When any image is possible, no image is all that impressive anymore.
Once upon a time, I wrote down a possible blurb for a story: "What if everything were possible and nothing mattered?" I didn't realize at the time I was talking about a phenomenon unfolding around me right then, one which continues to be true today.
The above link and quote, by screenwriter Billy Ray, is about the problem of the movies today, and I agree with most of what he says in that piece, but that line in particular is tragically true. A great image that isn't connected to anything — something shoehorned into a film just because it looks good on a poster or in a trailer — isn't how visual storytelling works. It's a kind of cultural pollution, one where the mere fact of making something happen supersedes anything done with it.
Most of how I've commented on this before was by way of CGI — that once it becomes technically possible to put anything, anything on a screen, the new problem is figuring out what's worth putting there in the first place, and in what form. Constraints force you to make decisions, and a work of art is created first and foremost by rigorous decision-making. This is where the story begins and ends; this is what's in and out of the frame; this is what we will and will not include; this is what it is and isn't about.
If there's one trend in the arts that I've seen accelerated by technology, it's the erosion of decision-making on the part of the artist. Or, maybe better to say, a transfer of that decision-making to the audience, but not always in noble ways. I would never consider games or interactive fiction to be unartistic (they're perfect examples of transferring decision-making to the audience in productive ways), but it's bad when something that requires hard decisions to be made about it is made soggy, indecisive, immature because someone couldn't be bothered to say Yes or No.
This is not about CGI being bad, and models being good (a trope I found tiresome the first time and no less tiresome the thousandth). Rather, it's about how the original impulse to tell something, say something, speak meaningfully, can be subsumed into something flashier but shallower: the impulse to give other people what they think they want.
Now that we can put anything we want on a page or a screen or in someone's ear, the problem of what to say, what to make, what to be about has become more acute, not less. The nakedness of so many emperors becomes all the starker. But it should be hard to figure out what to say, because that's the only way to come up with something that isn't meant to merely disturb the air, or heat it up. You'll always be bound to try and make it easier, and in response, the goalposts will always uproot themselves and run further downfield.
I leave the last words, as I am wont to do, to Morton Feldman, by way of John Cage: "Now that things are so simple, there's so much to do."
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