Will Curiosity Kill the Aesthetically Digitzed Cat?

2 Apr

Our brains tackled two different subjects this week; the first deals with the impact that visual structure and accessible design have on websites and the transmission of information via the World Wide Web. The other deals with this image: creativity strapped to the railroad by the copyright ropes, waiting to be steamrolled by the law.

Larry Lessig doesn’t use those exact words, he says that creativity is being “strangled” by the law. He begins the talk, referencing John Philip Sousa who claimed that modern machines were leading society from a “read-write culture” to the “read only culture”. Those terrible machines.  Larry Lessig believes that the interactive web can reignite the read-write culture by allowing user written content; as long as those pesky copyright laws go along with the digital read-write revolution of course. There is a bigger debate underlying the copy right law discussions. This debate concerns the implications of using any type of reproduction in the creation of a ‘new’ product. Does any hint of reproduction, mimesis, etc. necessarily negate the ability to use ‘new’ or ‘creative’ when we describe a digital production?

There wouldn’t be a problem with copy right law litigation if there was agreement on the aesthetics concerning “reproduction” in the digital age, which has been tagged the “remix” age due to the popularity of remixing multimedia and streaming them online as creative or unique works of ____. I don’t really know what to call the remix videos in Lessig’s lecture: he calls them creative, Sheri might call them digital scrap, and I’m at a loss.

After watching the video, I revisited Walter Benjamin’s “The Artwork in the Age of its mechanical Reproducibility” with some added reprisal from Adorno in Kai Hammermeister’s review of the German Aesthetic Tradition. Technology, or those ‘terrible machines’ have the ability to stifle the imagination through what Walter Benjamin calls “distracted consumption”. “Distracted consumption” is a byproduct of our exposure to multimedia that trains the eye in a new mode of perception that “is characterized by disjoined moments and a rapid succession of impulses”. We don’t process information the same way as someone in 1912 did. Or 1974. Or even 1995.  Our thinking is different. And so is the creative process. Benjamin thought positively of the industrialization of culture since it allowed for a wider participation in art through  accessibility by the masses made possible through reproduction. So have machines invited a new type of creativity through the web revival of “read-write” as Lessig suggests?

Sousa is right to an extent— new technology changes are cognitive sense perception whether we realize it or not, producing new challenges to creativity be it good ones or bad ones. Do we say that creativity has been displaced because of machines? Adorno would call the theory of distracted consumption indistinguishable from mass entertainment, where mass entertainment is “nothing but the elimination of critical thought”. Ouch. So that’s what they mean by watching too much YouTube these days?

I really don’t have an answer. I was looking at Sheri’s response to Lessig’s argument along with the points made by Claire in her response to Sheri and the optimistic view points that Richard shared concerning the potential of creativity through these new channels of technology. I tried to work through my opinion in my response to Sheri’s blog and I think remain in the “I don’t know what the right answer is”.

But I’m curious. I’m curious to see what the potential of the word creativity has when the world is allowed to run the full gamut after complete freedom is allotted to methods of digital production. Maybe it will be a case of curiosity killed the cat. Maybe this “read-write” culture will just be a “read-manipulate” culture. But I’m still curious.

As for the Hans Rosling lecture that brought up effective ways to liberate data (www.gapminder.org), I think there are a lot of chemists out there that need to collaborate with the Swedish designers. There are a lot of conference attendees that might actually stay awake and learn something. That being said, the way we organize our information by balancing web design, visual architecture, and accessibility are huge contributions to our success as digital communicators of history. Speaking of web design, what’s up with “Guidelines for visualizing links”? Maybe I’m being a design snob but that page was seriously lacking some snazziness. At any rate, I’m sure these sites along with “White Space Is Not Your Enemy” will be viable resources for our design project that is due in a few weeks.

4 Responses to “Will Curiosity Kill the Aesthetically Digitzed Cat?”

  1. Sheri April 2, 2012 at 3:33 am #

    I think your differentiation academic creativity and artistic creativity is a key point to consider. Can works be re-created in different forms with new messages in an artistic sense without the strict laws of copyright coming into play? Question: Did Andy Warhol help the Campbell soup company through his artwork or infringe on their copyright to a marketing image? (see the Christie’s article at http://www.christies.com/features/2010-october-andy-warhol-campbells-soup-can-tomato-1022-1.aspx or the MoMA exhibition for more details http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79809) Was this considered creativity because he saw soup in a new way or was he just capitalizing on someone else’s design and profiting from the label designer’s ideas? I just wonder if the label designer or his descendents were as happy with the financial success of the art display as Warhol fans were pleased with the aesthetic outcome. Would a copyright clause on the rights to the soup image have stopped an artist from seeing soup in a new way? Or just prevent him from capitalizing on someone else’s creative designs. Here, the key points are perhaps tied with money and rights. Could this particular artist be considered a creative genius without soup? Or is his particular creativity in the ability to get others to see the ordinary in a new way?

    In many respects, the work of an artist is very similar to the work of an historian. Both ask the reader / viewer to consider both ordinary and extraordinary history in new ways. We rely on images and text and cultural context to frame the interpretation, but we frame the delivery in different formats. But can artists move this interpretation further than historians by morphing current images more easily into works than historians? Or do the same copyright constraints restrict modern artists from borrowing from current ideas to enhance new works of interpretation? Do we allow more latitude with creativity in artists than with historians? Can art generated with machines using text and images in new ways be viewed in the same light as history interpreted through technology applications of mixing text and images? Or do two different standards apply?

    I just think the themes of creativity and copyright have become bound together somehow with the notion that creativity springs from an ability to use images and technology to make new interpretations and that this interpretation must be allowed into a public format. There are many ways to interpret this statement. Anyone can be creative. Technology is not a requirement, nor is internet access, nor are the “terrible machines” a prerequisite for creativity, but each can be a tool in the process. Fair use laws exist to give people the chance to use images or text in a way that does not generate profit from the venture or impinge on legally established rights. I can show an image in class for educational purposes, but I need to have permission or pay for the rights to use copyrighted images in works I intend to put in a public format or for profit. This does not diminish my ability to be creative on my own time – just to place those created works in a public venue or in a format that generates profit.

    Excellent question about whether this age of digital production will run its course…sooner or later something new and more enticing is bound to come along raising a whole new line of questions and debate.

  2. bethshook April 2, 2012 at 3:38 am #

    I was equally irked by the Nielsen site (and just posted a brief rant about it). It reminds me of Prof. Petrik’s recent point about the importance of a graphic designer’s resume. If your content is IN your design, you better not foul it up.

    You make a good point about the semantics of remixing. When we talk about productive use/integration of someone else’s work, it seems that originality is in the eye of the beholder. And I understand Sheri’s cautioning against blindly assigning value to something just because it makes use of new media. While Lessig draws a line between remix and piracy, I would be very curious to know whether he can find an equally black-and-white distinction between creative cultural production and the “digital scrap” you refer to. With Sheri’s refrigerator art metaphor in mind, I tend to think that the nature of user generated content sites creates a hierarchy of content (via “Like” buttons, sharing, etc.) that can be far more interesting to study than the digital products themselves.


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