Constructive Criticism: Why not?

What do you call a person who refuses to title their models or offer a description of any kind?  A true artiste?  A lazy minimalist?  A pretentious contrarian?  Or is it evidence of pseudonym standing in for a more famous builder who doesn’t want to be recognized?  Today on the Manifesto we will be discussing the collected works of Why not?, the mysterious MOCpages builder who steadfastly refuses to engage with his or her fellow hobbyists and is content to let the building do all the talking.

Let’s begin with Why not’s most recent build, a suitably creepy monster with a large wingspan.  I was drawn in by the tilted head and skeletal wings and I lingered to examine the beautifully constructed rib cage and three-toed feet.  Although I enjoyed perusing the image it left me wanting more.  Mostly I wanted a better photo to examine, but MOCpages is notorious for butchering images and I could not find a Flickr account under the same name.  The proportions of the demon seem just a little bit off, especially the legs which  have stunted, insubstantial thighs.  I know the subject is not human and I should probably be careful applying human anatomy to a demon but it just doesn’t look right.  I also wish the wings were a little more developed, a little more bony structure would really provide additional visual impact to the model.  Likewise I think if the arms had been posed more effectively it might benefit the work as a whole and make it look a little less static.

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Why not’s back catalogue of models is strewn with very intriguing near-misses.  Take for example this  untitled cemetery scene from 2015, it’s a great concept with a unique perspective but too much of the image is dominated by the sloppy looking, studs-out walls of the grave.  My objections isn’t based on an anti-studs rant, I think studs have their place as a good contrast to the smoothness of man-made constructs like the stone cross, but I think all the studs detract from the power of the image.  Graves are not typically emblazoned with the LEGO logo everywhere and I think maybe some wedge-plates would have looked better or at least some smooth sections.  The all-black minifigs are a trademark of Why not, and they work great here to add mystery of the model, but the white sky behind them doesn’t do any favors for the presentation. I can’t help but wonder how the image would look with a gray or blue sky, either photographed outdoors or Photoshopped for that matter.

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Some of Why not’s work recall the early “artistic” offerings from Chairman Zhang, with careful and deliberate use of color (or lack thereof) to make a statement.  Take for example this vignette featuring a naked minifig on a colorful island, surrounded by a monochromatic city-scape and colorless watchers.  I’m not sure what the builder is trying to say here and that’s either the artistic strength of the model or a frustrating weakness where the viewer has to supply all the meaning without enough visual clues.  If I had to guess I’d say the vignette depicts the isolated existence of the creative individual amidst the cold gray society that watches but doesn’t understand the artistic life….but your mileage may vary.  For me, the nano-skyscrapers are not interesting enough in design and the borders where the water meets the city are clumsy.  Even if the purpose of a model is to make a larger statement, it still needs visual interest beyond iconic symbols.

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We conclude our examination of Why not, with a collection of his or her best pieces.  The more I delve into the unfortunately limited body of work by this mystery-builder, the more I appreciate it.  The subject matter is diverse and generally speaking I appreciate the minimalist presentation.  I’d rather have no written explanation than a tedious backstory any day.  Each one of these models has little details that bother me, like the low-res spider on the girl’s face and the thickness of the electric chair’s arms, but there is no denying the power of the images.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the persistent conspiracy theory on MOCpages that accuses the talented and somewhat infamous builder Deus Otiosus of being Why not. The evidence is scant and seems to rest mostly on the notion that Deus frequently comments on Why not’s models, offering an explanation for the action.  I do see some similarities in style between the two, mostly in the clever technique displayed like using wheels for restraints on the electric chair pictured above, but it’s just not enough to pin the pseudonym on Deus.  I reached out to “Big D” for a comment via Flickr and he unequivocally denied the charges.

Ultimately I don’t really care too much about the identity of “Why not?” Every builder is entitled to a pseudonym from time to time.  As long as he or she continues to build thought-provoking (if flawed) models for my consumption, I’m all in.

 

13 thoughts on “Constructive Criticism: Why not?

  1. I was gonna say some of these MOCs remind me of Nannan’s early days (especially those monochrome figs in the grave scene), with maybe a touch of Letranger Absurde’s cartoonish side. Nannan was one of the first builders I discovered in the online community when I found MOCpages sometime in 2006, so I find it oddly nostalgic that there’s now someone else building in that same style on that site which I’ve long abandoned in favor of Flickr. Thanks for bringing Why not?‘s work to my attention and keep up the coverage of these obscure builders.

