Tools of Creativity

October 15, 2007

Ray Kurzweil of The Atlantic writes:

The means of creativity have now been democratized. For example, anyone with an inexpensive high-definition video camera and a personal computer can create a high-quality, full-length motion picture. A musician in her dorm room commands the resources once available only in a multimillion-dollar recording studio. Just a few years ago, a couple of students at Stanford University wrote some software on their personal computers that revolutionized Web searches and became the basis of a company now worth $150 billion. Individuals now have the tools to break new ground in every field.

And Nicholas Carr adds a healthy dose of cynicism:

Yep. Just as the invention of the pencil made it possible for anyone to write a high-quality novel. And just as that power saw down in my cellar makes it possible for me to build a high-quality chest of drawers.

There is a great deal of truth in both points of views. The class of creative tools impacted by Moore’s Law are becoming very affordable. Creativity, however, is not often limited by cost of the tools. The example of using a HD video camera and a PC to create a motion picture is unfortunately a bad one. Movie creation is a team sport. The creation of a movie is multi-disciplinary and seems more like a large scale engineering project than a creative exercise for one person. The cost savings of HD video and inexpensive non-linear editing are small in the overall cost of creating a movie.

As with all discussions about creative art, we lump creativity and craftsmanship together. In my view, the “democratization” of creative tools impacts two important dimensions:

  1. The tools allow creative individuals to accelerate their mastery of craftsmanship.
  2. The low cost allows more individuals to explore a variety of creative mediums.

What has changed in the dorm room musician’s case is the mastery of music production (a craft) not his or her ability to compose (a creative art). HD video and non-linear editing does the same for video production (a craft). Digital SLRs and photo quality ink jet printers have allowed photographers to create gallery quality prints. The tools help the artist spend less time and cost on the nitty gritty and focus more on the creative aspects of their work.

Creativity, however, is something that requires aptitude, passion, and practice. The advancement of the creative tools allow an individual to explore a specific discipline easily. The advances in video technology will do more to help develop/render budding movie makers than it will to allow more movie flowers to bloom.

I’m not sure if the “democratization” metaphor is a good one but I think it is hard to dispute that the new tools of creativity are changing the artistic landscape.

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2 Responses to “Tools of Creativity”

  1. Eslam Says:

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