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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sunset

The background for one my Cricket pieces in progress. Dry Brush.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Inuit Boy Inks



This is the first time I've approached a close-up portrait using dry brush. At least for an illustration. Using a very line oriented technique, there was always the problem of how to get the subtlety I wanted in a close-up portrait. With straight line art you're limited to contour, and there's only so much you can describe with contour. So dry brush with a few lighter washes really added the nuance I wanted. Portraits tend to be the mainstay of a lot of YA book cover art, so this approach should serve me well in the future. This Inuit story has been a great trial run for YA illustration--I was hoping that Cricket would give me the chance to do some figure work and this is just the opportunity I needed. With a roomy deadline, I'm able to do a little more experimentation than I might otherwise do, and it's really paying off in ways I could have never imagined. Stay tuned for more dry brush inks!

Monday, August 29, 2011

More Dog Inks

That last dog was drawn pretty sparely because it was a background element, but these are a little more resolved.



One disadvantage of working in pieces is that I tend to ink more of the image than I use. About half of both of these images are going to be cropped. It's a shame because I really like the inks on these. I'm using a lot more dry brush in my illustration work and really liking the results. Having spent the earlier part of the year doing dry brush for my show has really helped me to improve my dry brush skills.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Unsympathetic, Unredeemable Antagonist: From Fables to Fantasy, The Achilles Heel of Genre Fiction



I grew up on Science Fiction and Fantasy stories. Loved them. From my childhood to my teenage years I read almost nothing else. From my very first fairy tales, to the books I read as a teen, there were inevitably bad guys. The best were the science fiction stories that were more about ideas than battles between good and evil, books by writers like Theodore Sturgeon and Phillip K. Dick, and these were my favorites, but even Sturgeon and P.K. Dick resorted to bad guys in their weakest moments.



The Epic of Gilgamesh: Literature's first Redeemable Villain

Bad Guys have been the anchor of Fables for as long as there have been fables. But not always, and not all of them. The oldest written fable on record, The Epic Gilgamesh, is about a tyrant who redeems himself. So precedent tells us that we've known how to tell a different kind of story for a very long time. But still, we resort to unsympathetic, unredeemable antagonists more often than not. The bad guy continues to appear, particularly in genre fiction, over and over and over again. And it's not only in genre fiction that this occurs, but genre fiction is the most guilty of the trend, since genre fiction most often employs the purest of archetypes, the evil, unredeemable villain, more force of nature than character, the simplest and most basic way to anchor your plot, since there's no easier way to generate instant conflict that has an easy resolution than the unredeemable villain. No matter how many ways you decide to twist the plot, the resolution is always simple: vanquish the villain. If you want to resolve your story irrevocably, killing the villain is the best way. If you want your protagonist to sustain their purity, have them offer the villain redemption before the villain dies of his own folly. There is also no better way not to challenge your reader, to provide them the neatest and easiest form of black and white morality.

The Influence of Harry Potter on Young Adult Fiction



My most frequent form of reading these days is--and sometimes I hate to admit it--but the way I'm able to read as much as I'd like to and still be as productive as I need to be, is to listen to audiobooks. In the last few years, since it's been my goal to write young adult fantasy fiction, I've listened to well over 200 genre young adult novels. I cannot think of one of them, not a single one, that hasn't anchored itself on an unsympathetic, unredeemable antagonist. The most popular and enduringly popular series of book in the Young Adult market, the series that single-handedly revived the young adult market and got millions and millions of kids to read again, is anchored on this very device: the Harry Potter series.

I'll admit that I've yet to read any of the books. In fact, I've avoided them for the most snobbish of reasons: I'm suspicious of anything so popular. I've read, and enjoyed other popular books, so distaste for the Harry Potter series is for entirely personal and less than objective reasons. I did begin one of the books and immediately put it down, not giving it the least of a chance. So any qualitative evaluation of them is more than presumptuous, and I hate to hinge my opinion of the books on the worst excuse imaginable, that I've seen most of the movies, but I've seen most of the movies. Movies have a way or reducing the complexity of books, of distilling hundreds of pages into as few as 90 minutes. And here's another horrible excuse for my assumptions: someone I know has read the books and confirmed my opinion. That someone is my wife, so I consider her a reliable source, but still, it's a lousy excuse.