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    1. Thanks Christopher, you’re not alone, I think Nannan’s early work was like a gateway drug to the hobby. Back in 2006 the Chairman’s models were unlike anything else, right down to the terrible Lovecraftian prose that went with it. As always, thanks for the comment!

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  2. I enjoy the builds and style, the abstract expressions are challenging and thought provoking and a bit flawed. I don’t mind when an artist does not explain their work nor give it a title as it can be leading. I don’t mind it when they do lead with both either. The former is however frustrating especially in abstraction. I am one that prefers the question left open for interpretation but there is a point when it falls into pretentiousness on the artist’s part (these are easy to spot as they are usually titled ” Untitled Number whatever.”) I will say this, leaving the conversation open the way that Why Not? does (even though the artist doesn’t ever engage) is much more appealing than the “nuff said” nihilistic bullshit that pervades the melodramatic, angst-ridden, narcissistic artiste mentality. There is a respectful and massive difference between “I don’t have to tell you” and “I don’t want to tell you.”

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    1. I don’t mind a little ambiguity either, I used to have long winded text-walls with each of my postings, but when I switched to Flickr I became a minimalist myself. Part of it was that MOCpages lends itself better to a narrative style, but I’m definitely in the camp now of less is more when it comes to describing your own model. I agree completely that anyone who utters the phrase “nuff said” needs to be boiled in oil though, it’s so self important to try and slam the lid on discourse. One possibility that occurred to me after writing the post is that the builder may not speak English and for whatever reason is not comfortable with posting in their native tongue.

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  3. I can think of a number of reasons for adopting a pseudonym in a public forum. In addition to the list of explanations you open with, there is also the variable of personal sensitivity. Feedback is a wild, unregulated thing. Not all comments are critiques, and not all critiques are constructive. You Keith, thrive on criticism, critique and in-yo-face dialogue (Duh!) But for many, the no holds barred nature of on line communication is a fiery crucible. Pseudonyms might vex fans, but neither detailed communication nor public affiliation are incumbent on an artist. Not in Lego or any other art form. I respect the artists desire to remain unknown. Oh, and Why not… is NOT… Deus.

    There is NO WAY Deus would be able to stop himself from blasting right back at smack talkers and trolls or from actively engaging legitimate commentators. I discard the notion with a sip of coffee and a dismissive flick of the wrist. Deus is outspoken. He is not timid. He is not remotely deceptive. He is totally and consistently in-yo-face!

    As for Why not’s work, I am quite taken with his untitled but decidedly grave take on the funeral. The perspective is a very simple and very good idea. I like how the earthen walls of the shaft become the boarders of the image. The black figures looking down at the viewer… Cool trick! I’m in the hole! I find the exposed studs to be totally effective in conveying the notion of naked earth. I’m down with it… What breaks the spell for me is the fact that the artist decided not to exploit the naturally occurring angles afforded them by that killer bottom up perspective. The viewer is in the pit, looking up at the sky. The living are there looking down upon you. The cross is both a typical physical feature at such ceremonies and a powerful symbol… Un-avoidable, but also symbolically ambiguous. Is it menacing judgment? Stalwart salvation? The end? The beginning? What? Maybe the point is that the viewer should know (or decide) what it means, and that it might mean different things to different viewers.

    What is beyond dispute is that the cross is central to the image. As such, it should “loom” or maybe “tower” above the rest of the action.

    But the artist did not “trust” the natural angles. That cross is obviously tilted over the hole at a severe angle. It does not loom or tower… it leans. For me the spell of the implied narrative is immediately trashed and replaced with my own admittedly extraneous concerns regarding the stability of a large concrete object in the event of heavy rain. If the ground gets soggy, will that sucker fall over? Or worse… it looks like the device is leaning way in to sort of “Photo-bomb” the image. I believe the artist wanted to invoke higher thoughts, but this agenda is suddenly derailed by the intrusive mundane.

    This happens because the artist did not “trust” in the power of the naturally occurring angles to convey the message. Why not obviously bent the cross to get it into the right place in the photo. Had the artist kept true to the natural angles, they would have a more powerful image. They might have had to compromise the symmetry of their “dirt frame” in order to get the cross where they wanted it, but the resultant image would have looked stronger and… Truer? For me, a powerful distractor would have been eliminated.

