I think that categorizing things as either "First Word Art" or "Last Word Art" is difficult, if not impossible to do except in hindsight. I think every artist strives to make one or the other, but there is no real way to know other than to see what follows, and as such I believe most projects will fall somewhere in the middle.
Particularly the idea of "Last Word Art" is troublesome to me. It seems to require a universal understanding that the best of the best has already been created, and to attempt to refine the idea any further would be ridiculous, but I think that overlooks the fact that the most innovative ideas draw inspiration from the past as part of the process.
Since technology is constantly evolving, one might anticipate that a lot of "First Word Art" can stem from the development of technology. However, just because something is new and different doesn't necessarily mean it's valuable simply because it utilizes a new material or concept (though it certainly can be).
It's pretty clear that ideally one would make art that is both "first word" and "last word," but that this is not a practical goal. My artwork tends to fall on the first word side of things, although I haven't been quick enough (yet) to consider myself among the very first to adopt any technique, and I don't have any strong allegiance with new techniques versus old. As a career goal, I definitely want to make something that stands the test of time, and if I can do that I don't care so much if it's with new media or not. Granted, I find that working with newer media is more exciting, so I'm more likely to be making that sort of work.
The first word/last word classification is not as simple as Naimark makes it out to be. For example, Pixar movies are visually first word, but do not use particularly new storytelling strategies. In theory they are developing technology for the sake of making stories that last, which seems like an honorable goal. Of course, it is still difficult to consistently make quality work of any kind, and sticking with a formula can lead to stale art.
I find my relationship to technology and art somewhat tenuous. I came into CMU deeply interested in art, and not so much technology and as I have been here those two have swapped, and are swapping back again. For awhile I've viewed technology as a toolkit for art separating the two, but being at CMU has made be realise that in this niche of combining the two, they are one and the same. Advances in technology are advances in art, and art advances technology through experimentation. I compare this to the inception of ideas. Our clock project provides the same baseline, with the same technology available to all of us who undertake it, and yet each of us find new ways to piece together what we are given into entirely different and new manifestations.
However, I've also been struggling with the novelty of what we make. This concept of the first word art really jars with me. I fully accept and acknowledge the experimentation, but at the same time my conception of art/my interest in art history is framed by completed works that leave an impact on the timeline of art. But I also recognize that each novel thing we make leaves an impact on us as creators, something I forget far too often as I make work for assignments rather than for growing myself as an artist.
In my senior year of high school (last year), I was a visual design major. In most of the years before that, the teacher had her students do a few big projects each year; however, in my year, we got a huge proposal from the principal to create a piece of public art that represents our mission statement to hang in the school. It was very important to the principal that a lot of work went into its production, so before any sketching, we spent the whole first semester doing market research on how to create the perfect piece. We had to make sure that it would not only represent our large body of students, but "stand the test of time." That exact quote was written on every brainstorm sheet.
I bring this up because Naimark's student's remark about surviving time reminded me of how true it is (in my opinion) that artists cannot only make art for the now -- after researching for so long, I learned that we have to predict how people will interpret our pieces in the future, and strategically plan around that so they aren't forgotten. If the piece won't have cultural or social significance come the next generation of artists, is it worth making at all? Artists shape artists; first word art depends on last word art, and vice versa. I agree that when work is technologically novel, it can age poorly, but that's only if people aren't willing to accept that this is the direction our cultures and societies are moving toward. It's important for artists themselves to be adaptable to changing times, and as a result they learn how to make their art robust. I think it's ultimately more important for artists to make first word than last word because we will no longer learn anything if we stop experimenting and innovating.
I think that good first word art requires a special kind of person to create. It's difficult to move away from the norm and create something completely groundbreaking. While I would be interested in creating this kind of art, I simply don't think that I have the ability. Maybe this is an overly defeatist way of thinking, but considering just the number of people on Earth, the probability of a good original thought is really small, and I don't think I'm creative enough.
Instead, I find it easier to focus on concepts that already exist. I think that expanding on and combining existing ideas create really successful works of art that last through time. I often hear the Picasso quote "Good artists copy, great artists steal". To me, this means that you should take inspiration from other people's work, but make it your own in some way. I appreciate this quote because it reminds me that ownership and personality are more important than 100% originality. I think that this places me in between first and old word art, since I don't necessarily pursue complete originality, but I'm also not trying to follow any well established model (at least consciously).
I definitely agree with the thinking that there is both first word art and last word art. In my opinion, the two feed off of each other in a way. Variations of already "invented" last word art can evolve to maybe create first word art. Further studies into the field of first word art can generate new interest for new branches of art. The interest in something new and exciting appealing to new artists--the cycle continues.
The new technologies constantly arising may be revolutionary in innovation, convenience, or entertainment. Since those three fields have such dominance over everyone's lives, it is not surprising to see why technologies shape culture. For example, today's prevalence of convenient taxi systems such as Uber or Lyft have almost a culture of its own. Furthermore, technological development can also be shaped by culture. Using the same example as before, the culture today seems to be busier and faster than it used to be. There are always things to do and places to be. Inventions like the Uber was created directly to combat that; being affordable, able to get a ride quickly, and using a trustworthy review system.