So I will concede that I could be very wrong about the Harry Potter series. But I'm probably not. My opinion is not a qualitative one, but the simple assumption that the books offers us a bad guy, an unredeemable villain, and the resolution of the books offers us the death of that villain. If I am wrong, please correct me. If I'm wrong, I'm doing an injustice to a book that I admit, I've never read. Unredeemable villains by no means negate the quality of a great work of fiction. There are many great works of fiction that follow this exact same pattern. So I wouldn't presume to judge the quality of the books, or whether or not they represent the best of what young adult fiction has to offer, but from everything I've been able to gather, Harry Potter is a classic tale of good versus evil, and my best guess is that it follows the same essential pattern of the vast majority of stories about good versus evil as earlier described.

I can't blame Harry Potter so much on the trend, since it's a trend that dominates most all of the fictional media we consume. It does, however, account for the dominance of fantasy fiction in books targeted at young adults. Now that teens are reading more than ever, this is the kind of book that they tend to read. Again: no surprise, and nothing new. But now that we've got their attention, now that we've gotten kids to read, why not use it as an opportunity to give them something else?

Why Feeding Children and Teens Nothing but Tales of Good versus Evil Can Contribute to Making Them Less Empathetic Adults

There are often said to be only a few basic plots that most stories follow, of stories of conflict and resolution, and the fact that many of these follow the pattern that I've described would be a facile way to condemn them. I am not condemning every good versus evil parable as a failure. I am condemning, however, the pervasiveness of the trend. So whats wrong with a good old fashioned tale of good versus evil? It's what all of us have grown up on, and most of us consider our sense of morality to be reasonable and just, but I think that these kinds of stories have effected our sense of empathy more than we would care to admit.

We may try to teach children to search for redeemable qualities in people who have done them wrong, to find forgiveness for people who have hurt them, but the stories that have shaped their sense of morality, that have encouraged them to root for all of those good guys so often and so vehemently, has given them the easiest reason to condemn them. Even as our sense of morality evolves, the reflex to demonize is something that so many of us carry from childhood to adulthood. I don't think that stories about good versus evil are the cause. It's a natural enough human tendency. But stories about good versus evil reinforce this distilled sense of black and white morality, and if you don't offer an alternate narrative, it becomes harder for us to learn to truly empathize with those who are responsible for even the most minor injustices in our lives. Our immediate reaction is to condemn. But empathy, and the evolution of our empathy should be a natural part of becoming an adult.

Authors: You, Yes You, Can Provide Children and Young Adults With a Different Narrative

This is why I think that it's the imperative of the people that tell stories to children to offer a alternative narrative. There are many different kinds of conflict. All stories don't have to have antagonists, but antagonists are often a critical part of genre fiction. But all antagonists do not have to be villains. Villains portrayed as evil and unredeemable not only reduce your conflict to a black and white morality tale, but they make your stories less complex, and less interesting. The key to great character development is identification. If your reader can identify with some aspect of the character, if they can have a sense of what it's like to be in that character's shoes, it enriches their understanding of what it's like to be a person. It provides a model for empathizing with real life people whose motives and actions you don't always agree with.

Right now, in young adult fiction in particular, we're failing miserably to do this. Right now, as young adult authors, you have the attention of young adult readers in a way that hasn't had precedent in many many years. So if you've presented the reader with a morally questionable antagonist, how can you make the reader better understand their motivations? How can you allow your readers to empathize with someone with whom it isn't easy to empathize with? Stories with redeemable, but flawed characters are better stories. The more that you allow your reader to identify with your characters, with all of your characters, or at least your principal characters, the richer your story becomes.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Dog drawing

Another drawing, inked, for my recent Cricket assignment.



This doesn't have a lot of detail, since it's going to be way in the background. Mixed media, ink gouache and dry brush. I usually use white gouache to make corrections, but I've more recently experimented with using it as a drawing tool to work white lines over my dry brush work to get some interesting textures. My recent approach to dry brush is very must inspired by Robert Fawcett, since I just got the new Robert Fawcett book.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Inuit Man, and my Dad: Separated at Birth?



This sketch was part of my recent Cricket project. It took me about thirty minutes to draw. The rest of the composition took me hours. Which part do you think they liked best? Well, sometimes it just works out that way. One of my favorite dry brush pieces took about twenty minutes. When I featured it in my recent show, it got more attention than others that had taken me days. It's a similar situation to the one I've mentioned before--when it all comes together too easily, it feels like you're getting away with something, that you can't entirely take credit for it, despite all the other pieces that you struggled over which contributed to the skill set that made the one that "came easily" possible.

