The Future of Art and Sharism

The transmediale gave a lot of attention to Free Culture and the Open Web this year, from the book sprint to the Open Zone to a panel series called Lost in the Open, and piles of spontaneous sharerrorism actions throughout the festival. Curated (or should we say connected by) the talented Stephen Kovats and Ela Kagel, these events offered a platform for reflecting on sharing and collaboration through the lens of art.

Admittedly, I know next to nothing about art, but the biggest take-away from the festival was: 1) you don’t need to know much about art to try it yourself, and 2) the internet, including clusters of standards like the Web, is really important to making, distributing, critiquing, funding, and reusing art — now and in the future.

A film sprint by the Emergence Collective (Gabriel Shalom, Patrizia Kommerell, Clare Molloy, Annika Bauer) helped capture the state of the conversation. Iterating on the immediated documentation techniques pioneered by the group, they produced the film The Future of Art. This time they complemented the in-person (and one in-robot) interviews with an online discussion via the #futureofart hashtag and several Quora threads.

The team did a great job compressing 13 interviews and lots of festival footage into a thought-provoking film. After watching the screening at transmediale, it made me appreciate how challenging it must be to harmonize so many different voices. One thought, at least from an interviewee point of view, is that in advance sitting in front of the camera, it would be helpful if you could grab a sneak peek of the other conversations. At least with my non-existent art cred, it would’ve helped to know the angle other interviewees have taken and respond to their comments. In particular, Ken Wahl’s insight was excellent and very riff-able in hindsight:

The idea of originality and proprietary-ness contributes to the whole Great Man theory, which is slowly disintegrating. The concept of the genius — you know, the Freud, the Marx, the Leonardo, the Einstein — [who] come up with an idea that is completely related to the man who came up with the idea. Today, ideas just get thrown out there and used. And it’s that use in a way that’s the art, rather than the person that comes up with the idea.

While I’ve often seen the Great Man theory as a historical anomaly (albeit an enduring one since the Renaissance or thereabouts), there has always been a strong undercurrent of collaboration all throughout art and other cultural processes. Even the canonized Greats were immersed in conversations and environments that enriched (or challenged) their thinking, some of them having close friends or partners who pushed the work further, often without the same recognition.

So, it seems with the rise of massive collaborative online projects, we see a return of sorts to more distributed authorship, yet at the same time with a granularity of attribution never before possible. Each commit or edit or interaction can be logged and attributed to one source. So this gives rise to an unprecedented quantitative measure of reputation. And what’s more interesting, to follow Wahl’s point, is that the measure of contribution isn’t so valuable as the measure of reuse. A good idea is duly cited, a great idea takes flight and becomes owned by all.

(For the record, this is very much how I feel about the concept “collaborative consumption,” although it seems to be at great odds with one public proponent of the term.)

Similar sentiments were echoed in the Sharism workshop I conducted with Fabricatorz Jon Philips and Christopher Adams. Sitting in a circle (just realizing how redundant it is to say “round circle”), we raised the question about motivations and effects of sharing. Here’s a nice recap of the ground we covered.

When one participant asked whether sharing excludes people without wealth and means, it was countered that in fact one of the greatest things to give is one’s attention and willingness to listen, learn, and contribute. A conclusion was then that sharing is often, in its most profound form, an immaterial gift. And so rather than getting bent up about direct remuneration for each and every act of sharing (which quickly dissolves into a quid pro quo “business model” crisis), it’s actually not insane to talk about sharing holistically and karmically.

This is where I sometimes feel the need to run around in tie-dye and chant, but for all it’s cheesiness, it’s actually a powerful idea. And one that gets lost sometimes in the noble trenches of the copyfight…though the sunshine is not meant to downplay the importance of remuneration and viable use cases. I care about those and empirical support for them quite a lot.

It also seems like I shared enough today, so with that — curious to hear your thoughts!

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