Friday, 21 October 2011

On us as artists

A response to Timmmmyboy's (count the "m's" :P) blog post, "We are all artists."

Guy goes through a bunch of points, but the main idea is basically to question if making art, or being creative is necessarily restricted to "artists". Reference is of course made to the ds106 community, and the fact that there are a lot of people involved who are in fact not art majors nor designers by profession and the argument for, is succinctly expressed in his comparison of art-making to playing sports; one is not generally expected to do well at the start, but is expected to work at it (of course you'd anticipate results from that effort...and hey good news I hear that's usually the case!).

Image source. Have your own demotivational poster?

The interesting thing to consider for me though, is the fact that I am an art major, and I am aiming for a career in design. So the question is where does that leave me? Well contrary to what you might think I actually fully support Timmmmyboy's opinion. I don't really like museums and art galleries because sure you get to see great "art" but at the same time it's an incredibly stifling environment where one is expected to "remain quiet", "refrain from eating and drinking", and generally not run through the halls screaming. This is not to say that I would, but I don't like not being able to. What I'm getting at is that in such formalised environments it just doesn't feel like you're free to take the "art" in and respond naturally.

Experts at the running-through-the-halls-screaming game.

Contrast this to the idea of "everyday art", from reading a magazine to flipping through websites in your own time, at your own pace (or in the case of Timmmmyboy, looking for amazing coffee filters). How do you react to such stimuli? Well...any way you want to really and that's exactly what I'm talking about. Art isn't just art; it's not this walled-off fence with a big sign out front that says "artists only" and just as much as we are all expected to have a degree of common sense and pragmatism, likewise do we all possess a level of creativity and individuality and the desire to express ourselves somehow. When artists do it, it's this thing called "art", but aren't you singing when you're singing even if you're not a Grammy Award winning vocalist? Same deal.
"Don't accept that lie that you're not creative" -Timmmmyboy
The discussion moves on to the topic of having design as a critical intervention in culture, bringing with it the point that we now have the tools to intervene in our time. You don't need to work your way up the corporate ladder in some TV station just to get your program on the boob tube when there's YouTube, and you don't actually need to publish a book to reach the masses when there's push-button publishing. It's the question of passive versus interactive media that totally blows the stereotype of fat kids munching popcorn while watching TV all day out of the water; they're actually up in your YouTubes, getting 23 million views and the support of viewers who choose to legitimise his antics. We are no longer a passive, consumption-based society, but one that is fully (and willingly) engaged in creating and appropriating media input.

Speaking of appropriating media input though, where does this leave formal, rigid institutions such as universities if our culture is increasingly based around intervention, interaction and creation? It's a question brought up on the channel: Is it even possible to structure the idea of learning anymore? This is a Catch-22. For something to be active (or interactive) it cannot sit still and rot (unless you're making alcohol). Similarly if today's fat kids are not gonna be sitting in front of the TV all day the question is what will they be doing? And if the answer is that they're gonna be part of the next big cultural meme then I think you'll agree with me that this is not something that's really predictable, definable or even fair. Like silly YouTube videos.

Here's where huge institutions such as universities run into a big problem: The target doesn't sit still anymore. We've heard again and again that technology keeps advancing by leaps and bounds and it's gotten to a point where it's empowered ordinary users like you and I to put our opinion out there for everyone, for better or worse. So what's the answer? Are universities finished? Jim Groom came on later in the show and aired his doubts on sending his kids to school; certainly a controversial thought. Is he right? Well the question is: Rigid institutions are outdated, but if you don't get into that then what's your benchmark? Not everyone can be a Star Wars Kid and my personal opinion is that we need to come to terms with the fact that traditional educational routes are becoming less relevant and more obscure, but to an extent we still need them. We need them to qualify why the silly stuff we make in our own time is relevant, and "better" than what's big and shiny (see below), because without "that crap on TV" the awesome stuff you're making won't be. Awesome doesn't exist in a vacuum.

Ladies and gentlemen, the big and shiny.

So let's get back to the subject of ds106, because what's really interesting about this is that it's about trying to put all these ideas into one neat little package. It's taking the idea of media appropriation, of user-created content and trying to shoehorn that into a classroom setting. So how's it going? Someone mentioned the following reaction to ds106: Surprise→anger→acceptance→"art", and if you take a look at that what it tells you is that people are uncomfortable, but that discomfort is what could possibly lead you on to the next breakthrough. Why? Because you can; you can choose to slam the Star Wars Kid's gyrating motions, or turn it into the next trend (it's called the "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" buttons), or you might be the one putting something out there for the world to evaluate, like we all do on ds106. Or facebook. Or Twitter. Or...

