Links and articles about technology, design, and sociology. Written by Rian van der Merwe. Follow @RianVDM
The necessity of risk and failure in the creative process
There’s an interesting discussion on The Verge entitled Filters vs. failure: Instagram’s perfect messes could spell trouble for creativity. Joshua Kopstein argues that the problem with Instagram and other digital creation tools like Paper is that it removes the ability to make mistakes. It’s virtually impossible to take a bad picture on Instagram, and he believes that this is a problem for creativity in general:
By removing risk we have fundamentally changed the nature of the medium, or technically speaking, switched to an entirely different one. Because the process is now streamlined and offers near-infinite forgiveness, the way we approach a camera has changed drastically from tools defined by limited exposures and semi-predictable chemicals, and the resulting product always reflects that.
Instagram’s foremost blasphemy isn’t that it “ruins” images or misrepresents reality “” it’s that it mines another medium for selective, aesthetic purposes despite being unable to represent the processes and risks that define that medium. The software curates, emulates and packages appropriated qualities that its creators consider desirable, creating a risk-free detour that fast-tracks the creative process.
Kopstein also links to a very interesting article by Derek Holzer called Schematic as Score: Uses and Abuses of the (In)Deterministic Possibilities of Sound Technology. Holzer discusses the move from analog to digital creation in the music industry, and makes a similar point about the absence of risk in the creative process:
I consider it axiomatic that, for any art work to be considered experimental, the possibility of failure must be built into its process. I am not referring to the aestheticized, satisfying glitches and crackles valorized by Kim Cascone, but to the lack of satisfaction produced by a misguided or misstepped procedure in the experiment, whether colossal or banal. These are not errors to be sought out, sampled and celebrated, but the flat-on-your-ass gaffs and embarrassments that would trouble the sleep of all but the most Zen of musicians or composers.
The presence of failure in a musical system represents feedback in the negative, a tipping point into anti-climax, irrelevance, the commonplace, the cliche or even unintended silence. Many artists try to factor out true, catastrophic failure by scripting, scoring, sequencing or programming their work into as many predictable, risk-free quanta as possible ahead of time. But this unwelcome presence also guarantees the vitality of that hotly-contested territory ““ the live electronic music performance.
The resulting compositions from the most “easy” and “simple” software tools are often nothing more than “digital folk” art ““ the endless and endlessly similar permutations which are possible merely from the tweaking of a few basic presets. Perhaps the artistic tragedy of the digital age lies in the social and economic pressure to immediately release “results” which barely get beyond this initiatory phase.
I find these discussions fascinating. Sweeping generalizations are dangerous, of course, but I do agree that taking the risk out of creativity also makes it much harder to make something truly great. I see this in my own creative pursuits as well. I love writing first drafts of pieces. I absolutely hate editing those pieces to become something that’s worth publishing. But it’s in the editing process – which is basically the discovery and correction of failures – that the opportunity for doing good work really presents itself.
If software came along that magically made every first draft look acceptable, writers would lose out on the surprising spurts of creativity that come from the editing process. And I think this is the same for Instagram and electronic music. If we can walk any direction we want and never get a course correction, how will we get where we need to go?