Thursday, July 30, 2015

sp150720 Another look at Magic  

It was in the 1970s that I was introduced to video games by C. T. Chew, who was, at that time, a student in my printmaking classes. Around the same time I was privileged to see other creative artists at the UW mashing elements of performing arts and technology into their work.
Partly this happened because of video, which I took to be a medium friendly to the arts—the way independent films had been in my early art education. Technology didn’t bother me; I could have been an engineer, or even a dentist, with the gifts of my parents—Dad for his inventiveness and persistence, and Mom for her art and writing.
My background made the game, Magic: The Gathering, fascinating. Partly it was because a teacher invented the algorithm for the method of play. It was one of the first games to win a patent. Hasbro was interested in the game since 1994, and bought Wizards of the Coast, its producer, in 1999 for $325 million.
For an artist to be interested in algorithms, patents and game mechanics is odd, but I am also interested in artists’ survival. Artists were contracted by WOTC for the illustrations and, when I would visit the Magic flagship store in Seattle’s U-District, I liked to look at the original paintings there. That store was an art gallery, complete with a rooms for play, life-size monsters and regalia from the card’s art.
These events took place from 1975 to 1995. By the turn of the century I had left the art world behind, and it was—and is—lonely. I travel in new art worlds that are trying to be born, bearing the marks of an art world that’s dying—the art world of the 19th and 20th Centuries. My former colleagues—who are still alive at the UW Art School—and my former students cling to that world.
Oddly, but I have never played Magic. I borrowed a deck from a guy and I tried to play it but I was befuddled. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it, even when I tried to read the rules. For every term there were questions I couldn’t find answers to. I think it is because the engineer and science side of me won’t let me slay make-believe monsters, or think that I can get strength by buying an expansion deck at a game store.
For me, there is something else besides entertainment in collecting and playing cards. Today I turned my attention to Magic again; but it was from a different perspective. I was on the trail of deck-building games, as Magic is one type of DBG and, in my browsing the web I found videos on the latest software for building custom decks on my computer. Also, a ‘Magic for Idiots” video series.
This is feeding my imagination with a fresh, new visit, reloading the inspiration I got from artists like C. T. Chew, Dennis Evans, Norie Sato and Sherry Markovitz—to name a few—inspiration that is at the root of making my 21st Century art into a card game. In other words, the game mechanic for Magic can be repurposed to fit my game, Emeralda: Games for the Gifts of Life.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

ap150723  Life after death  Leading from the grave  

Forty years after he wrote a short sci-fi story about one who was frozen for 40 years and is brought back into his world of academe, the author describes what it is like. It is, he says, as if he foretold what was going to happen to him over four decades. 

 Death in the ‘70s

I forecast my death and rebirth in the early 1970s. Somewhere in my computer files, and on a printout made on a dot-matrix printer, I have the year I wrote about my rebirth—or, as it is in my short story of that year, re-entry. Probably I wrote it because I was feeling badly about the way things were going at the university, and maybe I saw the end coming.
Writing journals is therapeutic, so this story was therapy. As it turned out, scenes in the story about the technologies of my field—printmaking—were accurate descriptions. For example, one scene is set in an art class. Students were watching as a full-size, color print came scrolling out of a slot in the wall. The print was art by a “visiting” artist 3,000 miles away.
In this story I foresaw digital printing as it is with today’s Epson 11880 Stylus Pro printer in use for a distance learning class—perhaps a Massively Online Open Course, a MOOC. In the early 1970s, these technologies, like sending pictures over the telephone, hadn’t been invented. Yet, a few years after I wrote about it, in 1973, my students and I used the Telex machine which exchanged pictures with a Canadian artist; and the FAX was soon to come.
Writing this short story was my way building my hope. Writing would help me get through the politics and shenanigans prevailing in the School Of Art at the UW. Mixing new and old technologies with my students had been my joy since 1968, when I made my first photo-etching. Despite the real possibility that I’d soon be voted out of my teaching job, lose our home and my young family be put at risk, I hoped I could try new things like video art and yet survive.


There was another element in my short story besides visionary, digital printing and distance learning as new kinds art and craft of teaching printmaking. In the story, cryogenics was common practice at the time my protagonist was subjected to it. Therefore, many other people with life-threatening cause were frozen in the hope that a cure would come in the future—if the patient could survive long enough. Consequently, the proceedings of “re-entry” was fairly common and provided my protagonist with a sidekick—someone special who shared something of in personality—a troublemaker.
In my story the sidekick is a woman. This is not a love story, because, as the author, I was already in love; I didn’t need anyone but my wife but a personification of a muse. The two “re-entrants” (as the thawed-out people were referred to) were a mission to find out why the changes they saw all around them—pollution, monotonous, mind-numbing social practices and shallow educational regimen—came about while they slept.
Besides the new technologies that I saw being developed in 1970—portable video cameras and automatic telephone answering devices for example—there were movies that influenced me: Planet of the Apes, The Man who Fell to Earth, and Forever Young, for example. In Planet of the Apes, as the spaceship sinks, Charlton Heston sends a last signal, he shouts “Back to earth, in case they find us.” The captain had hope, despite the sinking ship.
Hope, in my thoughts, is always there. In the story of Pandora’s box, when Pandora shuts the box’ lid, we’re told that the last thing is hope and she shut the box before it escaped. Thus, writing, and having the new technologies with which to write and publish on the web, is my Pandora’s Box.
Today you can always download and get a song on your device; there is always music, always hope. Back in the 1970s, when I was writing about my probably future, despite all the indications that I would lose my job and never get to participate in the new technologies that were the latest forms of printmaking, I hoped I would hold out.
And, look at me. I did!

About the Author: Bill Ritchie thinks that printmaking should be taught, researched, and practiced as a community service and so he blends traditional printmaking with technology. His press designs and videos reach printmakers globally while, locally, he is building a team to develop the Seattle Printmakers Center.