What is art, anyway?

It’s not often that MONTAG dodges the opportunity to nail its conceptual colours to the mast, but here is one of them. Defining art is an oxymoron. So let’s talk about storytelling instead.


Storytelling is easier to address: it's closer to “craft” and thus comes with less hoity-toity baggage than “art.” But it essentially does the same thing: it entertains, it provokes thought, it divides.

And if storytelling is the act of taking the ephemeral - philosophy, concepts, and anything else knocking around in their heads - and making them tangible, then new technology is about to make that process a lot more exciting for creator and consumer.

Your world is going to finally become the story you wanted it to be. Here’s how.

AR: closing the gap that art opens up

It’s a clattering inevitability that some of the initial uses of Augmented Reality technology have been to make AR versions of the same large-chested-girls-in-fantasy-elfin-bikinis that have been created by horny nerds since the beginning of time.

(If you’d like to hear a man with a thick monotone Germanic accent bark a series of orders at the aforementioned mute AR woman in a bikini, please click here, and then log off the internet.)

But really, what Augmented Reality will mean from a creative perspective is that stories will become a lot more woven into your life. The gaps between story and reality are shrinking.

Right now, experiencing a story involves engaging the mind, to overcome an immersion gap. There is a tangible difference between what is happening on the screen - where things are exploding artfully in slow-motion - and in your real life, where you’re sitting on the sofa in your underwear and picking your nose.

Suspension of disbelief is essential for a story to be successful. Watching Aliens means accepting that it’s plausible that the aliens exist, that the spaceship could have travelled that far in space, and that Ripley would have put up with all the dunderheaded men around her without nuking them from orbit ages ago.

And suspension of disbelief is a little more complex than that simple example. Movies, books, paintings, and games aren’t just portrayals of other worlds, they’re also static: the stories and meanings don’t change – and you have to be ready to accept that specific story.

This is where AR creeps into your life and moves all your furniture around while you’re asleep. Microsoft’s Hololens has already put AR tech onto people’s heads, and suddenly even the simplest video games become incredibly personalised real-world experiences.

In Hololems, the titular suicidal lemmings start crawling over your furniture, trying to find new and creative precipices to leap off.

AR can take a brilliant but hoary old game like Lemmings and make it astonishing. The thinking behind it explains how AR will affect your consumption of stories in a nutshell: why force the consumer to experience a created world, when the game can automatically fit to your world?

Soon, you'll be able to introduce elements of fantasy and story into your life. Games are an obvious example, but just think: how could you storify everything you do? Or make everything into art?

Or what about a version of art that you love surrounding you? I love Picobot, a Twitter bot that randomly generates colourful images. If I could have these madly flashing gifs seamlessly appear on billboards, I'd be happier; albeit maybe slightly twitchier.

But think of the possibilities: a walk to the shops to buy milk could become a dazzling sci-fi adventure that you, and only you, see and play. Or it could become a Total Recall-style spy quest.

Or it could become Super Mario Brothers. No suspension of belief required.

AI-created creativity: the remake you always wanted

So while AR headsets trick our eyes into buying into your fantasy world of choice, what's feeding our minds?

You should never need to explain the appeal of the stories you love, whether they’re in movies, games, books, or music. A story scratches an itch in your brain, and that’s all there is to it, whether that story is Heart Of Darkness or Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Artificial Intelligence can now be “creative” in it’s own right. And, as Kathryn Lawrence notes elsewhere on MONTAG this week, there’s no reason why AI stories won’t be better than the ones humans write.

And it's not just written stories: the jazz written by the Deepjazz AI software sounds just like the types of outrageously average jazz that’s noodled by aficionados in shoddy bars the world over.

And AI allows for quite subtle wish fulfilment: what if a classic book could be automatically re-written to your liking? What if you’d prefer Moriarty to really get one over Sherlock Holmes? This opens up some brand new questions, chief amongst them being: would you be happy if you got what you wanted?


The wider societal effects are equally interesting. What if Sherlock was automatically, convincingly re-written as a woman - aside from subtle changes in the stories themselves, what positive repercussions would the existence of Her-lock have on teenage female readers?

Thus, we’ll soon reach a point where computer graphics become indistinguishable from reality, stories weave their way into your life, and AI will be producing better creative work than the humans it learnt from.

So how would you take advantage? I know I’d commission a new version of Godfather Part 3 in a heartbeat – and I’ve been waiting for Wayne’s World 3 for over 25 years now...


Automated For The People

We’ve already waxed lyrical here on MONTAG about the paradigm-shifting nature of painting in 3D space, but it’s possible that the bigger step-change in creative storytelling will come from knowing how to fit lots of new interesting tech together.

Modular Creativity is specifically about melding wild tech with human input. A simple example would be for you to paint something in three dimensions with Tilt Brush, then 3D-print it, take a mould of that, and then to cast it in bronze.

But when you fold in more outlandish but feasible technology, things get really exciting. The new tech could kick off a democratisation of “big” creativity: giving everyone access to toolkits previously out of reach.

Imagine if you had access to an AI script editor. Paul Schrader-bot could take that screenplay you’ve been tinkering on for years and polish it to Hollywood standards.

Or let’s say you’re a wannabe movie director. The old path to success takes years of learning the ropes to prove your value. The barrier of entry is too high or too long for the majority of people.

But what if you could buy Hollywood: The App, which comes pre-loaded with 3D scenes, sets, costumes, camera movements, lighting settings, and perfect digitised versions of legendary actors, with synthesized voices to say anything you like?


Who wouldn’t want to build photorealistic 3D sets, and spend hours tweaking the lighting, picking your actors, and feeding them your lines?
Finally, we’d get to see 1977-era DeNiro and 1956-era Brando in that boy-meets-boy rom-com the world has been missing.

This technology is not just feasible, it's essentially here in the form of moddable, open-world games like GTA V. If only someone could tie up the licensing agreements with the various actors and they could unleash a wave of classic movies that would otherwise never have existed.

Storytelling may well start to seep into every area of our lives, but automation of creativity won’t mean us humans need take a backseat.
But if being an author director is playing god, it's time we all looked in the mirror and met our makers - and decide how we want our world be.