A while back I wrote a book on how to be creative (download the free, illegal pdf here). It was bound to fail because creativity doesn’t really break down into easy modernist steps like a recipe you can follow. Indeed, something like “individual human creativity” arguably doesn’t even really exist. It’s just an idea humans invented at a particular time in history to make them feel good about being humans at that particular time in history. Even so, great artistic chefs do use recipes, and failure sometimes leads to fruitful art, so it wasn’t such a bad idea to write a book like that after all. The book was like a way for me to exhaust all the “best practice” advice on how to be creative, compile it in a single text, get it out of my system, and then whatever was left after that might actually have something to do with creativity.
So I researched all sorts of methods for being creative, and distilled them into a long list. Here are a bunch of those methods:
repeat, combine, add, transfer, empathize, animate, superimpose, change scale, fragment, isolate, distort, disguise, contradict, parody, analogize, hybridize, metamorphose, substitute, simplify, adapt, modify, rearrange, reverse, symbolize, mythologize, fantasize.
Finally, my favorite method is “prevaricate,” which simply means “lie.” I love the prevaricate method and find it woefully under-used by artists (although politicians use it all the time). I’m not sure why artists’ don’t lie more in their work. If you make art involving networks, then the medium more or less forces your work to lie, whether you want it to or not. Even if you don’t have a Facebook pseudonym or an opposite-gender avatar in Second Life, you are more or less lying every time you say “I” online — because your Facebook actions are always meant to have some kind of limited effect within the context of Facebook, because the formal constraints of the medium and the network greatly limit the “amount” and “quality” of “self” “you” are able to “put” online. Indeed, media have always modulated the “self” of the “artist/author” — painters, writers, dancers, sculptors (cf: Barthes’ “The Death of the Author“). Even more radically, philosopher Alfred Korzybski says to use the word “is” at all is a kind of lying, since no single subject could ever be adequately equated to a single predicate. Even more radically, philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari famously undermine the use of the pronoun “I” at all. In the beginning of their seminal A Thousand Plateaus they explain:
The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd. Here we have made use of everything that came within range, what was closest as well as farthest away. We have assigned clever pseudonyms to prevent recognition. Why have we kept our own names? Out of habit, purely out of habit. To make ourselves unrecognizable in turn. To render imperceptible, not ourselves, but what makes us act, feel, and think. Also because it’s nice to talk like everybody else, to say the sun rises, when everybody knows it’s only a manner of speaking. To reach, not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves. Each will know his own. We have been aided, inspired, multiplied.
Obviously, there are some ethical problems with lying. If I am a different “I” from one moment to the next, then the “I” of today no longer need take responsibility for the actions of the “I” of yesterday. If the “I” of a conglomerate corporation is protected by certain rights that leave the individual members of that corporation unaccountable for their actions, then we have some problems. But art is not individual citizenship or corporate citizenship. Art is the province of the trickster. Art is always already lying. Ai Weiwei is a trickster artist because the Chinese government is a shifty, lying entity. Even if you’re not making overtly political art, materials and media (particularly new media) are lying all the time. Materials aren’t even “lying,” because that would imply that somehow they were aware of the truth. Materials and media are simply indifferent to our human notions of truth. As anyone who has used or studied color can tell you, colors shift subjectively depending on their context. They fail to remain “true” to their mathematical properties. Art has always already been more about “seems” than “is.” Even in the province of science (a famously “is”-y province), “is” can get slippery at very small and very large scales.
Here is a famous picture of Yves Klein leaping into the void. A leap of faith.
Here is a less famous picture of Yves Klein leaping into the void. The fact that the famous picture is a lie doesn’t really matter. It serves its historical purpose.
The best art liar is David Wilson of the Museum of Jurassic Technology. He is great because he is not really lying. Or better yet, he makes the issue of whether he is or isn’t lying less relevant than what he is actually doing, which is something like awaking wonder. And sometimes, in order to do this, he lies.
Recently I got an email from someone who was lying. His fake name is Sebastian Elk. He is trying to find a replacement for himself so he can stop doing whatever it is he is doing. My guess is that he is the webmaster of a wonderful online repository of 20th Century manifestos and periodicals (in the spirit of the original Dada periodical 391), and he wants someone else to take over his job. Whatever the case, he has now issued two abstract/surreal surveys (text based and video based) to help him select his successors. The surveys themselves are wonderful works of lying art.
On the topic of surreal/abstract surveys, here are some more that I really like:
I run a website that may not be lying: http://deepyoung.org . My wife runs a similarly named school that may not be lying: http://deepyoung.com . My uncle has my same name and he may not be lying: http://curtcloninger.com . Some corny people are fond of saying, “Fiction is a lie that tells the truth.” A lie that tells the truth! What a colossal waste of a lie! Why not just tell a lie that tells a lie? Or better yet, why not tell a lie that tells of a speculative future that is not yet and may never become true (cf: this lie and the lie below)?
An insane person is not really lying; she just thinks of the truth differently. Maybe artists are insane. If you are an artist on the internet and you aren’t intentionally lying, you are really wasting a great opportunity.