    It only bugs me so much because the image is so dang good otherwise.

    Good post about a good builder.

    As any rapper would tell us: Why not be anonymous.

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    1. I disagree, I can see Deus using a pseudonym just to watch the reaction that ensues. Yes Deus is a straight shooter who has no problem stating his opinion with no regard for what people will think, but he’s also a shit-stirrer who very much enjoys trolling people. I also think he has more self control than you give him credit for, I think it wouldn’t be a problem for him to sit back and watch the reaction of his peers without intervention. Even though he denies involvement it still wouldn’t surprise me if he copped to it down the road. Above all, Deus loves to be perceived as clever and avant-garde and having a pseudonym hits all those notes.

      As you know, I’ve had a couple of pseudonyms over the years and my motivation was to get an honest critique without the baggage of my pseudo-celebrity attached to it. Well, and once I wanted to enter a war-game called D&C without them knowing my backstory. Ultimately, both experiments were kind of boring.

      I didn’t notice the thing about the cross sort of leaning in or floating in the image, you’re right, the builder wasn’t satisfied with the natural look and wanted to make sure that cross was front and center. It’s also a fucking huge cross for a standard sized grave. I’m kind of kicking myself for not noticing the centrality of the icon it before I wrote the article. I think the studded grave bothered me so much that I didn’t look too far past it. You know, the grave with the word LEGO displayed over and over. It’s interesting that the immersive quality was broken for both of us, but for completely different reasons.

      You really need to write an essay for the blog, your comments are better than my posts.

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      1. Great idea, poorly executed. Saw the cross lean and was equally annoyed. Studs, not as much but it is bothersome in this case along with that triangle at the top. I have to question why go with an iconic cross? Or anything for that matter. I think the idea is well implied without any sort of headstone. Implying a sky would have worked well enough. Or better still if you really want to get artsy is have a tree branch enter the frame of the grave opening from nowhere in particular. Whistler did this quite a bit in his abstract expressionistic paintings along with a host of carpenters and artists throughout the Arts & Crafts style of furniture and Craftsman style architecture/decor. I actually find the equal lighting more distracting, this is an image that calls out for harsh, direct, heavy yellow light. This is a lack of confidence in the execution and one of the most important steps in any art; when to stop. Why Not? knew there was something not working here. Now I’m really intrigued as to who they really are as a point of reference.

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      1. Yeah, I think Deus has me confused with someone else. This blog is about as far from professional as you can get: sloppy grammar, limited editing, profanity, character assassination and conspiracy theory. This is strictly amateur hour.

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    1. You’re right Deus, that was pretty unprofessional of me, I shouldn’t have posted your private response here. My apologies. I didn’t intend any malice, I thought you’d denied being ‘Why Not’ publicly so I thought posting your denial wouldn’t be a big deal. It won’t happen again though, point taken and I deleted the quote.

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  4. Regarding the grave scene, I am not bothered by the tilted cross. I notice the other gravestone, presumably for the next tomb over (and at the top of the image) is similarly tilted on a hinge plate. My mind automatically makes the cross seem vertical, which would make the grave shaped somewhat like an upside-down trapezium, walls angled in. I think that effectively makes the grave feel smaller. Though at times my brain will revert the image so the cross is actually horizontal from this perspective, parallel to the screen, suggesting the people are sideways and the grave is oriented more like a closet door. The disorientation makes it feel like I, the viewer, am falling (into final death?), which seems appropriate for the scene.

    What bothers me is the camera angle, since supposedly this is a one-person grave, yet the camera is located no where near one end, where the head would naturally lie.

    Chances are my opinion will be different by tomorrow, but this MOC in particular really show the strong and the weak of immersive, forced perspective images. I’m just grateful I have examples like this to work from, because I probably cannot currently attain this quality of craftsmanship.

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    1. Right on VA, it’s always great to get a comment from you. I didn’t notice the camera angle either, but you’re right, it’s not quite right for the scene. Even though it’s flawed, “Why Not” has provided us with excellent fodder for discussion and what more can you really ask of a model. Cheers man, good luck with your contest too. If you want to write an article about it for the blog when it’s all over and done with, let me know. In the meantime, I’ll be watching from the cheap seats.

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