In this guest article Kirk Nelson (a regular contributor to the magazines ‘Advanced Photoshop’ & ‘Photoshop Creative’) gives a real good low down on what it is like to be working in the design industry, and then some… Call it a rant if you will, but I know that you will enjoy this article.
Where’s The Magic Button?
“Where’s the magic button?!” read the subject line of the latest thread in the character animation forum. Within was the rantings of another poor soul who had believed the lie. He had purchased the right tool, now why couldn’t he do the work he’d seen others do?
This poster, Mac, we’ll call him, had just purchased a professional level 3D animation package with high hopes of creating his own fantasy film full of dragons, castles, and mystical battles between demons and sorcerers. The demo reel for the software showed several of these things along with many other amazing scenes all slickly rendered and animated. His disappointment was palpable when he looked in the software’s Create menu only to find a list of geometric shapes. No dragons, no castles, no wizards, not even a lowly suit or armor. But cubes and spheres and cones instead. In a confused rage, Mac had turned to the message board where he’d seen so many inspiring applications of this very program to seek enlightenment. “Where’s the magic button? Where do you get the dragon and fireball? All I see are a bunch of curves, polygons, and shaders. You don’t mean that I have to DRAW a dragon with these lines do you!? I can’t do that!”
In typical internet fashion, the forum responded by mocking Mac. They offered to sell him “Fantasy Dragon Scene” plug-ins or to say he needed the latest software patch that opened the new “Create Awesome Animation” feature. Others responded with their idea of irony by posting the definition of the word “Fantasy.” Nobody would tell poor Mac the truth he really needed to hear; that software is not a replacement for artistic skill.
No Skills or Talent Required
Every professional in a creative field has seen this phenomenon. From the guy who tries to design logos in Powerpoint to the person who watched a Photoshop tutorial online and now wants to apply for the graphics position. Or the talented photographer who bites her tongue when somebody praises her work by saying “Wow, your camera sure takes great pictures!” So many people think they can be a creative professional if they simply purchase and learn the right tools. No skills or talent required. One wonders if these folks consider why such establishments as art schools even exist. Surely there can’t be more to it than just learning how to run through a few menus, the software does it all for you right?
It’s interesting to consider that nobody thinks they can become a carpenter by reading the user’s manual for their circular saw. Or that purchasing a pneumatic wrench qualifies them to be an auto mechanic. So why would somebody assume that purchasing Illustrator would transform them into a designer?
Who Benefits? Who Doesn’t?
Perhaps a better approach to the question would be, “Who benefits from this false assumption?” The most obvious answer is the software companies themselves. They would clearly enjoy the credit being attributed solely to their product and not to the artist. What better way to expand their consumer base and sell more products than by propagating the belief that their tools don’t cater to professionals, but create them. “You don’t need to be a top graphics artist to purchase Photoshop, but you sure can’t be one without it, so if you want to get there, we’ll provide the path.” It’s a seductive promise to be sure. One that appeals to our basic desires of immediate gratification. There’s no need to spend years in a design program at an expensive art school when you can simply purchase a piece of software instead. Why subject yourself to merciless critiques in a cold, damp, traditional art studio when you can easily watch a few tutorials from the anonymous comfort of your desk?
Where to click? vs Why to click?
Let us not forget that the tools themselves are quite spectacular too. To the uninitiated, creating stunning artwork is as simple as a series of mouse clicks, who can’t do that? There are thousands of video tutorials showing just how a piece of software can be “driven” to arrive at an artistic design. People can then reenact this predetermined series of dance steps, achieve the same expected results, and claim they produced the piece. But the art is really no more theirs than it is the machine’s that played back the tutorial. Many Photoshop tutorials can be entirely recorded through the Actions panel and played back at the press of a button. This doesn’t mean Photoshop itself is now producing the design, does it? In this sense, design has been reduced to a simple list of “where to clicks” with no thought being given as to the “why” of each click or menu command. It’s like the proverbial retired engineer of the soup can factory who was called in to troubleshoot the plant when it ceased working. The man evaluated the machinery and spray painted a single ‘x’ on a piece of equipment with instructions to replace that piece. He then promptly charged an exorbitant fee for his services. When the plant manager complained of such a large sum just for spray painting an ‘x’ and the engineer replied that it’s not how to paint the ‘x’ that mattered, but where. Similarly, with design software it’s not where to click that matters, but why.
The problem is further perpetuated by the plethora of academic programs that are too light on solid fundamental design and too heavy on the mechanics of using the tools. Many holders of design certificates are quite fluent in the use of Photoshop filters, but can’t adequately describe the basics of color theory. It becomes obvious just how acutely detrimental this trend is when one considers that color theory has long preceded even Photoshop itself and will likely last for generations after the current software companies have faded away.
One of the most curious causes of the “No talent required” movement can be traced to a group that has nothing to gain from it, and everything to lose; the accomplished creative professionals themselves. Or rather, their rabid “fanboyism” of the tools. These are the talented individuals who are thrilled to display their work as an accomplishment of the tool they chose to use. While it’s true that the software does enable them to accomplish their visions, these artists are blind to the fact that the tools are just that, tools. They defend their choice of platform or software more than their own family name. They take the credit they have so richly earned and freely give it to an assortment of ones and zeros. And their work is then used to further press the deception onto the masses. These artists, who should be the ardent resistors of the movement, have unwittingly become its champion supporters instead.
So? … Where is the Magic Button?
It’s clear that the very idea of being replaced by a piece of software raises shackles within the creative community. It demeans their talents and discounts their hard work. So what should be done about it? Essentially, nothing. The movement is on a course of self destruction. Creativity cannot be automated. It can be copied, recorded, analyzed, reproduced and inspected, but it cannot be mechanically generated. Trust in this fundamental truth. Creative professionals should be aware of the movement, see that they don’t become unwitting supporters, bust up the false assumptions when possible, but more than anything, just continue doing what they do best. Continue creating. Continue designing. Continue producing works that prove the point. Talent is not replaceable. The best weapon in this battle is quality design work that makes others cry out in frustration, “Where’s the magic button!?”
So, what are your opinions? Where do you stand? Have you found the magic button?