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When I’m faced with a new PowerPoint, I don’t think about what my manager is expecting. I think about Shakespeare. I think about that feather at the beginning of Forrest Gump. I think about Marlon Brando’s monologue in Apocalypse Now. I wonder how Scorsese would judge my section dividers. I think about how Homer would break the Odyssey down into slides.

McSweeney’s: “I Am The Orson Welles of PowerPoint” by Oyl Miller, September 16, 2010.

That’s a small excerpt from a humorous essay written by Andrew ‘Oyl’ Miller for McSweeney. Oyl Miller was featured here over two weeks ago: “Blog of Myself” by Oyl Miller (March 2012). One can find more info about him at this link.

• • •

I once heard someone describe a PowerPoint presentation as being “wagnerian” in style. It makes for quite a good laugh, but it also points to an interesting problem which concerns our relation to art in general.
What’s at stake in Miller’s piece is, among other things, the idea we have about what is art. Citizen Kane is regularly listed as the best film ever made. I have yet to hear of a PowerPoint presentation which would have receive similar honors. On the other hand, there are some people who are trying to think about PowerPoint presentations in a different perspective. Edward Tufte, a well known American statistician, wrote an interesting book titled The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within. In it, he tries to expose how a form (or medium) of presentation can impact the content which is presented. David Byrne, the founder and lead singer of the band Talking Heads, started experimenting with PowerPoint presentations as a joke but eventually realized this “art medium” could “create pieces that were moving, despite the limitations of the “medium.”” (see David Byrne: “Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information”).
A similar problem has been going on about the nature of video games. Some refuses to see them as an art form. American film critic Roger Ebert famously support such a view (see “Video games can never be art” April 16, 2010). Then again, video games recently became the center of a (national) museum exhibition: the Smithsonian American Art Museum is currently holding the exhibition The Art of Video Games (from March 16, 2012 to September 30, 2012). The presentation unambiguisly states:

The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies.

Is this an undeniable recognition of the artistic value of video games or another sign of the “blockbusterization” of museum exhibition (for such a discussion, see “To blockbuster or not to blockbuster” by Emily Bauman, F Ness Magazine, April 6, 2009)?
A discussion is also going on about the use of the word “curator” which is increasingly used to describe online content editing. Although it was traditionally reserved to museum activities, in the past few years the term came to be broadly associated with the management of content online. The Oxford English Dictionaries Online now recognizes this meaning. To “curate” also means to:

select, organize, and present (suitable content, typically for online or computational use)

From this perspective, any Tumblr or Twitter user can call himself a curator. Moreover, curation has become an important marketing trend equivalent to online content promotion (see Curation Traffic, Curata, Percolate for example; I also wrote about this a few weeks ago: “Curator’s Code”: some remarks on authorship and source attribution).
Does it means we’re about to see a link blog prominently featured at the MoMA? The idea is somehow amusing and my first inclination would be to doubt it. It’s true it took a while for photography to be widely recognize as a legitimate art form. Even as of today though, an iPhone (or an Instagram account for that matter) doesn’t automatically transform its user into an artist. Some of those aspects actually inspired another funny but also compelling essay about online curation: “John Blogkowski, Curator of Hyperlinks, Dies at 81” (written by Simen and published on his blog Enthusiasms on April 6, 2012).
In the end, three things seem to stand out from all those issues:

  • What I find the more interesting is not to decide once and for all whether or not PowerPoint and video games are legitimate art forms, but the mere fact that today such a discussion is possible. This is not insignificant.
  • All the cases brought forward here―PowerPoint, video games, online curation―are intrinsically associated with an economical market. Important financial aspects are at stakes in each of those example. How those aspects differ from, say, the economical dynamic behind the creation of a painting by Van Gogh is open for discussion. For sure, there was never an industry of oil painting like there is today an industry on video games. It doesn’t mean we must denied video games any kind of artistic value, but it certainly means we must rethink seriously what is art (such was, I believe, Hegel’s ambition when he gave his lectures on aesthetics and spoke of “the end of art”: see “Hegel’s Aesthetics” at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
  • Finally, Oyl Miller’s essay reminds me to keep a good sense of humor about this topic: it cannot hurt the discussion, on the contrary.
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