I have been thinking about an aspect of motion design for quite some time, something that seems to be almost completely missing in the field : public critique of work that gains visibility and attention.
So many other media have their own critique sub-industry : music, "fine" arts, film, photography, architecture, industrial design, fashion etc...However motion design, and more recent fields such as generative design, lack this important measure of health that is critique.
A couple of points :
- Critique is not just "criticism", and this is an important discussion that I will bring up below, as the confusion between the two could maybe be one of the reasons our field lacks the former.
- Critique requires a deep knowledge of the field, i.e it isn't about "liking" or "not liking" something, it is about connecting history, tools, audience, other artists' work, and the various elements of the creative conversation in a meaningful discussion about the qualities (or lack of) in any given piece of work.
- Critique is an important part of any health industry. Lack of critique, internal or external, means there are no creative checks and balances and that there is no perspective on the works being created and distributed. In the field of motion design there might be some good reasons for this, but more on that below.
Here are a few reasons why I think critique is not part of the motion design industry. Let's look at them one by one.
The first could simply be youth. As an industry, motion design is still relatively unsettled. Or rather, motion design has existed for a long time, but has never really been organized as a field of its own. This is changing now, with the amount of web outlets and festivals that showcase the work in and for itself.
I say "in and for itself" because motion design is rarely created as such. It is a field that typically creates for others, on demand, per project. But in the last ten years or so, people have been starting to combine this commercial practice with projects that are generated purely for their own sake.
It is worth noting that, in this industry, people are known as "artists" de facto. For example if I'm a producer looking to hire a 3d modeler, I will typically call him a "3d artist". or a "Cinema 4d artist". Maybe the word "artisan" would be more appropriate in these cases, but the fact is that we do consider this work as some form of "art".
Another reason could be related to a general dislike (at least in America) of "negative thinking". How many times will anyone making a negative comment about a piece of creative work be called a "hater". It is almost as if one should always find the positive thing about people's work, or stay vague about it if one doesn't like it, just ignore it (until you get home and can quietly bash it discretely with people you trust). This idea of "haters" is a built-in defense mechanism that protects any system from critique by turning the actual criticism against the person it originates from. If they are saying negative things, they must have a problem.
This kind of "filtering" of what a certain creative class deems worthy is very visible in a website like Motionographer.com, where a small portion of the work that is made in the industry gets showcased, but usually from a similar group of creators and usually with a very similar aesthetic.
Another reason for lack of critique is, I believe, a form of peer pressure, a mild bullying into thinking something is good. And if this works, it is exactly because there are no critical flag posts to hold on to and argue against the grain.
For example, when the film "Tron" came out a few years ago, there was a general "oooh" and "aah" about the motion graphics. The writing and web buzz about the small team who had published the work was intense, and not short lived. The members of the team and its leader were hailed as motion design heroes who combined mad technical skills with amazing taste. But anything about the actual quality of the work? What it meant in relation to the general aesthetic of our time? Hard to find anything that wasn't already driven by an what was accepted as a universal awe.
This final point speaks to one of the main issues about the motion design field, and that is what "The critical engineering manifesto" would call "The awe of implementation". A lot of this work grabs our attention because we wonder "How did they do this?" rather than "Why did they do this?". Or simply "What does it mean?".
But these reasons are maybe all too superficial. One could look at the activity of "critique" itself and wonder if it has not, in fact, imploded. Dogged by its lack of credibility in a world where we feel critics lack integrity (and look no further than the amazing art critic Dave Hickey to explain that to you), where they seem to be lackeys of the industries they are there to prod. And since there is such a massive amount of work out there to actually critique, who has time for that? Who has time to care? Maybe critique needs to be some kind of entertainment to actually gain people's attention?
A final point though. A question rather : what of the works that are challenging, who's aesthetic is harder to understand, who's visual language can create discomfort or astonishment? Don't we need people to think on those for a second? Help us digest and gain some form of reference for those pieces? You may say that the field of motion design is not overflowing with those. True, but it isn't entirely devoid of them either. Remember the first pieces by Zeitguised? Where did that come from? I don't know the people behind that work, but my guess is that there is a level of intellect and culture there, conscious or not, that created that type of work.
But are they an exception? They certainly don't have to be, and maybe if we had more critique, we would be creating more of that, forcing people to dig deeper, go further.
I would like to argue that if we had a more critical approach to motion design and to its productions, it would encourage its creators to go beyond technical feats and pure aesthetic pleasure to works that can have a meaning within the cultural conversation of our time. But for this we have be willing to put ourselves out there and do something that people will maybe hate. And that is a good thing.