Why Artifact?

You may be wondering to yourself: why? Why write like this? What’s wrong with paragraphs, stanzas, chapters, and section breaks?

Let me begin by taking a huge step back to tell you *clears throat* my definition of the word “artist”.

An artist is someone with…

  1. a natural inclination toward observation
  2. the desire to seek significance in those observations
  3. the will to creatively share those observations, and their significance, with others

Working in this “artifact” mode pushes our brains to notice the way language is used in everyday (written) life, to seek significance in its usage, and to communicate about the significance of these forms by using them to present your material.

When I move through the world knowing that a story could be hidden in a bumper sticker, it wakes me up to my surroundings in deeper ways. It also makes my experiences with these texts and tools more entertaining and interesting. I grew up learning powerpoints in school. I always hated them (even more so when they morphed into Prezis!) After Egan, I kind of love them. When someone presents a powerpoint at a meeting, I pay close attention to all the choices they make, wondering what these choices might say about the speaker. I’m not even going to tell you what a Star-wipe transition can reveal about a man.

Restrictions and boundaries can actually be incredibly freeing. Instead of looking at the blank page and being overwhelmed by the possibilities, give yourself a rule. This piece will be the text of a CD jacket. Setting out strict boundaries can have the bewildering effect of pushing things out of your head that you never knew were there.

Also, it’s fucking fun.

I was raised by the put-on. My mind was honed or (depending on your perspective) corrupted by TV shows like Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Jackass, Trigger Happy TV, and (in college) the Eric Andre Show. Tricks and pranks and put-ons can be cruel, but they can also deliver so purely the exact thing I seek in literature: surprise. A subversion of expectation. A twisting of reality. Speaking of TV, Adult Swim makes what I like to think of as the video equivalent of artifact lit. Their “Infomercials” program is a series of short films that ape or spoof common, tired filmic content, like the infomercial or the telethon. But they go deeper than simple parody, diving often into dark, surreal storytelling. My favorite example of storytelling through this sort of trojan-horse form is “Final Deployment 4” which shares the depressing story of what it’s like to return from war through the form of a “videogame walkthrough” a style of video which proliferates on Youtube.

Lastly, this is superficial and more of a positive side-effect of writing in this style, but… your work will certainly stand out in a slush pile. Maybe it can stand out to Non-readers too. When I was teaching High School, there was a YA book series written entirely in the form of a text message conversation, and it was wildly successful at getting kids who didn’t read books to read a book. So yes, by writing in weird forms, we’re essentially saving the world.

Before we jump into writing today, I want to provide some more resources for understanding the different ways to approach Artifact Lit, as well as some more awesome examples. Feel free to read/use these or skip to the writing exercises.

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