Remix

Nothing is original, everything is derivative in some form. That is what our readings this week would have us believe and accept. For the most part I agree with this. I’ve used samples from recordings, videos from YouTube, photos from the internet, open source code from generous programmers, and whatever else I can get my hands on in my own work when needed. I also have countless influences, people and sources I didn’t directly appropriate from, but probably comprise a bigger part of my artistry then those that I directly lifted from. As a trained jazz musician I was steeped in the idea that we have to study and absorb what came before us. I learned from transcribing solos off of records, practicing phrases I liked, and doing all the other things necessary to learn a language. Clark Terry once famously summed it up in the phrase: imitate, assimilate, innovate.

However, having said all of that, I have to admit I had a little bit of a problem with Kirby Ferguson’s assertion that this is actually the only way we create. In his TED talk he proposed that all creation comes from without, i.e., we either lift something directly or we may have heard/saw something in the past, forgotten about it, and then later on used it in one of our own creations thinking that it was a totally new and original piece of art. I understand Kirby is trying to open up people’s minds to a new paradigm, a paradigm I obviously subscribe to very much, but his version feels like it is almost going all the way to the other side of the spectrum. Creation can happen in so many different ways, it is really hard to quantify and I usually have a difficult time with sweeping generalizations. But let’s set aside the question of defining creation, Kirby’s talk is lacking one crucial thing to me. It’s missing how. You can steal, absorb, reuse, remix, rewrite, channel, plagiarize, etc., but how you put it all together is the real question. It’s the ‘idea’ that is interesting to me. The idea is the creative spark, it comes with a little bit of excitement, and provides motion, but then the hard work starts, putting it all together… creatively. One can steal all the best ideas in the world consciously or unconsciously, but they still have to come together in some slightly novel way, and with some force that moves people’s emotions.

Jonathan Lethem touched on this some in his “The Ecstasy of Influence.” He says “Art that matters to us, which moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience, is received as a gift is received.” This particularly resonated with me. Isn’t this what art is really about, connecting with and moving other people? It’s not possessive, it’s giving and sharing. I think the real question we should be asking ourselves is not where what i’m doing is coming from, or whether i’m creating something original or not, but am I moving myself, am I moving others? If we are able to accomplish that, then definitions and all the like will all become secondary.