But then, I'm also just kind of good at drawing old men. I've had plenty of practice drawing my Dad, I guess, who's 86, and about to turn 87. I've drawn more portraits of him from life than anyone else, mostly because I can always count on him to take a nap, which means he stays still for a long time. This image was done from a number of sources, various photos vintage and more recent of Inuit men, most of them head on, so I gave him a bit of a turn. This imaginary Inuit, in part by coincidence, in part by circumstance, has a vague resemblance to my dad. I think this is because my dad's parents came from Eastern Europe, and his mother was largely Uzbek, and Uzbekistan was invade by the Mongols, so there might be some Mongol blood mixed in with the general Ashkenazi mix. Mongols have that dark skinned Asian look that's so similar to the Inuits. Here's a recent portrait I did of my Dad:



What do you think?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thoughts on Disney's Bambi, or How Cute is Too Cute?



I Saw Bambi for the first time last night...

Somehow I've gone my whole life without seeing Bambi. I saw it for the first time last night. I've re-watched, or watched for the first time a number of Disney films recently, the most surprising of which was the Sword and the Stone--that movie really captured the style of Bill Peet, who, unusual for Disney, got a big screen credit at the beginning of the film. The best of them was Pinocchio by far. But back to Bambi--

Disney studios pioneered something they called, the multi-plain camera, and I think they made more use of it in Bambi than in the earlier Snow White. The multi-plane is an elegantly simple design--layer after layer of glass panes with painted backgrounds on them are slowly pulled aside during a pan. Sometimes there would be dozens of these glass panes, spaced in front of the animation cells to provide an incredible amount of depth. You can extend the pan even further if you allow it to go into shadow, which is what they did in the opening scene of Bambi, basically starting the whole process from the beginning when the scene emerged from shadow. This sense of depth was attempted before, and successfully by means of an entirely different method previous to Disney by Fleischer studios (best known for Popeye and Betty Boop). Fleischer shot their animation in front of three dimensional models which they slowly turned on a large turn table. It looked surprisingly seamless, but the multi-plane provided an even greater amount of depth and never broke the illusion with live action photography. So Bambi opens with this long multi-plane shot, but it's still a very early use of the technology, so it's not quite as seamless or effective as it is in the long city pan in Pinocchio, which they made right after Bambi. Sometimes the painted edges are a little too obviously flat, or there's scratches or dust on the glass. It's subtle but noticeable. Still, it's a great shot.

Here are some great examples of these kinds of panorama shots. Stills, unfortunately, don't give you the full effect of the multi-plane camera, but they're still pretty cool:




The real star of the show in terms of effects, was the way the water was animated. Later Disney animators would comment about how difficult it was to animate scenes like the one with Pinocchio inside a swinging cage, or that long city pan I mentioned before, while the audience took more notice of the ocean scene later in the film. These water effects were what the audience really marveled at. There is no wonder why, when you see the water effects in Bambi. I'm not even sure how they did many of them. reflections, overlapping foreshortened concentric circles of distortion on the surface made by water drops, various effects of rain, condensation, splashes and undulation, the water in itself is an incredible achievement. More recently, in contemporary 2D animation, as rare as it is these days, computers are used extensively to create the illusion of water, but the water in Bambi is pure handcraft on a level that we may never see again.

The characters, as always, are everything that we associate with Disney. I don't really have to explain this. You know what I'm talking about. Disney. But however you feel about their Disneyness, they're beautifully animated. I once read in an interview with Walt Kelly, who had once worked for Disney, how disappointed he was with the now seldom seen animated special of Kelly's creation, Pogo, made by Chuck Jones. He said that Jones was attempting, and failing, at what he Kelly decided Jones must have thought was a Disney style. He had his characters bat their big lashes so they would seem more endearing. Jones would attempt to do a Disney impersonation more in earnest later when he did his Kipling TV adaptations of Rikki Tikki Tavi and The White Seal. Though there's some great character animation in those films, you can really see what Kelly means when he talks about the batting eyelash thing. Once you notice it, it's such a cheap little trick, it becomes distracting and obvious. But as Kelly says, this wasn't at all what Disney was doing.

