Two quotes about words and language that ring very true to me at the moment:

Words we say, never seem to live up to the ones inside our heads.


Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.

Gustave Flaubert

Yes the title is a little “cutesy” and from the department of redundancy department but let me explain. This is a tale of two newspaper stories about graffiti. The first story is a follow-up to the Graffiti Photophrapher vs. Virgin Mobile article I previously mentioned. In the post I noted that I found it ironic that the image in question, that was supposed to represent transient street art, had the URL of an art gallery named Thisisnotashop painted above it.

I sent e-mail to Thisisnotashop with a link to the Toronto Star article. The reply I received caught me off guard. Read the rest of this entry »


August 27, 2009

The Toronto Star as an article about Virgin Mobile using this image without permission:

McDermott, 38, was strolling down a lane in the Irish capital when he spotted a visually stunning piece of street art – a young girl releasing a heart-shaped balloon – that closely resembled the work of the renowned British graffiti artist known as “Banksy,” despite a misspelling of the shadowy figure’s moniker.

A hobby photographer, he snapped a few pictures before the mural was scrubbed away. He later touched up the picture using a computer program and uploaded it to the photo-sharing website Flickr.

While he knew the photo was good, he was still shocked to learn this week that the same picture was being used by cellphone giant Virgin Mobile in its latest Canadian ad campaign.

“Virgin is a multibillion-dollar company,” McDermott said in an interview, adding he never gave anyone permission to use his image. “They should know better.”

McDermott believes he should be paid $US 1000 for the use of his photograph. The thing that I find most interesting is that this “visually stunning piece of street art” that we are told was going to be “scrubbed away” has a URL above it:

If you click through you will find that is a not for profit art gallery. There is a Contact page with e-mail addresses and phone numbers. Somehow I don’t think the stunning piece of street art on the front of an art gallery is a coincidence.

Yes, “They should know better”. Virgin Mobile. McDermott. The Toronto Star. Chris Sorensen (the journalist). The only ones that seem ahead of the curve are the people who painted the URL above their gallery entrance.

Tom Slee over at Whimsley writes about Online Monoculture and the End of the Niche:

Online merchants such as Amazon, iTunes and Netflix may stock more items than your local book, CD, or video store, but they are no friend to “niche culture”. Internet sharing mechanisms such as YouTube and Google PageRank, which distil the clicks of millions of people into recommendations, may also be promoting an online monoculture. Even word of mouth recommendations such as blogging links may exert a homogenizing pressure and lead to an online culture that is less democratic and less equitable, than offline culture.

I am going to talk about a song called Waters of March. The first version of this song I heard was by a band named Smoke City. The Portuguese title of the original song  by Antonio Carlos Jobim is “Águas de Março” and the Smoke City version is partially in Portuguese and partially in English. 

This song is simply wonderful, which many if not most Brazilians already know, and the Smoke City rendition is unique and opens the song up to an English speaking audience. OK, too much talk about a song…. 

Go Listen to the Smoke City rendition of Águas de Março (Waters of March) at YouTube.

If you want a bit more, try the SeaLab version or the banjo version. 

So the point of my post is this, internet search and recommendation engines are not about being democratic or equitable they are about discovering greatness. In the case of the Waters of March song or the band Smoke City the recommendation engines fail miserably. The Wikipedia entry for Waters of March does not mention the Smoke City album Flying Away. The Flying Away album entry on Amazon in no way helps you find out about the original  Antonio Carlos Jobim song. Flying Away gained a cult following mostly because a the song Underwater Love appeared in a Levi Jeans commercial. iTunes is the worst with their we-know-what-best-for-you walled garden.

But people find this music despite the lack of links, recommendations, and availability of music to download. In fact, I think the truth is that people will go out of their way to share things that are truly great. The Internet with its links gives us a way to share. The recommendation engines and other tools are in their infancy but they will get better. People are ultimately the best recommendation engines and they will find ways to overcome the barriers of language and countries and bad software.

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.

Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics, has released the first two parts of his incomplete three-part graphic novel The Right Number. In his book Understanding Comics McCloud explores the fundamental elements of what we think of as comic books but also come in the form of “graphic novels” which are essentially adult stories told in comic book format. McCloud’s hero in the graphic novel world is Will Eisner who wrote the first exploration of the art form in his book Comics & Sequential Art.

It is hard to define the medium and The Right Number makes it more complicated since it is not a book but a Flash based presentation. It is “Sequential Art” which is a set of sequential frames containing graphics and sometimes text used to tell a story.

The Right Number is a story, regardless of the presentation format. Judging by how bothered I am about not yet being able to read the conclusion, I think it is potentially a great story.

The Language of Images

April 29, 2007

Michael Reichmann has a new article up on his site The Luminous Landscape named Learning the Language of our Art which begins by describing a documentary about a remote tribe found on the Amazon.

They had no experience of seeing flat two dimensional representations of realty. Their culture had no experience with painting, and not even drawing existed in their society. So, when shown the film they simply could not figure out what it was they were looking at. It was light and colour and shapes and patterns, but that’s all.

And concludes the following.

What this addresses is that the comprehension of visual images is a form of language, and just like all human language it needs to be learned.

I think the interpretation of the remote tribe’s reaction to the movie projector was wrong. What they had issue with was this strange technology and trying to determine if it posed any kind of new danger. The idea that they had to learn to recognize two-dimensional images is wrong.

I think what we have learned most about our study of remote hunter-gatherer tribes is that the conclusions drawn by the observers is just as whacked as the native’s interpretation of the unknown technology (probably more so).

So is the comprehension of visual images something that has to be learned? No way (in my opinion).