Free culture

Since writing “At face value” I’ve had a number of discussions related to the subject of “value” where art is concerned including some excellent comments on the post itself from Ray Ketcham and Andreas Manessinger. I don’t want to spend much more time on the subject as I am not qualified enough to explore the topic any further than I already have but I would like to share some thoughts that have come up on the subject in the last few weeks.

It appears that there is a huge surge of creativity these days, borne out of the digital age no doubt. I say ‘appears’ because it’s difficult to know if there is indeed an increase in creative flow or if we are simply able to share it more easily thus giving the ‘appearance’ that there is more creative work in the world. I am guessing that there is a little of both. Put a camera on every phone and suddenly everyone’s a photographer. It may not all be art but it is creative, for better or for worse.

Some of the discussions I’ve had of late have explored whether this proliferation of creative work is in fact, a good thing. We’ve wondered if the laws of supply and demand will come into effect and devalue all creative work, including all art work, not just in financial terms but also in terms of preciousness and uniqueness. After all if everyone out in the streets is shooting street scenes will we ever have another Cartier-Bresson and if all the people out in nature shoot landscapes will we ever have another Ansel Adams? And then there is still the question of Creative Commons versus Copyright. If there is so much work available for free what incentive will artists have to continue being artists.

My thoughts on this cannot be taken as academic or well-informed since I only consider myself creative and not artistic and furthermore I am not driven to create the way so many of my artistic friends tend to be.  Keeping that in mind, I have a few friends who have acquired a new-found, creative zeal with the advent of digital media and, having received much positive feedback from their “followers” decided some time back to make a go of it, that is, to try to make a living from their art. I can say that none has managed to throw in their day-job; some make enough to cover their costs; most feel disillusioned and all seem to blame, to various extent, the very vehicle that energised their initial artistic awakening, namely, the Internet. I am offering this purely as an observation and will refrain from drawing any conclusions — my “sample data” is too small to do so.

Where photography is concerned these friends believe wholeheartedly that the ease with which digital media is shared or copied is what makes it impossible for artists to make a living from their art. With that thought in mind I brought up the fact that there are a number of artistic forms of expression that are not in any way, shape or form protected by copyright laws and though they may not be quite as easy to copy are nonetheless copied fervently. Food and fashion are two such areas where intellectual property cannot be protected. There’s a TED talk given by Johanna Blakely called “Lessons from fashion’s free culture” which sheds an interesting light on the matter. Again, I am not drawing any conclusions and I am not proposing that what Blakely suggest is appropriate for all artwork. In fact, some of my friends refused to accept that recipes and fashion designs could possibly be thought of as art. For the record I disagree with them. Having been fortunate enough to have eaten in some excellent restaurants I have to say that I do regard food as being a wonderful vehicle for artistic expression — perhaps one of the best, as food can engage all of the senses when done properly. Fashion also can be an amazing medium for creativity.

As I’ve stated repeatedly, I do not wish to conclude anything or make any suggestions but all this talk with my friends has made me wonder: What would have happened if things like photography and music had never been protected by law? Would we have less music and less photographic fine art due to artists having no incentive to create or would we currently be experiencing incredibly original artworks in both these fields due to artists being forced to innovate in order to stay ahead? Are these questions pointless because the very medium in which digital art is created ensures that there will never be an easy solution? Musicians can go on tour to make money but what of photographers? Unfortunately I do not possess any answers though I do have faith in human innovation, especially when it comes to art and I feel quite certain that even the threat of financial poverty will never quash the creative flow when it demands to be manifested. Or perhaps I am too naive and idealistic.