Can you make it more like South Park?

Television, despite all the billions of human labor hours that have been spent making stuff (and that is what TV is all about, making stuff..just like painting or sculpture), has produced for the most part nothing but garbage. Endless millions of hours of garbage. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year. People eating bugs. People selecting which briefcase has the money. Guess who’s coming to decorate.

It is beyond depressing. It is an embarrassment to our culture and to our civilization.

The question, of course, is why? Why do we, despite the billions of dollars spent on TV and the billions of hours devoted to it, continue to produce garbage?

Because creativity requires a personal vision.

When Picasso wakes up and gets the vision for Guernica, he simply goes up to the atelier and starts to paint. This is how great paintings are made. This is where genius comes from. If we ran the world of painting the way we currently run the world of TV, Picasso would get the vision for Guernica, and then he would write a proposal to PPS (The Public Painting System). The tile of the proposal would be “The Guernica Painting: A Proposal”.

A Proposal for a Major Artwork

By Pablo Picasso

The Spanish Civil War is an event that has capture both the headlines of every major newspaper as well as the popular imagination of the nation. Yet what is the Spanish Civil War, what does it mean the average person. I hope to capture this feeling through an intensive, yet highly personal presentation of the impact of the fascist government’s bombing of one small village: Guernica.

The work will be largely two dimensional, painted on a canvass, with images of people, cows, and a lamp………

You get the idea.

Well, Picasso writes the proposal, (along PPS published guidelines), and, in time, (like about 6 months or so), the Guernica Project makes its way through the PPS review system. It is looked at, in committee, by a number of very well known PPS painters, as well as administrators for the PPS system. They generally like the proposal, and they may even fund it, but they have some suggestions to make.

The Public Painting System

Dear Mr. Picasso,

Many thanks for your recent submission “The Guernica Painting Project”. We at PPS read it with great interests and I am delighted to tell you that you are on the ‘fast track’ for approval for commencement of the painting.

We do, however, have a few small problems with the proposal, but we are sure that you will be amenable to making some changes to make the painting more ‘audience friendly’.

1. This is a War painting. As you know, it is not our practice to fund War Paintings, as they do not fall within the PPS guidelines for ‘good paintings’. However, when we do fund war paintings, we have found that museum audiences generally respond best to something heroic, and a victory. (Washington Crossing the Delaware – both very heroic and uplifting – generated our greatest audience response during the museum fundraising drive three years ago). Your Guernica project, while dealing with a war, has neither a hero, nor (how shall we put this?) a happy ending. Please re-think the focus of the painting. While the Spanish Civil War is a very noble and worthwhile subject with which to deal, we would rather see you focus one or two ‘heroic’ personalities in the war (perhaps one Republican and one Fascist – to give an all important sense of balance…something we really like around here).

2. On another subject, we have spent a great deal of time (and money) focus grouping your most recent work. I have to tell you that audiences in our test markets of Cleveland and Parsipany, New Jersey, did not react particularly well to your work. This can, of course, be disappointing for an artist, but we have found that by paying attention to the results of focus grouping can greatly increase audience response numbers. When you come down to our offices in Washington, we will be happy to go over the specifics, but one point was driven home again and again. You must put the eyes back into the faces. People find this particularly distressing…..

This, in fact, is how TV is made. That, and once Picasso does get his funding for The Guernica Painting Project, he has to go out and ‘book’ a union paintbrush holder, a union paint holder, a union canvass mover. And, of course, all of them work only from 9-5, with an hour for lunch, and a five-minute break every hour. They will, of course, work overtime, but that is at their discretion, and only for time and a half, which will drive up the budget for Guernica.

Well, of course, this is going to produce garbage. And that is what you see on TV. Garbage. And that is the reason that what you see on TV is garbage. Not because the people who work in it are dumb, but because the way we have ‘architected’ the system is antithetical to creativity.

It is as though, with the invention of TV, we consciously set out to crush any way for the medium to foster creative vision.

If television were a marginal activity, like video art, we could afford to ignore it. To let it continue in its own, meandering and painfully mediocre way. But television is not that. For better or for worst, it is the single most powerful medium of communication in the world today. And it would seem that it is only going to continue to grow in power and influence. And that is why it is critically important that we stop, at this juncture, and say, OK. We have been doing this all wrong up until now. But it is not too late. We must rethink how TV works, what it is, and how we use it.