Indulgent Cuteness



Yes, the characters in Bambi and other Disney films occasionally bat their enormous eyes,but what really makes them endearing is the way they seem to discover and indulge in the sensuousness of the world around them with every sense. It's a sensuousness that exudes from their whole bodies. While we were watching the film, Reg felt suddenly compelled to lie next to our dog Cinder, who is always up for a cuddle. Disney's characters tend to illicit that cuddle reflex.

My reaction to this is two-fold--I want to give Bambi a hug. But I also feel a little manipulated. A little bit used. This cuddliness becomes aggressive as more and more characters roll and shimmy onto the screen with their cumulative cuteness. So while I appreciate that Disney can elicit this kind of affection for ink on acetate, it's a little too much of a good thing. When everything is turned up to the same volume of cute, there's a monochrome quality to the effect. The whole point of it is simply for you to desire it, and you both expect, and anticipate it. This is when I feel manipulated. I've heard pornography described similarly: the only objective of pornography is for you to desire it. While Disney's objective is more complex than this, this tendency towards indulgent cuteness is pervasive. It's also effective. The audience falls in love with the characters. I think they do for genuine reasons beyond the characters existence as cute porn, but it doesn't hurt.

So how cute is too cute? I don't have a real answer to that. I don't think cuteness, or indulgent cuteness, is a bad thing. Maurice Sendak elicits this kind of sensuous quality in his book, In the Night Kitchen, whose protagonist is by no coincidence named "Mickey". Somehow he manages to elicit these feelings without the same kind of aggressiveness. I can't put my finger on what he's doing that's different, but it seems more sincere to me.

Sometimes I fear that I'm verging on Disney cuteness, rather than Sendak cuteness in my own images. While I appreciate some images whose main purpose is to elicit this kind of emotional response, it's not what I want to do with my own images.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In Progress Figures: Inuits

I've been really busy lately on this Cricket assignment, so I haven't been posting. Here are a couple of figures from that assignment.



For some reason animals come easier to me than figures. Every figure seems like a small battle. This is for the third image, which will be a full page. I've already turned in sketches for the first two, and the art director, aside from what was essentially a note about color, requested no changes. This almost never happens. I may not be so lucky with the third one, but it's been great to work with Cricket.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Gingerbread Boy and Car #2

Here's another inked image of the Gingerbread Boy and his car.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Inuit Boy



Another in progress sketch for my Cricket assignment.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A New Figure and My Blog Gets a New Look!

Not a great drawing night, but I was happy with this short gesture. This is a five minute pose.



No Longer "Apologizing in Advance"

So I decided to change the look and title of my blog. I changed the layout a bit: Now I'm featuring in the right hand column a list of the most visited blog posts for the week, and if you scroll down a little, you'll also see my Twitter feed, even though I still have no idea what to do with Twitter. But most importantly, I changed the header and title of my blog. I'm no longer "Apologizing in Advance". I think that title has officially outlived it's usefulness. The title was based, in part, on a certain amount of insecurity, a feeling that maybe I might say the wrong thing. So with the new look and new title comes a new confidence. I feel more confident in general about the quality of my work and the quality of my writing. So I hope you enjoy the new look, and my work as it continues to progress!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Some Husky Drawings, Research and Character: You Don't Always Have to Write What You Know

Edit: I changed the title of this blog post because it didn't entirely make sense.





When I have multiple animals to draw like this I like to give myself plenty to choose from, and the more I draw them, of course, the better I get at understanding their anatomy. We have a Doberman and Australian Shepard mix named Cinder, a really beautiful animal with a pattern of spots something like you'd find on a hyena. We often get compliments because her coat is so unusual. She's perhaps the sweetest dog we've ever owned, and though she loves affection, fortunately when left to her own devices she's very good at entertaining herself, so she's not overly dependent. She's a little timid around strangers though.

Reg and I were playing with her last night, and Reg thought that there might be something wrong with Cinder because of the way I was looking at her. I kept looking at her legs and haunches, moving her around so I could get a closer look. I couldn't help myself! When drawing a new animal, it doesn't hurt to have one in the house. Though she's not a husky, her basic anatomy is the same. Usually I'm not so lucky. As yet I haven't been able to locate any eagles or elephants that were available to model for me. My usual technique is to use multiple photographs and draw from them until I've figured out the animals anatomy as best I can. I also have a couple of great reference books on animal anatomy that come in handy.

