27 November 2013

Genius and Vision

The discussion of the emergent remix culture both annoys and excites me.

On one hand, I feel that the elements of participation, connectivity, and the belief that everyone can and should contribute materially to our culture are churning a simmering pot of creativity and invention that is already having a positive impact by stimulating enthusiasm for authentic, interest driven learning.

On the other hand, I feel that elements of the remix/hack/mashup culture are having a negative impact, as well. In the following excerpt from Everything is a Remix , Kirby Ferguson reduces Star Wars to little more than a mashup of various preceding films.

In my opinion, his analysis is rather cynical. Not enough distinction has been made between remix and influence, between synthesis and creation. It's too easy to adopt a 'film school' mentality, analyzing a work of art until it is stripped of its substance, ignoring the overt homages and tributes to its influences, and failing to acknowledge its originality and imagination.

It's true that anyone can apply a great deal of time and effort to a goal, like synthesizing their favorite media into a remix or mashup. By doing so, they develop skills and facility with tools and contribute positively to culture. In fact, it is the simple and intuitive nature of the new media tools that is encouraging so much participation and contribution. In many ways, remixing tools are fulfilling many promises of Equity. So why does it annoy me? What distinguishes synthesis from creation? 

What is genius?

Indeed, accepted geniuses from Edison to Einstein insist their successes were the products of hard, focused work, and determination, not any divine or natural ability. In the post, Bill Evans - Creative Process and Self Teaching, I reflect on the renown jazz pianist Bill Evans' ideas about the creative process and creative study and assert that genius is not granted, but built. Deliberate practice, iteration, discipline, respect for the ideas and contributions of others, and appreciation of the aesthetic are all inherent in remix culture, yet I think we should do more to foster what I consider the fundamental element of genius:


Genius is the application a great deal of time and effort in pursuit of a vision. The originality of that vision, irrespective of influence, genre, or media, and the desire to share it is what produces Genius. I adore Seth Godin's use of the words 'guts' and 'difficult art' in the PressPausePlay - Seth Godin Interview.

Fortunately, if not ironically, the high level of access, and ease of creation and publication is not devaluing 'genius'. Artists who seek to challenge themselves and their audiences, those with the guts to produce difficult art, geniuses, benefit from this unprecedented equity.

To paraphrase Godin, in art there are no longer excuses, only opportunities. We owe it to ourselves and our students to take those opportunities.

Imagine the music Mozart would have written if he could have heard classical Chinese Opera. What would Van Gogh have painted if he could have explored an endless supply of photographs of people and landscapes around the world? That is what is happening now. The Mozarts and Van Goghs of today have limitless potential to absorb influences and cultivate their own visions and even to interact with each other in collaborative networks...

Are you ready for the Renaissance?

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