Thursday, August 15, 2013

Upside and Downside of The Democratization of Creativity

They've announced the winners of the annual iPhone Photography Awards , so we're seeing all the usual peevish internet discussion about "the democratization of creativity". Can iPhone photos be art? (Duh, of course.) Are they "as good" as professional photos? ("Good"/"bad" don't apply. Neither medium supersedes the other.) Can professional photographers with pro equipment get richer, more varied results? (Duh.) Should there even be an award for iPhone photography? (Why the hell not?)

Smart questions are also being asked. With the rise of cheap but powerful creative tools designed to empower amateurs to fake arty results, accompanied by a (not unrelated) fall-off of public appreciation for deeper and more thoughtful creation, is real talent and creativity being smothered? The answer's yes. Try playing live music even in a cosmopolitan place like Manhattan. You will receive uncomprehending stares from many people under the age of 35. Why, they will wonder, has the wallpaper come to life? The artistic struggle - the discipline and hard work and human touch - seems awfully quaint when you can attain superficially similar results from a few minutes of dallying with GarageBand, iMovie, or Instagram. That route seems neat and clean. The old ways seem eccentric, messy and willfully obtuse.

That's not the whole story, though. While mounds of drek are indeed smothering out The Good Stuff, it's important to bear in mind that plenty of supposedly good stuff actually sucks. Loads of professional photographers, filmmakers, musicians and composers churn out worthless, uninspiring dross. What's more, I see no noble effort by old-school creative professionals to rise to the crisis, step up their game, and prove their value.

Most of the endangered "good stuff" isn't so good. (Related note: I shared the outrage when big box stores like Barnes & Noble, Staples, and Home Depot killed mom-and-pop stores, but, amid the hue and cry, no one ever noted that a great many mom-and-pop places were actually crappy, over-priced, and sullen.) But, also, some of "the bad stuff" - the fake artsy drek - isn't bad.

114,000,000 smartphones are in use in this country - all equipped with cameras. Among this enormous field of would-be photographers, the vast majority are dilettantes producing pretentious faux-artiness with Instagram toys. But 114 million photographers means 1 million genuinely creative photographers, 100,000 highly-talented photographers, and 10,000 brilliant photographers who otherwise might not have found this outlet (and who, given better equipment, would soon do work as beautiful as anyone). Also: 10 immortal geniuses.

So, yes, quality - in several art forms - is being smothered and devalued by the democratization of creativity. The combination of lowered standards and rising pretension is toxic. But putting any sort of creative tool into the hands of a vast number of people will also elicit greatness. A certain fraction of humanity will always make use of whatever tools they have to create something amazing. So it will all, as ever, churn....but it will all be okay.

Have a look back at this golden oldie about a brilliant iPhone painter.


Jim Leff said...

Writing challenge: can anyone suggest a way to signal more clearly that the word "fake" in the second paragraph is being used as a verb (without ruining the rhythm and flow)?

jim said...

Health officials say they've confirmed three cases of dengue fever contracted in central Florida.

Dengue fever is a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes. Millions of cases are reported worldwide each year, but it's rare for anyone to contract it in the United States.

The Florida Department of Health says the three patients are residents of Martin and St. Lucie counties. Officials say the patients acquired dengue from mosquitoes in Rio, near Jensen Beach. None have traveled internationally recently.

Officials say St. Lucie County hasn't had any cases of locally acquired dengue until now. There was one case in Martin County in 2011.

(From the AP)

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