I love drawing animals but they're always a challenge. The recent seal drawing was particularly hard--trying to give it a sense of movement when its essentially a big thick teardrop with a face on the end didn't help. Harp seals have short flippers and don't have as much articulation in their necks as other seals, so most of the movement is in the lower body. I was able to give it a nice S-curve and a dramatic expression, so I think it ended up being pretty effective.

This is my second series of illustrations for Cricket magazine, and I find myself envying my friend Kris Mcleod, another local Davis artist and frequent contributor to Ladybug, Cricket's sister publication. Kris gets to draw kids and snowmen, while I get these assignments that require tons of research! Animals and period costumes and unique habitats all have to be on target. It isn't fair! But I can't complain too much. One thing I like about illustration, and also fiction writing, is that I always end up learning in the process.

You Don't Always Have to Write What You Know

In fiction, they always say, "write what you know", but what you don't have to limit what you know to your personal experience. You always approach your writing with your own unique perspective, but it doesn't hurt to enrich your writing with a little research. I think it's the same with illustration. Working as a professional illustrator or writer, after a while, making pictures and writing stories becomes your main occupation, so if you were to literally "write what you know" you'd end up writing a less than scintillating story about someone who spends most of their time writing and drawing pictures. That's when it's time to step out of yourself and learn something new.

When writing about a teenage girl, I watched hundreds of video blog entries on Youtube made by teenage girls, to get a sense of the phrasing and rhythm of their speech and to understand a little more about how they think. There's always a little bit of your own voice in every character you write, but putting yourself in another persons head, particularly someone of another gender, requires you to inflect that voice in a way that makes sense for the character. Teenage girls not only speak differently than me, but they also see things differently than me. I once heard the actor Ryan Gosling say that when he acted, if he could allow his body to become the character, his head would follow. Getting a sense of the physicality of the character allowed him to become the character. In writing, when I find the voice of the character, their attitude and unique perspective will follow. It's a very intuitive and unscientific process, but somehow it works out.

Getting Out of Your Own Way

The magic of art making is in this process of identifying with people and objects in a unique way. In drawing its the form and contours of an object or person or animal or landscape. You may never touch an elephant, but you can still draw an elephant. You can't hold a landscape in your hand, but you can get a sense of it's character and shape, and do the best you can to translate that to the page. In writing, similarly, you must try to get a sense of the character of your subject, and translate this to the page in the best way you can. Of course, you're never going to do this perfectly, and you'll always be instilling your art with an aspect of yourself. In this way, it becomes a collaboration between you and your subject. Even if that subject is yourself, the process of writing about yourself allows you to discover aspects of yourself that you didn't know before. Similarly, drawing a subject allows you to discover aspects of that subject that you didn't know before.

You have to be able to get out of your own way, to find the subject instead of trying to impose yourself upon it. You're not shaping it. You're not creating it. You become a vehicle for the expression of the thing. You become its instrument. Most of the time our ego gets in the way of doing this effectively, and there are plenty of egotistical artists, but when they're making art, if they're effective, they can only congratulate themselves after the fact. The intuitive and very non-rational process of making the thing is imperfect, is frequently interrupted, but when it's working, it has a life of its own. Your conscious and rational self might convince you that you created it out of whole cloth, but a part of you, no matter how deeply sublimated, will always know better.

When I've made something that really sings, it feels like I had nothing to do with it. Taking credit for it feels like I'm getting away with something. Most often I get this feeling when I've made one of those rare pieces that feels like one big unrepeatable accident. That's when it feels like I'm getting away with something the most, and when people compliment me on it, I often think, "but they don't know what a fraud I am. I practically had nothing to do with it." When this happens, I feel like my work is the most successful. I feel like I've plagiarized nature. Its always an imperfect copy, but it's close enough to resonate with my audience and for them to recognize themselves in it. Then the audience becomes another collaborator, and they add their own unique perspective into the mix. That perspective may be entirely different than yours, but you can't fully own something after you make it. It's hard not to want to lay claim to it, hard not to feel that you've been misunderstood when other people don't see it as you do. Maybe their view of it has such disparity from your intention, that you feel they've missed what's in the work that has value. Maybe they've allowed their own egos to get in the way of fully appreciating and understanding the work. But you can't control that. It's part of the collaborative process. But then, it's always nice to have collaborators that are little more sympathetic to your unique point of view.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Another running Cow, Perseverance

Here's another running cow for the same project, this time in profile.



