by Dick Millott
I’m old enough to remember when we got our first indoor toilette. A major affair that saw the whole neighbourhood file in one at a time, and gasp in wonder at the sheer luxury of being able to ‘go’ indoors.
We are talking the 1960’s here, so in reality it’s not that long ago. In America they were getting ready to put a man on the moon with their mind-boggling 64 kilobytes of computer grunt, but in the industrious City of Geelong, Australia, they were moving their ‘dunnies’ indoors. No more dancing with the dreaded boogie men in the middle of the night over cold grass to the outhouse behind the wash house. No more frosty wet feet in bed. No more holding it in. Now we could go in the confines of our newly re-modelled bathroom, complete with automatic, chain free, flushing mechanism. One just pushed a button and stood back. It must also be remembered at this time that the milk, bread, fruit and veg and ice were still being delivered by horse and cart as well. Tell that to the kids today and they won’t believe you.
Then I saw two 17 year olds on YouTube the other day. Some bright spark had given them what I thought was a fairly recent rotary dial phone – you know- the type you grew up with. They looked at it like it was from outer space. They did not have a blind clue how it worked. Then they asked how the hell you lugged it around when you wanted to make a phone call.
Which brings me neatly to my subject, which involved me and a nerdish type of bloke who knows a lot of things about electronics and computer stuff. He’s a mate of mine and talks a language that makes my brain hurt. I understand none of it. Anyway, he told me that I am about to become redundant. That goes for you as well. Artists are about to go on the scrap heap of life he said, along with writers and pretty well everyone who makes stuff.
Waller’s studio will become a cobwebbed bunker filled with junk and a couple of half finished canvasses of old Pandanus palms gathering dust, as a sad reminder of the brush flourishing that once took place. Now artistically defunct – Waller will be on the couch reading ‘Hello' magazine to see what the Duchess of Sussex is wearing and whether you can see another bump.
“Do you know” he said, “that they fed the entire works of William Shakespeare into a computer in Los Angeles, and it digested the lot, worked out the written style, the storylines and the themes of the Bard and belted out a new one over night? Experts thought it was a lost work of the great man and got the vapours.”
“Now they can feed in images of a couple of Monet’s, a Manet, a Renoir and a Van Gogh into this computer, along with instructions of what you would like – and it can instruct a brush wielding, paint mixing robot with a brain 4 billion times bigger than mine, to belt out a suite of paintings in no time at all- on canvas. Framed if you want it. This is going to spell the end of people like you”, he said.
Well naturally I was shocked. “But surely my sensitive take on things will win through – my individual touch - my style inimitable? ”
“Look”, I said - bringing up Waller’s portfolio on my mobile – “look at this bloke! He studied beach heads and Australian vegetation and seagulls and waves and the intrinsic variables of tropical water for 50 years mate! No computer can do that!”
“Nothin’ to it”, he said. “Feed in location co-ordinates, the computer works out the water type, the vegetation, the local fauna, flora, and will even bung a pretty girl or two in the latest bikinis on the beach as well – thus broadening the appeal of the finished work. One hour - two at the most. Name your style, name the time of day, time of year and whether you want lots of seagulls and full figured or slender ladies.”
“See this”, he said – pulling out his iPhone. He showed me a photo of a pretty girl. You could see every pore, every strand of hair- every dimple. “She doesn’t exist. She was created by this very computer I’m talking about“, he said.
Now I should point out that at this point, we still have half a chance. The computer in question costs thousands a week to hire at the moment, but with the way things are going lately; there will be one in every home by Christmas 2023.
Novelists are for the high-jump as well, as are satirists, political commentators and quilt makers. We are about to become redundant as a result and all end up on the couch like Waller, watching 'Days of Our Lives' and eating popcorn, our lives a dustbowl of non-achievement and utter despondency.
Which makes me very sad I have to say, because I’ve been getting a spurt on with the painting lately. I’m into still lifes now (is it ‘still lifes’? - or ‘lives’?) with a difference. I’ve gone for the bigger brush, work only on metre square or 1.5 metre canvasses and am including stuff in them that I think women might like. Or might remember. For their big white walls. Here’s a few I will road test at the next art show at Easter.
In the meantime, if you see that nerdy little, white skinned, computer-game addicted kid who never plays in the street trundling a new computer and a big box marked ‘robot’ up his driveway, start worrying. Because one day he will be belting our Renoir’s and Lichtenstein’s like they are going out of fashion.
I am doing this suite of paintings on what I have termed ‘the new optimism.’ What this means is – that if you were a very little boy in the 1950’s - Mum suddenly started painting things. Painted furniture became the norm - no more drab brown furniture – thousands – tens of thousands of families had just not long before, been through the war with its austerity and drabness of colour and blackouts and rationing – and in the 1950’s several things happened. Colours became vibrant and bright - Laminex was invented – babies were getting born. And all this was to make people feel better. Almost every family in Australia knew someone who did not return from the war. So it was a time of rebirth. And these rather ordinary paintings celebrate that resurgence of spirit. Is that too deep for three rather strange still lifes? I am doing more!