I am naturally inclined to be sceptical about all new technology. I’m the kind of person Kanye was referring to in his recent Ellen appearance, part of a crowd who rejects genius and can’t handle the vision. My first response to most technological advances is anger that they want to replace us with robots, and I continue to believe that Facebook is the largest unchecked dictatorship in the world. As such, the release of the Tilt Brush by Google – a new VR device that allows people to paint in 3D – obviously alarmed me. When I probed the concept further, my imaginative sympathies yielded only to extent that if were to be able to draw bunny eyes and handle bar moustaches onto fellow passengers during my commute, that might prove to be quite amusing.
VR technology is developing rapidly. After some tinkering they’ve solved, for the most part, the problems that existed in the 80’s. Motion sickness is limited; the manufacture is quick and easy; and headsets no longer have to hang from the ceiling. Indeed, given how much resource Mark Zuckerburg is investing in the development of VR it will inevitably become integrated into our daily lives, and probably much sooner than we think. After all, Instagram was only invented 5 years ago and look where we are now.
Google’s Tilt Brush, which comes with the tag line “Your room is your canvas. Your palette is your imagination. The possibilities are endless” is special and not only for its innovative marketing copy. The device allows users to inhabit their own creative environment by drawing in 3D. Users can walk around their creations, move inside them and fully inhabit a piece of work. Forget any Roland Barthes-esque debate about creators and viewers, the Tilt Brush invites total unity between artist and audience.
Keys to your potential or an imaginative lockdown?
Forms of creativity have always oscillated between the communal and the insular. Artists like Olafur Eliasson consciously bring people together, promoting group activities such as blindfolding each other or walking backwards through a crowded street en masse in order to stimulate ideas and conceive new projects. Meanwhile, there’s also the more traditional solitary style which couples rigorous self discipline with mystique. Tilt Brush does not disrupt these patterns. The fact that artists have to consciously don the VR headset to enter is no different from an artist choosing to enter their studio. However, what it does create, is a barrier between spontaneous interruption or inspiration, whereas in real life, the most inconceivably small and unnoticed details might spontaneously challenge your creative direction. In VR, the focus is deliberate and unwavering. And so, the enactment of creativity becomes something that exists in parallel to real-life as opposed to within it. In VR, artistic expression by nature becomes less visceral and thus less inherently human.
A more fundamental limitation to creativity is the range of materials that are on offer. Tilt Brush allows users to choose the width and colour they would prefer to work with but offers limited room for experimentation. In spite of the range of shapes and forms created, most of the finished pieces look the same. At the most basic starting point, artists will have to create based on a secondary choice made by a corporation. No matter how advanced the palettes become, creative expression will be executed under a set of pre-determined values.
Where VR allows creativity to flourish, however, is in the way the it enables creative individuals to show their ideas to the world. As the Kanye example proves, geniuses have always struggled to communicate their vision to the masses. The implementation of VR into everyday life introduces a new vocabulary into the creative lexicon. Fashion designers will be able to sketch whole collections on virtual people before they go into production; architects can realise an entire city and interior designers can chart the reality your sitting room in intricate detail. In this way, the commercial element of creativity will be streamlined and improved. Artists from all walks of life will be able to anticipate problems far in advance and prevent themselves from experiencing setbacks later on.
Time is indeed money, and the efficiency for aspiring and established creatives alike can only be a good thing. The dark side is that VR represents a further step in the commodification of creativity. But, when everyone from KP Oven Baked to TK Maxx is already telling me to unlock my artistic potential, perhaps we’re already too far gone.
The future is fluorescent
In the “real” world the possibilities are not limitless. We are confined by malfunctioning body parts and unaccessible areas of our brain. Creatives will always seek to push the limits, but they’re wrestling with our visceral, flawed selves is part of what makes art interesting, and human. The fear of technology is that it is inhuman, but that is also because it still feels alien. Virtual reality could be the best thing for creatives, freeing ideas and allowing the imagination to inhabit a new and semi-tangible realm. The Tilt Brush could also represent the beginning of the end for truly free imaginative work, where new artists will only ever know the twinkle of the 3-D paint as traditional materials fade, become too expensive and disappear. The future may not be bright for creativity, but it will certainly be fluorescent.
Main image: IFA 2015 Main image source/credits: Kārlis Dambrāns, CC licence https://www.flickr.com/photos/janitors/20592957983/