The Inuit drawings are giving me a little more trouble than I anticipated, so inking these drawings has given me a nice break. Doing something I"m good at helps me to bolster my confidence when I'm trying to learn something new, and there are a number of things in the new piece that I've never drawn before. The invisible part of the illustration process is all the bad drawings that are required to make the good ones, and I draw quite a few to get to mine, usually on cheap bond paper. I can always print the drawings in blue on nice paper, later. This is the advantage of focusing on each element of the drawing individually and assembling them later: I can spend the time I need on each element to get it right.

The difference between good draftsmanship and passable draftsmanship is persistence of one kind or another. There are artists who can get by with passable draftsmanship because they're good at something else, like color and composition and texture, or a unique point of view. There are artists that have a practiced and natural talent for draftsmanship--but that practice must be constantly maintained and cultivated. I fall somewhere in the middle. Dividing my time between writing and drawing, I've never been the draftsman I've wished I was, but I'm always improving, and what I lack in natural ability I try to make up for in perseverance.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Running Cow Chef Inks

Here's my running cow Chef from earlier, now inked.



This is a busy week for me, with two half pages and a full page for Cricket magazine (a story about inuits) and two pages and a spread for the upcoming SCBWI Illustrator's Day Conference, on top of my personal projects. I've got a number of writing projects at various stages of completion--A finished YA novel for teens, a finished chapter book for middle readers, and one of each respectively completed first drafts.

Like my last Cricket assignment, this one is requiring a lot of research. There's just so much stuff to get right--period costumes, animals, and habitat, so that's keeping me pretty busy as well. And of course, finishes for everything are all due about the same time. Sigh.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Gingerbread Boy in Gingerbread Car

For a project I'm working on for the SCBWI Illustrator's Day Conference in September.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Harp Seal

Here's a harp seal for a new illustration. Harp seals are the ones that start out life cute and fuzzy and white, though they get less fuzzy as they mature to adults.



Google "harp seal" and it's hard not to come across harp seals being clubbed to death, so yes, these are THOSE seals. I found very few images of harp seals swimming, since you just don't get too many scuba divers willing to dive in water that cold, but I did find some great youtube footage of Monk Seals, which are the closest warmer climate seals in body shape to Harp Seals. I just had to fatten them up, and show less neck, and they started looking more like harp seals.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Letter from the Afterlife

Here's the mock-up postage stamp and cancellation stamp I did for the project I mentioned in previous posts.



This is for a Griffin and Sabine-style facsimile piece of mail from "the afterlife" for a proposal that is being sent by an agent to a publisher for a book by another author. I don't want to get too much more specific than that, unless something comes of it.

I just got another job from Cricket magazine with an inuit theme, so I'll be working on that in the weeks to come. I'll try to post sketches as I go.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

From idea, to Expression, to Communication: The Fundamental Absurdity of "Intellectual Property"



DRM, or DIgital Rights Management, is what they call the software that doesn't permit you to use a digital media on anything but a single commercial product. DRM does not allow you to use that media on a competing product. Without the Itunes player I can't watch my Itunes videos.

In the history of commerce, this isn't a new concept. Sharecropping represents a form of oppression and moral bankruptcy that it would be ridiculous to compare morally to DRM, but the basic model is similar. The sharecropper is completely dependent on the farmer for his income and basic needs. Again, I don't want to stretch the metaphor too far, since buying MP3s isn't exactly indentured servitude. In fact, the objective is reasonable and easy to sympathize with: the merchant wishes to sell a product that cannot be infinitely duplicated and then redistributed for free. The comparison that is often made is outright theft--you may have seen the ads that they often include in DVDs, comparing copying to theft. But this is not an apt analogy. No physical product is stolen. What is being copied, is potential information. If it's a book you're not selling paper and ink. If it's a movie, your not selling the cameras you used to shoot it with. More so than ever before, the product you're selling is completely intangible.

All that digital media exists only in the transfer of bits and bites, and the storage space for those bits and bites is in your physical possession, your hard drive, not theirs. They don't lose anything physical in the transfer. Ones and zeroes are what we use to represent the information, but they are not the information itself. Information does not exist independent of its human receiver. All those ones and zeroes only represent potential information. In the end, you still need a human being to interpret the information through some form of media, through sound or images. It's an imperfect process, since, like any form of communication, it relies on interpretation. We couldn't share this information if we didn't share some kind of language, since language aids us in equalizing the difference between expression and interpretation. Language helps, but doesn't do the whole job. I can't experience your ideas, I can only experience the expression of those ideas.