"Why bother if it's already been done?"
Not to be overly critical but this phrase has rubbed me the wrong way every time I've heard it. I don't understand the obsession with wanting to create new, novel, and mind-blowing art. In my opinion, striving to only create first word art, or seeing first word art as the only true art, will bring a great deal of turmoil and suffering upon the artist.
Categorizing everything that is an iteration or inspired from existing work as "merely entertainment, not art" is pretty pretentious. It insinuates that entertainment and art can't coexist within a piece, as if art can't be entertaining, or something entertaining can't be art. If we forever strive to make only first word art, then where is the substance? First word art is a proposal for the future. Without further iterations and deep dives into what that art could become, it remains quite useless. And at the same time, last word art can't exist without first word art.
I guess I just don't understand the need to categorize art in this way at all. First and last word art can't exist without each other, and they can't exist without everything that comes in between, so why bother with the distinction? Why try to create black and white borders where there don't need to be any?
I think it's interesting that Naimark sees such a distinction between these types of art. Naimark claims that half the art world sees "first word" art as true art and the other half sees"last word" as true art. So, if we take that to be the case, then good art only comes around at the start or end of an artistic era. This seems silly, especially considering our classifications of the artistic periods are approximations, and there are many examples of outstanding artists working uncharacteristically differently for their time period. How can it be that we compare Giotto to Raphael and make a value judgement about their works simply based off of the technologies and knowledge that each artist had in his time?
We can only examine each artist and their work within the context of their lifetimes, and from there decide if it is good or not. Otherwise, we end up making choices solely based off of variables outside of the artists' control. Would it make sense to make the claim that since computers and computer art has advanced to a vastly more complex state, Vera Molnár's works are bad? Or conversely that her works are the best representation of computer art because they were the first? These seem like difficult propositions to back up.
Technological innovation, culture, and the art that follows is a long lineage that builds on the past. Certainly, Beethoven took what Haydn built and added his own take to it; Beethoven moved Haydn's creation beyond its original state. Is it better or worse for that? Neither. It's something different.
I have developed a particular fondness for the word "muscular," and I think it is a great way to describe last word art. Perhaps the technique or framework is not novel, but the result it achieves is what ultimately makes it longer lasting and impactful. Yet, I think today's short-attention span with regard to which technologies are "trending," is a good thing. If there are enough ideas out there that are that enticing, then they certainly shouldn't be overlooked. It's like we're in the sketching brainstorming. We haven't explored everything enough to decide which ones are worth really diving super deep into.
I see Homestuck as an example of both first and last word art that has fallen victim to changing times. It is essentially a pseudo text adventure on the internet. The webcomic makes use of gifs, flash animations and games, and convoluted narrative paths to follow through hyperlinks. It wasn't the first of it's kind, but I believe it's one of the most significant because of its scale and fanbase. And at the time it was a pretty novel idea. But today, the time for that kind of sensibility and aesthetic has passed, as evidenced in the direction Homestuck itself is moving now, toward the sleek indie game scene. In that way, I think culture almost holds technology and art hostage, because these things (usually) require an audience, and if you're audience is moving in one direction, how can you not follow them? Perhaps sometimes new technology holds itself hostage in this way, sending the masses in one direction, and being compelled to follow it thereafter.
technical novelty in relation to the arts
I'm glad I read Naimark's essay when I did because I have been doing a lot of thinking regarding my position on the spectrum between first and last word art. For the longest time I think I have stayed within my comfort zone of being a "last word artist"; so paranoid about making mistakes and failed projects that I would only attempt projects I knew would be successful. But I see now that failure is an inevitable part of the creative process, so I may as well take risks. Furthermore, I've noticed that when I try something that's along the lines of "first word" art, even my failures end up having some kind of admirable quality. I think this is because when I attempt something strongly grounded in an existing style or technique, when I deviate from the norm (either out of failure or by creative liberty) there is always a comparison that must be drawn between my work and the vast body of work that has already been produced.
Let's say for instance that I am working on a dual stick FPS game. If I choose to not add motion blur, head bob, or fail to align my camera correctly, there's so many examples of games that "got it right" to compare my work against. I'd like to contrast this with one of my only examples of truly original work; a third-person detective game called The Red Scare. This project of mine had many shortcomings and rough edges, but there was something charming about this game, and there was nothing else like it on the virtual marketplace I posted it on to compare with. And thus a project ridden with failures ended up being a success and became the top downloaded project in my humble array of finished products. I want to keep moving towards "first word" art. I realize now that risk is something to be cherished, not avoided.
A concrete example of technical novelty that I want to explore is the ideas of "squishyness", bubbles and soft bodies. I think the technical arts field at large has become highly proficient in rendering hard, non-organic forms via vertex manipulation, texturing and rigging. The same cannot be said for the opposite end of the spectrum. To do this I need to delve underneath the abstracted and high-level APIs that I am used to working with, and reacquaint myself with the building blocks of what makes these tools possible.