Whiteboard of words: interestingness

January 10, 2007

Brad can’t seem to breathe. It was love at first sight, he knows from their First Love Montage, when he saw Doris in a summer dress on the far side of a picket fence. On their first date, the ice cream fell off his cone. On their honeymoon, they kissed under a waterfall.

What should he do? Beg Doris’s forgiveness? Punch Wayne? Start rapidly making poop jokes?

Just then the doorbell rings.

It’s the Winstons.

At least Brad thinks it’s the Winstons. But Mr. Winston has an arm coming out of his forehead, and impressive breasts, a vagina has been implanted in his forehead, and also he seems to have grown an additional leg. Mrs. Winston, short a leg, also with impressive breasts, has a penis growing out of her shoulder and what looks like a totally redone mouth of shining white teeth.

“May? John?” Brad says. “What happened to you?”

“Extreme Surgery,” says Mrs. Winston.

“Extreme Surgery happened to us,” says Mr. Winston, sweat running down his forehead-arm and into his cleavage.

“Not that we mind,” says Mrs. Winston tersely. “We’re just happy to be, you know, interesting.”

[Excerpt from the short story “brad carrigan, american” from the collection In Persuasion Nation, by George Saunders]

Artists abuse the word interesting. I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit recently, after coming across the wonderful discussion about interestingness that’s been generated by Russell Davies and Jeffre Jackson (beautifully condensed in Jeffre’s video). I remember my undergrad doing a fine art degree and literally trying to force myself to find another damn word, though my profs used the word interesting all the time. It was a pestilence but irreplaceable. When later I was teaching art again I remember wondering why this nondescript word had a tug of such strange, unavoidable utility.

Ok, the word interesting in the art world can also function as a straight up insult. But that’s another type of chat. What I’m interested in here ; ) is the exchange of ideas between artists in crits or when discussing each other’s work. Moments when you’re honestly flogging your brain to figure out what what the heck you or the other person has made. An unexpectedly placed ‘that’s interesting’ can shave a nuance off the conversational blob, like a dart to the bulls eye.

I’ve come to think that interesting is valuable precisely because it is nondescript, not much seems to stick to it. Blandness is its crowning virtue: you can indicate your interest – like flagging the vein of gold in the granite, a simple tag – without revealing your subjective value judgement. I do or don’t like it is so much less useful for generating associations. Value judgements close the book on the conversation.

The artists I most admire have miraculous interestingness sniffers. Just when you thought you were in familiar territory, they’ll throw out an interesting that doubles neurons back on themselves and points out some very intriguing howcouldimissits. I reckon its the primary skill in the field nowadays.


2 Responses to “Whiteboard of words: interestingness”

  1. Jeffre Jackson Says:

    I agree. One of the things that makes interestingness a useful discriminator is its fuzziness. I take “interesting” to mean nothing more than “worth thinking about”, which is generally a good thing for a piece of art, advertising or any other piece of culture. It means, “This could become self-propagating. It’s viable.” It doesn’t say anything about what the effect of its growth might be. And it doesn’t specify the exact mechanism of what makes this or that meme tick. It just says, “This ticks.”

  2. Yacobinec Says:

    Господа любители натрульного качественного кофе, отзовитесь! Любителям растворимой бурды просьба не писать. Нужна консультация!

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