Extreme Art

May 20, 2020

To create something unique, consider the processes, techniques, and tools you use.

What is Extreme Art?

It's the notion that, for a creator to make something "extreme", she needs to create additional, supporting tools, techniques, or processes that will, in turn help make the artwork possible. The side-creation of these new tools, techniques, and processes allow the Extreme Art to transcend the status quo, and become radically different. They blaze the trail such that the one experiencing the artwork is potentially led to some place new.

(Note: I'll call it "Extreme Art" for now, until I find the term that others have already used to describe what I'm about to talk about._)

I don't want to suggest that not-extreme art is bad. The trusty pens and paper that everyone has provides more than sufficient latitude to create virtually limitless art. Indeed, many artists take extant tools and resources, and in bricolage fashion, do masterful and amazing things with it. I don't want to discount the value of a novel just because it didn't accompany any new lexicon, or fault the composer for only the "same old" 12 notes of a scale.

My personal experience with Extreme Art

Exhibit A: OK Go's Music Video

In 2014, when I first watched OK Go's video Upside Down & Inside Out, I found that video to be just stunning. I ended up watching every behind-the-scenes video I could find. Even 6 years later, I still watch those videos, and share them with victim-friends.

What I realize now is that the music video I saw was the first time I realized I had experienced Extreme Art. If you see the behind-the-scenes videos, you'll see there was a lot of engineering and process involved, as well as many insights along the way to production. They were dealing with problems that no one else have faced or would face in creating a music video, and they resulted in an unprecedented (in my opinion) music video production.

Exhibit B: Magic

Penn & Teller's show Fool Us has been going on for many seasons now, which I've found quite entertaining. I love not only to experience great magic, but also love to see Penn & Teller try to figure it out. I find my tastes for that art form as a whole have become elevated as a result.

What I find is the common theme for those who successfully fool Penn & Teller are those that create their own tricks. They completely pave the way, and build the trick from the ground up. Sometimes it's out of personal necessity.

In contrast, those who merely go "by the book", are never able to fool Penn & Teller. And as the two veteran magicians will say as well, it's not so much a knock on the magician's presentation or entertainment abilities.

Making Extreme Art

And so the implication for those who are tasked or challenged to create something completely novel: Look at the process. Look at your techniques, and tooling. It's the innovations inside that tool chain that will propel your creation to break the status quo.

Keep solving problems as they come up. Look for solutions in the environment. Perhaps you can draw inspiration from others, or perhaps you will need to hunker down and solve it on your own. As long as the problem continues to be worth solving, if you can prevail, you'll be in new territory.

That's all I'll write for now, as overly short, simplistic, and raw as it is. I'll have to revisit at a later date.

Pitfalls in the Search of Extreme Art

Here are some thoughts on pitfalls that I've certainly committed as a creator. I list them here until further research can be done.

Underestimating the amount of resources needed

The quest for Extreme Art can be expensive, since the final creation is only the tip of the iceberg of resources required. So, budget carefully.

Extreme Art not worth making

Indeed, it's perilous to branch out and create something new. While trekking through new territory, there will be no map. How to create Extreme Art actually worth making is outside the scope of this article (and of my current understanding), but a crucial topic nevertheless. The right answer probably has to do with creating a lot of cheap things, learning fast, and then synthesizing everything to create the final result.

Opting not to create if you don't think it's extreme

In other words, a creator allows him or herself to become blocked in creating just because the processes, tools, and techniques aren't perceived to immediately transcend the status quo. I think it's wise to simply keep creating.

Obsession with tools, techniques, or processes

Another pitfall is to focus too much on refining the process rather than the product itself. This will lead to ever sharpening saws without ever cutting down trees. Again, the emphasis on shipping needs to come first. How one might realizes that there is something new to be created is also a worthy topic, that is again outside of the scope of this article (and also my understanding).

Unawareness of the status quo

Another pitfall is building something using (expensive) new tools, techniques, and processes that don't actually deliver any appreciable difference between the product and the status quo. Then, you might as well have leveraged what was already in existence rather than (re-)create what you needed. Again, it can be difficult to predict how a new creation is received until it is actually created.

What are your thoughts?

Do you know of any terms for "Extreme Art"?

Do you have any other pitfalls that fellow creators should be aware of?

What are some solutions, mindsets, or principles that allow for creation of "Extreme Art"?

Let me know if you have any thoughts!

I'll be working on a comments section, but for now, you can tweet me @JayLiu50 or email me at jay@designbyjayliu.com.

Written by Jay Liu, interaction designer.