Originally this blog was supposed to be about me spewing out all kinds of insights into the workings of other people's creative practice. High hopes. Well, I have to start somewhere. I spent my first morning of research reading all the comments on an archived vimeo fist-fight.
Briefly, Chris O'Shea noticed that US agency Space150 had made a commercial version of one of his artworks for Forever 21, installed it in Times Square, and posted a Vimeo of it claiming it as thier own. They hadn't mentioned Chris in any of the press releases, so perhaps it was a coincidence. But the plot thickens when Chris goes back through his emails and produces a communication from Space150 at the start of the project. It asks if he's available to do some freelance work for them, which he wasn't, but doesn't mention what they were actually planning, or that it was in any way connected to his work.
So, and you've gotta love him for this, Chris posts a link to his original as the first comment on the Vimeo page. This move aside, Chris remains quite diplomatic in tone and hangs back. But over the next couple of days it turns into a brawl between the digital media art community at large, who are quite incensed by this, and the freelance video director brought in to handle some of the creative work. Space150 pretty much hold their hands up straight away, but the director takes it personally and fights back. This is despite him not really being involved in 'stealing' the concept - he basically just directed the video shoots.
I'm not going to steep into the mire on this - nothing can beat reading the posted comments for that. But it does illustrate nicely some of the differences between two creative cultures, each with their own set of values. One is about originality, experimentation, and personality. The other is about high production values and mass appeal.
It would be easy to get crude about this pretty fast, particularly as I belong to one of these cultures myself. But I think it's more interesting to look at each culture objectively. One set is based on the individual – the individual artist, the individual audience member, and the connection between the two. Variation and left-field oddness are welcome, because within this context people can thrive in their own individuality, and sometimes throw up interesting results for everyone to share.
The other culture is based on markets. The whole point is mass appeal to theoretical divisions of society, and the people who consume those productions generally do so by choice, because they want to. In this culture though, mass appeal trumps originality, personality and individualism, in favour of reaching out to more people. More people equals more money, and that's just a fact, there's nothing specifically wrong with that (although in this instance Space150 did owe Chris at the least credit in the press releases, and it hurt them to forget that).
What's interesting is the way the various accusants respond, and what it reveals about their cultural values. The big player from the market-based culture ducks out of the vimeo argument straight away. It wouldn't have done much for Space150's reputation to be squabbling over this, so they put in a whitewash, accept some responsibility, and get out.
But the video director, although he was part of the project, he's not really part of the market-oriented culture - he's an individualist. That's why Space150 hired him for that portion of creative work, and that's why he got upset and started defending Space150 out of turn. The notion that you stole an idea doesn't matter to the market guys unless it impacts the market. But it's the worst kind of insult for someone who sees themselves in the individual sphere.
The director goes on to quote Jim Jarmusch, stuff about "...steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination..."
It's good stuff and fine philosophy. But it's the philosophy of a creative individual, not a market-oriented collective. The only thing this guy did wrong was to start getting personal in his responses.
He didn't steal the idea, he just took the heat for Space150.