April 27, 2005

TV is Good For You, and Interactive Art is Irritating

by Andrew Stern · , 3:04 am

…according to the the New York Times. Specifically, two articles you’ll probably either love or hate: from last weekend’s magazine, a preview / excerpt of Steven Johnson’s upcoming book Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, on how the complex narratives and game-like structures of today’s best television shows give your mind a cognitive workout; and, separately, a harsh review of certain pieces at this year’s Boston Cyberarts Festival (a few being the type of work I’d probably call push-button art, if I were in a crotchety mood).

Jane at gamegirladvance has posted excerpts the game/TV article.

11 Responses to “TV is Good For You, and Interactive Art is Irritating”

  1. scott Says:

    Jill recently noted another excerpt that Steven Johnson also wrote about the dangers of linear reading for readers raised on video-games in his blog (albeit with tongue firmly in cheek).

  2. scott Says:

    The Times piece is interesting, and identifies several common problems with interactive art, but from its tone, I’m given to assume that its author entered the experience with a less-than-open mind. It wouldn’t be at all unlike the Times to send someone predisposed towards disliking interactive art to an interactive art exhibition, rather than someone more knowledgable who could review the work in a richer context (why not Matthew Mirapaul?). Maybe Nick and Noah (or other readers of this blog) can give a more unbiased (or biased in a different way) report for the sake of comparison.

  3. noah Says:

    I think it’s interesting that the reporter didn’t say, “These are just technology demos. Where’s the art?” I seem to remember that being the most common criticism of interactive art. In fact, it’s just the opposite in this article. The Scott Snibbe work probably has the least “content” of any of the pieces discussed, and it’s also viewed most favorably. Is this progress?

    I think there’s quite a bit of successful stuff in the Cyberarts festival this year. I suppose the reviewer didn’t have time or patience for a piece like Teri Rueb’s “Itinerant” which (gasp) takes as long to experience as a movie. Who would want to give so much time to that annoying interactive art stuff? Let’s pick a few pieces, give them 30 seconds each, and then make fun of them.

  4. noah Says:

    Also, if the NYTimes critic was so starved for non-interactive work, why not mention Bill Seaman and Otto Rössler’s The Thoughtbody Environment: Toward a Model for an Electrochemical Computer? This was on display at the Kendall Square opening mentioned in the review, and was positioned as the centerpiece. I guess it didn’t fit with the “old art is better” thrust?

  5. nick Says:

    Seems to me like the article offers some fairly specific interface/experience critiques, “like it or not,” and even tries to enumerate all the ways in which interactive art can be annoying: “prurience, ritual, ungraciousness and moral superiority.”

    We could complain that she didn’t look at the good stuff, or complain that there is some mockable “old art is better” subtext in the article, or we could ask “is she right? are these aspects of digital artworks annoying?”

    Not having seen these pieces, I can’t answer the question with reference to them, but I’ve certainly had annoyances with particular pieces of digital art (and some pieces of e-lit), so I think it’s interesting to see someone trying to define general categories of annoyance, with reference to particular works, in the short and unfootnoted form of a New York Times article.

  6. noah Says:

    Nick, you outline what might be an interesting essay — but, instead of being that essay, this is a poor review of the Cyberarts festival.

    On the other hand, that interesting essay might be hard to publish in the Times.

    I certainly would have liked it better as the essay. Imagine if it had started by saying, “There are some things that annoy me about interactive art — I’ve got a little list of them — and I found examples of all of them at the Cyberarts festival.” Sounds like a kind of negative piece, but a better one.

  7. andrew Says:

    Steve Dietz rebuts the article.

  8. mark Says:

    In a certain sense I agree with the article. I like interactive art better than passive art in principle, but good passive art can certainly be better than bad interactive art. I’d have to say the vast majority of interactive art I’ve seen didn’t really interest me in any way at all, on either an intellectual or artistic level. Of course, that’s also true of the vast majority of passive art, but it helps that there is a much larger body of the latter to choose from.

    I may not have been looking in the right places, but I’ve yet to find an interactive experience that I really thought was amazing, to the point where I’d rank it alongside the world’s great works of music, visual arts, literature, and film. At best I’ve seen things that are interesting, but not a masterpiece. (That doesn’t mean there’s anything intrinsically wrong with the medium, of course.)

  9. mark Says:

    A caveat to the previous comment—I have been to music performances that I’d consider interactive experiences, and which I thought were quite excellent. Small shows in experimental genres with relatively few people in attendance—and especially when there’s no security, barriers, or stage separating performers from audience—are not quite “passive art” in the sense of listening to a CD or quietly observing a symphony performance from the balcony, and can have quite interesting dynamics. But that didn’t seem to be the sense of “interactive art” meant here; it’s certainly not something you can line up in the gallery of a curated exhibition.

  10. noah Says:

    The BBC and Wired News coverage feels a bit different… like they were reviewing the festival.

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