Intellectual property means quite literally: the ownership of ideas. It's a pretty weird concept, when you think about it. Movies and songs and books are expressions of ideas, not the ideas themselves. It takes time and work to share your ideas, and the process is imperfect. The method of expression determines how those ideas manifest. You can't take an idea and spit it out onto the film or onto paper. The expression of the idea is not only a translation of that idea, but the idea is shaped by both media and language. Even images in your head are shaped by how you see and interpret information. Some aspects of language are innate--babies very early on will begin to recognize s smiley face symbol as a face. Some are learned: An aboriginal tribesman upon seeing his first photograph cannot interpret the information in the photograph in the same way that you and I, who have been exposed to images that portray illusionary space our whole lives, will interpret that same photograph. The way we interpret illusionary space is learned, and this form of interpretation is a part of our understanding of language.

So the concept of selling an idea, of selling intellectual property is a fundamentally absurd one. You can't extricate the idea from its mode of expression, since ideas are shaped and discovered through their expression. Expression doesn't even have to involve physical execution--simply thinking of an image in your head is a process inextricable from the language we use to interpret that image, and in this way, the image is shaped by language, and cannot exist in our heads independent of its interpretation.

I don't know when the concept of selling an idea was first established, but the commerce of digital media has required us to distill this concept to its ultimate end, putting this fundamental absurdity in stark relief. Now merchants and corporations are forced to deal with this absurdity more directly. Before recording technology, and eventually, digital media, the expression of an idea had to take physical form. To read a book, you had to have a physical book that had to be manufactured. To experience a performance, you had to see or hear the performance live. Books could be copied, but performances couldn't. As technology developed, we had the additional means to listen or watch a recording of a performance. As digital technology developed, we had the ability to distribute that information instantaneously, or almost instantaneously.

Live performance is often considered one of the few experiences that can't be duplicated. The experience of viewing art made by a human hand in a museum or gallery can also not be duplicated. With immersive digital media, or virtual reality, we're getting closer and closer to closing the gap between these in-person live experiences and recorded experiences, or experiences that can be consumed by proxy. Just as we can watch a live performance on video, some day we may be able to experience a live performance remotely through immersive technology. As this gap begins to close, these in-person experiences will no longer have the same significance. There will be few media experiences that can't be simulated, if not perfectly, than very very closely, at least when it comes to the audio/visual. We don't know to what extent immersive technology may expand, and as technology develops, the gap could close even more. With this, the gap between the expression of an idea, and the communication of that expression also closes. Distribution of your expression has infinite potential. Potentially, more people can experience these forms of expression than ever before. But how do you sell something that doesn't exist tangibly?

This is the dilemma that artists currently face, and the problem will only increase. But infinite potential, is not the same as infinite reality. People need to be informed that your art exists, and they need to have access to it. This is becoming easier, but we still rely on people and corporations who promote and distribute art. If you want to get the word out on your own, you can take on this role yourself, but individuals still aren't able to do this quite as effectively as corporations. There will long be a discrepancy between what a corporation can do, and what an individual can do in this regard. The web can only exist through a global communications network owned by corporations. There will always be people who will try to hack, or hijack this means of distribution, but this can only go so far. The vast majority of us will continue to be in its thrall.

Corporations are faced with the same dilemma as artists: they can't control copying. They can limit it, but they can't eliminate it, and as technology develops, copying only becomes easier. DRM is only a temporary measure, and consumers are already beginning to balk--we like to have control over the stuff we own, and l doubt we'll tolerate DRM for very long. A new economy has to emerge, and none of us truly knows what it's going to look like. As long as artists rely on corporations to distribute their stuff, artists will be beholden to those corporations on some level. Some of us will be able to circumvent this, but most of us won't. Net neutrality won't be sustainable if corporations feel that it will compromise their hold on us.

The concept of intellectual property is a powerful one, and more than artists or individuals, corporations have fought to sustain it more than anyone else, since they stand to gain from it more than anyone else, but its a concept that is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Whatever the new economy may hold, the concept of owning an idea will have to be adjusted, and corporations are terrified of this prospect. I can't help but think that this is a good thing.