I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday! One of the gifts I was given made me think about art, how it is delivered to us, and whether or not that’s part of the overall piece.
Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered just a couple of years before I started middle school, and one of the coolest things about it was the little pads they read things on. Going back and watching the original series, I think those pads existed there, as well. We often saw them being handed off. Yoeman Rand and Her Hair (the basketweave beehive on her head is the most memorable thing about her to me) would pass one to Captain Kirk, he’d glance at it and hit a button, then hand it back. But it was in the new series where we often saw characters sitting back and relaxing to read from one of those gadgets, or doing their own writing on one. I couldn’t wait for the real present to catch up to that fictional future so I could have one!
I’m being forcefully dragged, with a bit of kicking and screaming, toward that place where the real present and fictional future meet. Adult Me sometimes wants to sit Child Me down and say, “I know it looks really cool when you’re just looking at the one thing, but it’s different when the whole world is plugged in like that. You have to look at the bigger picture.” But I’m pretty sure my parents said things like that to Child Me, so I know the response would be something along the lines of, “No, you don’t understand! You can put all your books in it and carry a whole library in your pocket!”
Maybe that’s why we experience time in a linear fashion. It prevents us from wasting so much time and energy on not listening to ourselves.
I was given a Kindle for Christmas. It’s not a gift I would have chosen for myself. It is, in fact, something I would have avoided getting for myself. My mother, having the benefit of 30+ years of being a mother in general and my mother specifically, bought me exactly what I did ask for… a Stephen King book. It’s being held hostage on the Kindle, though. She didn’t get me the newest model with all kinds of strange bells and whistles. She got me one of the first models. It doesn’t have too many buttons. It doesn’t have a backlit screen. She did this because she knows I’m not as quick to adjust to a wagonload of features shoved in front of me as I once was, and that I’ve complained about the idea of spending even more hours a day with my eyeballs glued to a screen than I already do. I’m not just being stubborn. I have some medical issues that make things like this very intimidating for me, for one thing. And with my work and entertainment happening on a computer, I really should give my eyes and brain a break now and then. I am being at least a little stubborn, though.
I did say I’d give the Infernal Machine (my husband laughs every time I call it that) an honest try, though, and I am. Twitter buddies helped by pointing me toward the free books and making some suggestions. I also have a Kindle gift card and remembered that Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orlando is something I’ve been intending to get a copy of. It is on my Kindle right now, and the first couple of chapters have been every bit as helpful and encouraging as I hoped. I highly suggest that every artist read it, and possibly let some of the people closest to you read it, as well. The ones who are part of your support system, but aren’t artists themselves.
My mother has good reasons for pushing me toward the Kindle. I have good reasons for running away from it. These can all be reconciled and I can learn to enjoy the Infernal Machine. This isn’t just about books, though.
One of the books she gave me on the Kindle is Ur, also by Stephen King, though not the one I asked for and was given. This is an example of something I think really should be read on a device like the Kindle, if not the Kindle itself. It reminded me of a Halloween article written by Neil Gaiman that has the greatest impact if you read it yourself, rather than having it read to you.
There are times when the delivery system matters very much. It becomes part of the completed piece.
That’s actually part of my problem with the Kindle, Ur being an exception. Books aren’t just stories to me. They’re an experience. I love the covers. I love the paper and ink. I love the binding. A physical book becomes something of a character itself to me. Is a very old book in pristine condition because it was loved and cared for? Was it treated like an object to be collected rather than a story to be enjoyed? Or was it left alone on a shelf where no one opened it because no one cared? Is the binding on a book broken and it’s cover worn because it was carelessly abused? Or was it a friend, carried everywhere and re-read many times? New paper with fresh ink has a certain scent. Old paper has a scent just as distinct, though it’s a very different scent.
I’ve thought about this sort of thing before. I work with digital tools in creating my art. I’ve written before about depending too much on my eraser and Undo button. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to see Van Gogh’s The Starry Night when it was temporarily on display in my area. It’s my favorite painting, and seeing the actual piece was an amazing experience! It’s quite a bit smaller than I always imagined it being, and there are places where the paint doesn’t completely cover the canvas and sketched lines show through that aren’t noticeable in prints. It’s the same piece, but so different. You haven’t really seen it unless you’ve seen the original. Things that would often be recognized as flaws in the work are part of what makes it so amazing. What are we losing when we distance ourselves from the physical object?
I’m not going to get rid of my Wacom tablet and buy paints and canvases to work with. It is a question that turns over in my head now and then, though.
I’m not worried that digital books will replace physical copies. Some of the Twitter buddies who have been helping me adjust to my Kindle agree that some books are worth buying as paper and ink. My mother has also said she wouldn’t want to see physical books be replaced, but that something like the Kindle is a useful tool when you just can’t have a physical copy of every book you want to read. I think we could reach a point where physical books become a nostalgic luxury. I’m not sure that people are quite as happy with the speed technology moves at as we often think we are. We cling to the old things. We spend a lot of money to sew clothes in a time when mass production is cheap, whereas sewing clothes used to be something people did because they couldn’t afford clothes from a store. We customize new gadgets to look like clunky, outdated gadgets. Maybe we’re on a quest to prove that “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too” is just another stupid rule that should be broken.
After all, even in the future world of Star Trek, a book made of paper and ink is a treasured gift.