The limitation forced the creativity then, didn't it?

Another example that I LOVE is board games. When you play a board game, the rules ARE the game. One could cheat and win--switching cards or deliberately miscounting spaces, etc.--but one might just as well move their playing piece to the finish line right at the start of the game and declare "victory", since the entire object of the game is subverted anyway: to win within the limitations imposed by the rules.

Any sport makes a good analogy, too. How easy would it be to win basketball if you stopped dribbling and just ran over people like in football? How about football involving kung fu and small weapons? Why not allow chainsaws in Ultimate Fighting--what's the point of calling it "Ultimate" if both guys walk away from it anyway, right?

Unfortunately, the creator of Cat and Girl (that comic up at the top of this post) has a little angst and cynicism--don't we all--or maybe she was poking fun at angsty comics, and the punchline left me a little deflated. Why?

I happen to believe that the shortness of life (no, I am not having my midlife crisis yet) demands that we be creative participants rather than bland viewers or spectators. We live eighty years--oh, wait, maybe only fifty--oh, wait, maybe only thirty--oh, wait, maybe only a few years, and not only do we have (as limitations) our frail physical bodies, our touchy psyches, and the obligations we take upon ourselves for every relationship we form, but we also have this instinctive (and I mean instinctive, innate, not-learned) desire to produce something that shows our influence, our powers, our personality remains imprinted in the world.

I know: some people create children, some create art, some create business solutions, and some create weapons of mass destruction. I can't judge what people choose to create--and by that I mean both that I should not judge and that I am not qualified to judge--in the sense that I may criticize a comic like this one for failing to see its premise through (Sorry, Dorothy!) but I am forced to qualify that criticism with the remark, "But she sure does have a style and a wit to her art, doesn't she?"

I would welcome the comments of anyone who has catalogued this effect in another form: maybe you've seen someone like MacGyver take the few items at his disposal and, in the few seconds remaining, has created something that--under other circumstances--no one ever would have invented. (MacGyver, of course, falls under that sitcom time-limit rule, too, but who's counting?) Maybe you've witnessed true genius in a card game--where there are only so many cards, so many hands, and so many mistakes to be made.

I believe, as I've said before, that when something like this is true, it can be universally observed. In fact, as I sit here in my little (7' by 7') cubicle, I observe it in myself: although I have demands on my time, I find time to write; and although I am shut in like a cricket in a box, my cricket-y clicking (on my little SP keyboard) surpasses my cubicle and sounds in your ears! My limitations are stimulating my creativity! Take that, corporate bigwigs! Aha!

Sound off, people.


Anonymous Karen said...

Of COURSE there are limitations... how else could we place the labels of "great", "masterpiece", or "classic" on any person or any thing. We have an innate need to create boundaries... and then revel in those who excel beyond those boundaries. The 'average' student makes C grades (or so we're told), but the 4.0 student is the one who becomes valedictorian. Any ol' music major can create a sonata, but its the Beethovens, the Chopins, the Mozarts who remain in the public eye (public ear?). Boundaries enable the frail, mortal human race to believe that we can achieve beyond what "they" say we can do.

And yet...

Why is it so hard for some people to believe that we can excel beyond the boundaries of this life to become the valedictorians, the Mozarts, the Beethovens of the next life? Answer me that one.

3:07 PM

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