Re: Who dreams up these things?

Subject: Re: Who dreams up these things?
From: "Mark Baker" <mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 11:13:59 -0400

David Farbey wrote

>But process models on their own cannot replace content.

Amen. For me, this perennial discussion of process boils down in the end to
the difference between art and criticism.

Processes development always comes out of the critical faculty. The critical
faculty observes what works and why, praises and promotes that which works,
condemns and suppresses that which does not. It develops theories and
procedures on how to do the right thing.

An yet, no professor of English has ever produced a novel worth reading. No
drama critic has ever produced a play worth watching, or a music critic a
song worth singing.

However thorough and valid the methods and findings of criticism, the
critical faculty cannot itself produce art.

I have know UI designers who were masters of the critical arts, who knew
everything there is to know about human factors, who ran impeccable
usability tests, and yet could not design an attractive or effective user
interface to save their lives.

Conversely, I have known designers whose knowledge of all these good things
was scant at best but who did brilliant work. Their work was often flawed,
however. The really good work came when a designer with great critical
faculties help the artist refine and perfect his designs.

The writing world has long understood the necessity of the relationship
between the writer and the editor. Ezra Pound did greater service to
literature by editing TS Elliot than he ever did by writing poetry himself.
Unfortunately, many tech pub departments forget or neglect the importance of
this relationship.

Whether or not art can ever be the result of a process, one thing should be
clear. Art does not result from the critical process or from a process
devised by critics to produce art. It might result from an artistic process,
if ever an artist could be persuaded to develop one, but skill in developing
processes is not seemingly a big part of the artistic faculty.

Another thing should be equally clear. Art benefits from the collaboration
of a good critic in the creation of the art. Without it, the work produced
is generally flawed, sometimes to the point of being unusable.

Is technical writing an art? Yes, in the sense that it cannot be reduced to
a formula and always requires the active application of the imaginative
faculty. (Not to imagine the technology, but to imagine the user.)

Now, all that said, there is one more important question:

Can the processes developed by critics, in a vain attempt to produce art,
serve to alleviate the mediocrity of the work produced by those whose gifts
lie elsewhere, who are gifted neither as artists nor critics, but who
nevertheless need to make a living, and who work diligently and
conscientiously to produce the best work they can?

If they can, more power to them.

If not, let us recognize that criticism has a process, art has not, and that
collaboration is essential.

Mark Baker
Senior Technical Communicator
OmniMark Technologies Corporation
1400 Blair Place
Gloucester, Ontario
Canada, K1J 9B8
Phone: 613-745-4242
Fax: 613-745-5560
Email mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com

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