Some things get picked up and some things don't and it's not necessarily a reflection of just quality anymore because so many people are involved and it's also about cultural resonance and so much more. This means that the road to success (however you define that) has a lot more shortcuts and back-roads than there were before, but at the same time those paths sure have a lot of potholes. You might trip, get lost, but you might just finish first and that's the risk you take now with the kind of society we have. It's unpredictable; it's unavoidable, but one consolation is that there are some things that can smoothen the ride, like perseverance, like putting yourself out there, like not going alone, and like understanding that you and I and everyone around now have the potential to take something and re-evaluate that as we please. And then doing that.

Because I do believe we are all artists, even if it doesn't say so on our resume. Derp.


  1. I fully agreed!!
    Especially for your feelings for some kinds of galleries ... you absolutely said what I feel for those craps!
    I feel like those "art" galleries are kinda labeling artworks like "high-end brand items" by treating those artworks that way.
    Which could be the best way for keeping the artwork as an objective property as long as possible, but IS IT REALLY ACTIVATING ITS DEAL OF EXISTENCE?
    Artworks are NOT for just walking through in front of them; they could be more than that, such like entertainments, atmosphere designers, communicators, etc.
    And yeah, of course, artworks are NOT only that, either ... actually, we never can label what "art" is, I believe.
    Besides, like possibly most of art-majors have already learned, according to M. Duchamp, even a pissing-pot can be an artwork! lol

  2. This is an excellent (and extremely well-written) breakdown of creativity and culture in our society. As an art major in school I can remember wondering myself how I could ever stand out in a world where my 13-year-old next door neighbor could become "internet famous" on YouTube with no degree or experience. After working in higher ed for a few years I think my thoughts on the matter of materialized a bit more. Here's where I think the role of the university plays in a distributed (and disrupted) culture.

    The ability for folks to to learn an incredible amount all on their own is now possible. Information is no longer the currency that education can sell (at least not higher-ed, but I think at certain levels of the K-12 environment too). Much in the same way that we will never buy volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica again, it's foolish to think we will pay for people to divulge raw knowledge to us that doesn't already exist on the internet. But where I see the university shining is as a platform for your art and learning. Perhaps you can sing in your living room, and maybe you will be a YouTube star, who knows. But at least at our school you have the benefit of working directly will experts in the field, access to an incredible amount of equipment and tools for your craft, and a platform to display it all. This applies not just to the arts either, I only use that as an example because I find art in every field of subject. Higher education in my eyes has become the stage and microphone to allow your learning to be amplified to a global audience in an amazing way.

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  4. Morita: Definitely, and I also think that Duchamp is a good reference point because his work symbolises the shift between art as a skill-based endeavour and art as inclusive of what is concept-driven. As long as you take it that way it means that anyone with an opinion or idea can choose to put something forward if they so choose.

    Tim: Wow it's kinda surreal but also really awesome to hear feedback from the man himself. Really interesting to see how my interpretation of your words get reprocessed back :)

    I think what you're saying is that the main draw for physical institutions these days lie in that they provide an immediate community, with the resources and contacts to make things work. I would say that neither of these things are strictly necessary (we are after all submitting ds106 assignments from around the globe), but that I do definitely agree with the fact that having that physical contact and immediacy is a very important component of bettering peoples' learning and the creation of work.

    A good comparison would be books, I think. People can download texts and have their Kindles these days, but there's just something irreplaceable about having the printed page in your hands and similarly with institutions like universities I think the case is that you "can" do something similar without it, but being there just helps. Sometimes a lot.

  5. Great response, very thoughtful and articulated. Nice job!

  6. Can I just take a moment to tell you how brilliant your work for ds106 has been thus far? very brilliant. Thanks.

  7. lol. Thanks guys; both to the ones commenting here and the people who've mentioned this post in their own blogs etc. It's nice to hear the positive feedback and similar (and diverging) opinions on the matter!

  8. you are so right in this blogpost. i completely agree with what you are saying. very well explained. i enjoyed reading this.