Last night the Arts, Culture and Technology Meetup group did a fabulous panel discussion on Creative Commons and the Arts. CC has always been a fascinating idea so I was particularly keen on catching this one.
I wasn't disappointed. The event opened with a brief presentation by Michael Sarff of MTAA citing some examples of pieces they chose to CC license and those they didn't. He made the point that art is valuable because of its rarity, comparing a Warhol to a photo of a Warhol. Although I appreciated the point, I personally thought this was a bad example of it because Warhols aren't particularly scarce. The high sale price of a Warhol might be a better example of artist self-branding in a way that creates demand for the brand rather than the prestige of the object itself.
But when you create digital art, the valuable bit isn't the object, it's the idea. Sounds a bit open-sourcey, methinks. And this is where things get interesting from an information science standpoint.
The important thing here is the idea, the data, the abstract thing that really doesn't exist apart from the representative symbols that we choose for them. I use letters for my symbols, hackers use code, the gentlemen of MTAA use images and video and a whole host of symbols to present their ideas. But the cool thing that CC lets all manner of creative types do is open source their ideas. Just like Google is pushing a model wherein data and not physical software is the commodity, CC – if used right – can encourage people to have control over their intellectual assets while allowing them to potentially gain value with contributions made by others.
One of the philosophies behind open source is the idea that having a host of people contributing to a project's development can improve the efficiency of the end product. (Bet you didn't expect to see "efficiency" and "art" in the same blog post.) There's a theory of how multiple independent entities operating in apparent chaos can still create an optimal solution: swarm intelligence. One of my favorite examples cited by the National Geographic article on the subject is off track betting. When a large number of people are putting in bets, the odds still generally seem to fall along the probable lines of the race's outcome. While art isn't (usually) striving for optimal anything, the principles of swarm theory can still apply here. Rather than seeking efficiency, other cool things can happen like Public Enemy.
But the important and exciting thing about CC is that it allows the idea's originator, or the benevolent dictator to use the open source term, to determine how involved they want the swarm to be. It's all about flexibility, and that's one of the things open source does best.