Week 1 : Creativity / authorship

“Our creativity comes from without, not from within.” - Kirby Ferguson

“Art is sourced.” - Jonathan Lethem

I found Kirby Ferguson’s TED talk “Embrace the Remix” a sweet sentiment but rhetorically flawed.  Like Lethem, he attacks patent law, and supports this point through the perceived similarities of artistic works by major artists, yet i’m not sure many would disagree with him on this point.  That corporations and lawyers can behave in a self-interested, hypocritical fashion when they have much to lose seems obvious.  

I have a fair amount of skepticism for the tribe of people that believe we must embrace (worship?) the remix, the recontextualization, the recycling of culture.  Perhaps it is simply that the personal computing tools involved in these productions have become too accessible, too easy.  I’ve known a handful of young music makers abandon their pursuit of instrumental craft in favor of programming glossy, sterile remixes.  To point out that Dylan shared a melody with his previous generation’s folk musicians doesn’t pay the necessary respect to the number of hours he spent alone in a room creating his work.  To point out that Danger Mouse made a great remix record that helped launch his  gold-plated production career doesn’t change the fact that the Gray Album — while great — is a novelty piece of kitsch art.  Of the many successful records he’s made since, he’s never returned to the idea of making a mash-up record.  Projects like this show off cleverness, but can lack an authentic authorial voice.  

He quickly concludes that human creativity ‘comes from without, not from within’ -- a bit undersupported.  It lacks sensitivity and nuance as an argument.  Ferguson strikes me as a person a bit too pleased with himself to have landed a TED talk.

Lethem’s argument is more developed and wildly more poetic - Lethem is a top shelf creative thinker, unlike Ferguson it would seem - but in his conclusion he gets a little vague.  Lethem's a member of the current American pantheon of authors, and his piece gives no airspace to the rampant piracy and financial restructuring of the streaming music industry, for example, that cannibalizes the efforts of his cousins in that artistic middle class.  It reminds me of the current argument surrounding whether Pharell and Robin Thicke should have to repay damages from a legal defeat to Marvin Gaye’s estate is painfully boring.  — [Some pop stars repurposed a cool musical fragment to make the new Livin La Vida Loca, and now two years later we get to keep talking about it.  Fantastic.]

I enjoyed his section about the “undiscovered public knowledge,” and to a large extent agree that future originality is in some ways a process of discovery that results from changing the recipe of your influences.  But both Ferguson’s TED talk (in a theater full of eager and perhaps not unfair to assume like-minded ticket buyers) and Lethem in his upper academic echelon may exist in a bit of an echo chamber.  Ultimately I have a problem with these mens' definitions of human creativity, but in spirit I agree with a good portion of where they’re coming from.