PressPausePlay (free bittorrent download) is a documentary about freedom and digital creativity. Most of the examples are from the music ‘industry’. Rahrahs from the likes of Seth Godin are balanced by the dour warnings of Andrew Keen.
This doco contains the bones of the controversy over UGC, whose major critic is Andrew Keen:
When you fall into the trap of confusing the artist and the audience, when you believe that the audience knows more than the artist, is more authoritative, is more creative, is more talented, then art ends. Then you have something else, you have cacophany, you have simply an apology for radical democratisation, and it’s wrong to confuse democratisation in cultural and political terms with the creation of art, which is by definition for better or worse, an elitist business.
I have trouble with the logic of Keen’s argument. If the audience thinks they are better than the artist, they surely wouldn’t be there? And anyway, what does he mean by ‘art’? He seems to be referring to types of creative practice that have been validated by ‘experts’, and even if you think that this is what art is, there doesn’t seem to be any way for new artists to become validated. He doesn’t give any room for discovery or development. Intead, he offers a psychologised explanation of the makers of UGC:
In our post-industrial age, because of atomisation, loneliness, because of the brak-up of community, the way to somehow reify or deify ourselves is through the creative act.
Are there no other reasons for creativity than therapy? What about the desire to communicate? An interest in aesthetic and technical experimentation? The transition to ‘serious art’ seems to be entirely magical if it is meant to develop from Keen’s idea of non-successful art.
Raw popularity – ‘number of clicks’ – is not the criteria for art, in Keen’s opinion, presumably because we are meant to let experts judge art and we are meant to follow that judgement? Keen seems to remove any right of individuals to form their own critical opinion. Once again, this leads us into a cul-de-sac in which aesthetic criteria can never develop, and art is reified into heritage forms forever.
The other thing that Keen doesn’t appear to understand is how we find things on the web – through use of our networks, metadata and referrer systems, and private networked which Alexis Madrigal calls the dark social.
However, the note of foreboding Keen sounds when he declares us to be ‘on the verge of a new dark age’ can not altogether be ignored. Moby, for example ponders whether ‘people might start to become comfortable with mediocrity’. The digital revolution has:
…separated, to an extent, knowledge of cract and creativity, it’s like to be a good photography you had to know how to develop your own film, to print your own film, and you had to understand the way the camera worked and now that doesn’t matter.
Someone else (apologies, I missed the name) comments ‘The craft is no longer necessary. The craft of writing or the craft of making art or the craft of the musician is gone’ because everything can all be fixed in post. The price is that any idiosyncracy in performance can be removed and what remains is sterile precision.
I get intimidated and bored by perfect digital art.
Another sort of critique about contemporary music culture is that digitality and sharability of music has made it ubiquitous, we don’t concentrate on it so much, it’s just ‘the noise of our lives’. But whatever is happening, it sure is interesting. This digital moment is analogous to the 1920′s, when TV, radio – the heritage media era – was beginning to take off. Nobody knew what would happen, but the results have been playing out over the last eighty years.
As one interviewee says, we’re all operating in the dark. it depends on whether you think this is exciting or devastating.
[This is one of two posts written about PressPausePlay. Here's the other. Still from PressPausePlay.]