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Reflect: What is an Artwork’s True Success?

About a year ago, I was at a digital art and new media exhibit in San Jose.  Of the many interesting installations was  Mike Treanor’s game, “Reflect .”  In Mike’s installation, I found myself taking on the movements of a variety of animals after observing and properly mimicking the actions observed.  With each animal, I gained another degree of mobility from scooting to flight.   At the end of the experience, I fly into an office window and find a human sitting in front of a computer in a cubicle.  Appropriately, (in real life) I am sitting in a cubicle at the exhibit hall in front of a computer playing this “game.”

I suppose, people often find themselves making hasty arrivals at a wrong or incomplete understanding of an artwork’s motivation.  I found myself “getting it” by my own terms, perhaps to alleviate any worry that I am not deep enough to “get it.”  If I recall correctly, Mike, himself, said that games are typically about action and motion, rarely do they ever emphasize the act of observation.  He wanted to create a experience that rewards observation.  I’m totally down wih the whole observing is becoming theme in the game and found novel that after learning all these motions, the final observation is of a person inanimately staring at a screen– which would be what the experiencer would be doing in real life.  Surely, a deep thinker like me would understand… and that is all there is to it.

This past weekend, I was at Denny’s with a mix of unacquainted individuals.  One was an artist studying politics, and as he was acquainting himself with a stranger, I heard him explain that art needs substantial motivation.  For himself, he studies politics so that his art isn’t motivated by mere “puppies and flowers.”  Similarly, our understandings of other people’s work could range from “puppies and flowers” to ” the emperor’s new clothes”  to the complexly ascribed meaning of every detail.  …but do we ever know what the true motivation is?  And in the end, what really matters: the reason it was created, how it was received, or just that it exists?   It’s hard to say what the right way to create something artistic is or what ultimately determines its success.

It’s been a year, and I’ve not given my Reflect experience much of a second thought…. until today.   Today, I was feeling a bit ignored by the world.  People are so busy; they never take the time to really know me.  People are invested in their own ideas such that they could care less about mine.  To be honest, I just wanted someone to listen to me, to care about what I care about.  It’s hard to be excited about something and not have anyone to share my ideas with.

Moments of feeling different (or weird) in life remind me to make more of an effort in understanding other people.  I took a minute to think about why it matters…  Well, when I understand someone, I get to see the world a new way.  If there’s anything I admire about them, I can become them by my own interpretation.  I realized that… it’s really a lot like when I played Mike’s game a year ago in San Jose.   I acquire abilities and a new perspective of the world by observing and learning from the people around me, and at the end of the journey, I am able to observe myself from a variety of new ways.  Interesting, how this game became more than I gave it credit for, a year later.

Perhaps a lasting impression is an artwork’s most important achievement, while furthered enlightenment and understanding is mere icing on the cake… a seed to be flourished, if you will.  Sometimes we just aren’t meant to “get it” right away.   It’s something we observe, become, and when we need it, its movement becomes available to us.

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