5 responses to “IF PBS RAN THE ART WORLD

  1. Pingback: Invention Answers » IF PBS RAN THE ART WORLD

  2. This is a good introduction to your telecom project. I’m not sure I support the idea that total freedom of thought and expression will lead to greatness. Or that the lack of formal training won’t hinder the quality of the amateur shows. It will create volume and that’s what’s needed for the scope of the project. Constant incoming product; the donation of personal visions.

    Briefcases filled with money and people eating bugs do qualify as clear examples of non-art. Tv at its best is not that, it’s much more and it’s quite relevant.

    Tv performed and cried and delivered as we watched together the morning’s destruction on 9/11. Similarly, the comedies and dramas that survive the test of time represent the best of the medium. Writing, production values, acting and set design… it’s impossible to paint a broad brushstroke and call the whole thing garbage. That’s ridiculous.

    Picasso was an artist because of his genius, not because he had the freedom to create. That said, I actually do anticipate the stories and visions that emerge as the channel evolves. The breakout stars will likely resemble J.K. Rowling: someone who’s gifted and has likely spent much of their life serving The Muse.

  3. “Hey boss I got a Mr. Picasso on the line. Says he’s a daily turnaround Citizen Artist/Reporter.”

    “What’s he got?

    “Well a four hour exposé on the shape of the human eye. Called why only two eyes?”

    “Anything more News like?”

    “Footage of that Warehouse fire.”

    “That was three weeks ago.”

    “He says you can’t hurry art. Also it was his blue period so the fire looks green.”

    “Is that it?”

    “Well he did do a self titled piece about himself not being able to sell stories to hack journalists…it’s quit dark.”


    “No underexposed, you can’t really see anything but the subtitles.”

    “Is it in a foreign language?”

    “No just bad audio.”

    “Seems better than what the VJ’s are giving us, how much will he sell it for?”

    “He says you can’t put a price on art but if you give him a blank tape it’s yours.”

    “Ok but give him a used one.”

  4. I like this.

    But I don’t agree.

    As the technology of television/video making goes from expensive to simple, we have an opportunity to change the nature of the business.

    70-odd years ago, photojournalism was much like television new today – the gear was big, expensive, complex.

    The invention of the leica – small, hand held, shot on a roll of plastic (!) and 35mm (so small) must have seemed to professional photographers the analog of the Panasonic P2. Not real. Not pro.

    But it was – but it brought with it an entirely different kind of photojournalism.

    In 1961 (and you see how long it took) that photojournalism as an art form, in its own right, was codified when the Museum of Modern Art in NY exhibited The Family of Man – a photo exhibition.

    Today, we all think of photojournalism as a beautiful mixture of news and art. Life Magazine was probably the paragon of that form. Magnum certainly it today.

    As video moves into the realm of the ‘video leica’, we can.. people like ‘Cameragod’, can, by embracing the new technology AND a new way of working with it – do for video what leicas did for photography – move it from a craft to an art. They are very different.

    So Stephen, I want to offer you a challenge:

    You are obviously very creative – and you have a great passion for your work.

    Go get a small, hand held HDV camera. Don’t put it on your shoulder. Use it like you would a Hasselblad.

    Now, on your own, (you don’t have to tell anyone), go use the camera to capture not what is happening, but instead, use it as an extension of your self to capture how you feel about what is happening. Do you see the difference?

    If you got to a museum and see a great work of art, we don’t say, ‘hey Rembrandt, nicely lit’. We ‘feel’ a great deal of emotion and that comes from Rembrandt and how he translates that to oil and canvas. You can do the same with video. Try it.

    Is it art? For sure. Is it journalism? I think it could be a much more powerful kind.

  5. The thing is I’ve done the small camera news thing and it’s a bit like telling Picasso to paint whatever he likes but only if he uses his feet. The only feeling you will get is the frustration of being forced to use the wrong tool for the job.
    Can I paint with my feet, you bet but why, why, why when I could be using my hands? I’m freelance so I’ll use whatever tool the client wants.
    I do a lot of music videos with small HD cameras. We are in control of the environment and the action and have the time to do another take to get it looking right.
    I use little cameras fixed in cars for ride along shots. To get them to look right it can take long setup times.
    But for news where the fastest guy on the draw is the one who wins I really hate having to sacrifice speed and quality for no real gain.
    I say it again, you want to fix news then fix the part that’s broken not the part that works.

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