I really liked the McCluhan reading, the first two chapters from Understanding Media. I was impressed how well he wrote about the impact of media on his contemporary society just as media had become second nature. His ideas of hot media and cool media made me think of how that applies to the central media in our current society. Twitter, of course, or the Internet, or TIVO, or Google Maps, YouTube, Second Life. The line between hot and cool media is a little blurry now, with Twitter appearing to be a cool medium, like the telephone, because it is a user operated conduit that allows for tons of communicative information to be disseminated. But it’s also a hot medium because it’s possible to remain a voyeur, to observe the phenomenon as an outsider to the creative force. The same with TIVO: user operated (cool) magical recording playback device visual media not created by the user (hot). With personal computer-centered open-source everything, the lines are very blurry indeed. In these new user/viewer generated media, the message is participation and collective memory making. It is not a one-way street. It is Clay Shirky’s song and dance.
To respond to Jonathan Letham’s article on plagiarism and context, it’s getting harder and harder to judge when plagiarism is okay and when it is punishable. Plagiarism is the act of copying somebody else’s work, calling it your own and profiting without giving credit. I feel strongly about plagiarism. Having done my fair share of plagiarism in elementary school (basically copying stories word for word and changing the name to my own), I find it to be a valuable learning device to copy other people. I don’t think I would have learned to write fiction as well if I hadn’t copied stories word for word. I’m a tactile learner and seeing myself creating patterns of words on a page that were arranged by a better writer than me gave me confidence to try writing my own stories. The same thing happened when I taught myself how to play the piano. It was obviously Beethoven or Chopin’s music, I never pretended it was my own. Due to the intangible nature of the medium of sound, it’s hard to consider playing someone else’s music as plagiarism. After listening to a lot of music, it became obvious to me that music moves forward when someone takes an old song, twists it, contemporizes it, and popularizes it. Words are still just words no matter the order, just as musical notes are just notes. The tools of language and music belong to the person who arranges and writes them down no more than the person belongs to the page or pen he or she uses to write them. This whole problem with licensing and copyright boils down to one basic idea: people who own things are scared. They are scared of losing, they are scared of missing out on some reward. Artists are frequently the target of because a lot of art points to the world or represents the world through a medium or the aesthetic of an individual. Artists should not stop questioning or appropriating or misappropriating because of rules. They should also be prepared to suffer the consequences of their actions according to the punitive measures taken by a society that values “mine” over “ours”.
But things might be changing. Some people settle for bootleg copies because they can’t afford the real hi-fi. Others prefer the hi-fi. The savvy consumer is moving into a new kind of middle class, one where paying for something is considered a faux pas and stealing is hard to define.
In regards to the NY Times article (by the AP, which I find to be a funny delivery of news from the perspective of the winning combatant, a la Animal Farm), I’m sad that it turned out that way. I don’t know much about the laws surrounding fair use, but if there are 2 or more cameras shooting a public figure from the same angle at the same event to be used for a public journal or periodical, it seems a little sad that the images can’t be sourced for things like Fairey’s Obama poster. This is another instance where property laws suddenly pop into relief as archaic and stifling to artistic creation. The system of values of art and corporate ownership are very similar, but different in a key way. In art, presented ideas are meant to provoke and make people think about what they’re doing, and hopefully inspire the viewer to action or reaction. It’s the same in corporate advertising and journalism– it’s all information. However, this NY Times article is about one of those cases where art entities and corporate entities clash. On the one hand you have the artist, sometimes a group or movement, usually an individual who accesses ideas and realizes them, who usually look to the world for inspiration or stimulation, who mediate experiences for a viewer based on fact or fiction. On the other hand you have corporations, large entities that are treated as individuals, and are made up of individuals who are not the corporation. The difference is that corporations have the means to purchase licenses and rights to intellectual property to use at their discretion, whereas an artist who’s work is based on appropriation of public media has to adopt the outlaw role of making it look like they didn’t steal an image or a song. I like the artists that push these boundaries and help realize a possible future where ideas don’t have price tags but rather have merit that’s more tangible, more sensory, more visceral and intuitive, merit that can drive societies and cultures forward from the stand-point of what smells good rather than what sells good.
The Joy Garnett article made me feel the same. An image is an image is an image. I believe ideas evolve independent of people (thank you Mr. Dawkins). Imagine some ancient ancestor emerged from the earth and said, “hey all you motherfuckers, no no, you can’t use those cars, those gear systems, those CD’s, those centrifuges, because I own that idea, the idea of revolution, of roundness, the WHEEL.” Maybe he or she would lose the lawsuit because the idea is no longer fresh– it has been relegated to the too-slim world of Public Domain. It really bothers me when people try to seek remuneration for something that is not the thing they made. Anything made by hand is original, a song unaltered is original. Anything that doesn’t actually contain original materials is original. A sample of music in conjunction with other sounds is a new original. In terms of digital art, or collage, or photo montage, If the copy is better than the original, tough luck! If you put an image or song out there for people to see, it’s public and should belong to the public. Like the campfire song, like the statue of David, like the published press photo. The idea is greater than the originator of the idea. What ever happened to the joy of knowing people have seen your work, that the amazing thing you have done has impacted people around the world? In this regard I’m also talking about video artists closely protecting the rights to showing their work, like Matthew Barney or Paul McCarthy, who either show their work in exclusive engagements or sell limited editions. If the very nature of the medium makes it possible to show the work globally with ease, why resist the desires of many and hold such effective work close to the breast? What is a system of value if no one ever gets to know the object in question? The art world is fucked up in that way sometimes. On the other hand, the social capital allotted to cutting edge, experimental artists that challenge the status quo in this society is often so low that closely guarding the fruits of labor, and profiting from them at all costs, seems to be the only way that makes sense. Unless the part-time job is appealing…
Now my question is, how do you own or keep a performance? Video is not the same as live, no matter what. The performer imparts an experience to a viewer, live, and the viewer comes away with an experience that is separate from the performer’s body or media. Who owns the experience? What if it’s an interactive performance where the viewer has influence on the outcome of the experience?
Another question is: as a society, is there any chance of moving towards a society where value is placed on things that are useful rather than on precious metals and paper representations of those metals, or worse, digital bytes floating in the ether that represent those paper representations? We had it with the barter system, we had it with trade of services– what can it be in our current society where the non-local, non-personal interaction of exchange is king? There are people working on it…