Monday, March 24, 2014

Does the Age of Communication Herald the End of Creativity?

Birds on a Wire © Jessica Kerwin Jenkins

Birds on a wire... a visual allegory for humanity perched on the wire of technology. It's precarious, and like the birds, humanity seems to be blissfully unaware of the imminent danger we are sitting upon. But should technology slip our grip, it will be our split second survival response (our creativity, our wings) will be the only thing that saves us. Dramatic I admit but how far from the truth?

I read the title for this blog post in a daily horoscope and it gave me pause. I had to stop and really think about this since I straddle the analog and digital eras within my career. I have certainly struggled with how to integrate and authenticate my artistic voice into my digital work. I have been outraged by the lack of innovation and rampant copyright infringement that abounds on the internet. But this question – so personal – begs to be contemplated.

The Age of Communication is a daunting title. There seems no definitive value to the word 'communication' within this label so I am led to believe that it encompasses everything from reality TV to Stephen Hawking. But along with other era titles, such as The Age of Enlightenment, or The Dark Ages, there is the burden of imbalance. The pendulum must swing back in favor of anonymity, authenticity and personal privacy.

Where do we go as designers once we have been sucked into the vacuum of this new age? It's easy for us to overvalue the tools we use, the messages we send, the marketing force we create BUT is it an authentic contribution to the world? Is it really for the betterment and advancement of mankind?

Communication is God right now. Communication is unbridled and stripped of all its checks and balances (honesty, respect for privacy, attribution) and running rampant as it irresponsibly educates the population into rules and ethics that are hardly worthy living by. Communication is in its most pervasive and destructive form right now. The NSA digging into our every move, webcams being hacked, personal conversations splashed across websites without the permission of participants, invasive sales tactics, and our personal information being sold over and over again in an effort to encourage us to buy more and more useless things.

As a designer it would seem that I am biting the hand that feeds me by raising these questions but I see a deeper responsibility here. This may be the Age of Communication but there is an almost childlike selfishness about living in the moment with this new mindset.

Which brings me to the question of creativity. As more work is distributed to a less than critical audience where does the creative process belong in a world that really only values the revenue that is generated? There will always be a place for true creative geniuses but the audience that can truly appreciate their work may be shrinking. Creative process does not follow the linear pattern of binary code. It rambles, twists, and turns. The spark of an idea is in the the DNA of the person, in the rapid firing of our brain synapses, and the seemingly illogical combining of various influences.

Creativity is divine but the scientist will seek to define it, corral it, map it, and regenerate it. Can they? It is my hope that as we identify smaller and smaller molecular and atomic structures we will see that there is no end to the genius that is nature. We are drunk on a little bit of power and a little bit of knowledge but in the greater scheme of the inner workings of the universe we are completely ignorant. The pendulum will swing back to embrace the unknown, the spiritual and creative spark that works in tandem with our logical minds. And if we do it right The Age of Communication will create new ground rules for humanity.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Creative Collaboration - Can't live with it, Can't live without it!

Playing for Change - Stand By Me

Creative collaboration is something that happens in every artist's life. It is ironic that we are so dependent on the sharing of our work and processes with others when we spend so much time alone in our minds during the creative process. It gives us the illusion of autonomy but actually we are always working in tandem with someone or something.

As I watched the video above I thought about how much more powerful the outcome is when we collaborate with joy and the willingness to share our gifts. No ego. No hierarchy. No leaders. Just every voice, every creative effort being heard as part of the whole. Our current culture of narcissism has spawned an attitude that all art springs from the individual.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, has a wonderful TED talk titled, "Your Elusive Creative Genius" and you will see she has a compelling argument for why this me-centered creative mindset has not always been the case. She argues that in ancient times all creativity was thought to come from the divine, the gods, and channeled through us. Therefore the responsibility to be brilliant lay elsewhere rather than our own egos. Who can argue that you don't feel a connection to something greater than yourself when you are tapped into the creative flow?

Which brings me back to collaboration. I think that technology has created an environment where collaboration is easier and more accessible and perhaps in the future we will begin to redefine the process of creativity with less of an "I" culture and more of a "We" culture. I have noticed among the artists I work with that the older generation seems a bit less inclined to share the process and the credit but my younger artists are all about collaboration and experimentation. Perhaps this is due to the fact that in their culture no idea is sacred once it is made public on the internet. Everything can be copied, modified, changed, remixed, redrawn, and redefined without regard for the original creator. So doesn't it make sense that they would embrace creative collaboration?

Once the process is embraced that leads to some wonderful outcomes because the collective creative consciousness is more powerful than the single voice in the end.

I will leave you with Pharrell Williams "Happy" video project, a huge collaborative of creative people dancing to his song. This one is from Hong Kong. Had only one person been the expression of the song it would not have been nearly as powerful as the collaboration of people around the world for the sake of feeling happy. Imagine if this example of creative collaboration was applied to all aspects of our culture; finance, politics, food distribution, industry, and on and on... what type of society would we have with a grander collaboration of humanity?