David Bryne’s Powerpoint art!

Dig this: David Bryne has released a book of art he created using PowerPoint. There’s a great story in the New York Times today about it, which quotes Bryne on the genesis of the project:

It started as a parody. “I was doing mock sell presentations, using mock PowerPoint slides as visual aids,” he says. “That’s how I learned the program originally. But then it evolved into something else. It was no longer enough to make fun of the corporate stuff. I realized that PowerPoint was a limited but a valid medium.”

To view the medium creatively, he says, “You have to try to think like the guy in Redmond or Silicon Valley. You feel that your mind is suddenly molded by the thinking of some unknown programmer. It’s a collaboration, but it’s not reciprocal.”

Starting with parody, he adds, even incompetent imitations, is a legitimate first step. Eventually, if you persevere, the obsessive nature of the process yields unexpectedly beautiful results. For him, then, the challenge became “taking a form that’s purportedly logic and rational and making it poetic.”

I think he’s on to something here. Recall Edward Tufte’s recent pamphlet The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, in which he savages the program — claiming it is so blunt and useless a tool that it forces presenters to mangle their data. That mangling might be problematic in any situation where you’re trying to make a rational decision. But what if you’re aiming at the irrational? Presto: Maybe PowerPoint would be an even better artistic canvas than Photoshop, heh.

In fact, maybe this explains why businesses are so devoted to PowerPoint. After all, rationality isn’t always good for business. For all their pretensions to being empirical and hard-nosed, most business decisions are guided by pure intuition and wild hunches. As the old advertising joke goes, “I know half my advertising money is wasted — I just don’t know which half.” Everyday, American businesspeople arrive at work faced with an enduring paradox: Needing to appear rational, while in reality being guided by faith-healing and intellectual finger-painting. So maybe PowerPoint is, for businesspeople, the most appropriate technology around: Something that appears to be about cool, calm data-presentation, but which in reality is a device of surreality worthy of Dada.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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