Sunday, May 6, 2007

Creative Impulse pt 1: Internet Creativity and Quality

(A note before we begin: “Quality in terms of relevance,” as discussed in this entry, is not a full appraisal of the quality of some creative endeavor. I link “quality” with possible viewing audience in this article, but only for the purpose of simplifying the discussion. By my definition of “quality in terms of relevance,” a brilliant, touching video that can only draw an audience of ten people is of less “quality” than, say, Die Hard. I know, not true, but for this discussion, in a blog about relevance, this somewhat warped definition of quality is necessary.)

In my first entry on this weblog, I began discussing the change we have seen in recent years concerning creativity and self-expression. I noted that, given new, easy forms of expression, the sheer volume of personal accounts and weblogs has exploded, let alone the variety of subjects. What I did not spend as much time on was the reason for this explosion and its correlation with the quality of this new output.

In addition to blog posts increasing in number, though, I might add to this discussion the explosion of new music, movies, and visual art content on the internet and, indeed, in offline life (more on this in a later entry, though).

For example, YouTube, as I have also previously mentioned, shows new content continuously that is changing as fast as it is being posted. The subjects of these constantly new videos change as rapidly as the presentation methods, creating an almost real-time mode of expression. This holds true for Flickr (and sites like it) in terms of visual art and for Myspace (and similar sites) in terms of music.

The obvious concern in these situations, given a constant stream of user-generated, amateur-crafted entertainment content, is the quality (in terms of relevance) of such an output.

Let’s look to some examples before we move on. A search on Flickr, the popular photo-organizing site, for the term “art” yields this, this, and this, but it also yields this, this, and this. Value judgments aside, I would say photos of cats hiding under things, baby pajamas and pixilated flags are not necessarily equivalent to the stunning landscapes and sweeping angles of the first three photographs.

Now there may be a market for all six of these examples, but I would wager that the traffic to, for instance, the photo of the Korean outdoor art installation is significantly higher than the traffic to, say, the “America the Beautiful” photoillustration.

So we have established that, in some sense, the presumed quality (as defined by possible market share, at least) of the output on public sharing sites for creative works varies all the way from very low quality (or relevant to a very small audience) to very high quality (meaning relevance for a significantly larger audience).

Put more simply, some internet creativity is just not as relevant or interesting as other internet creativity.

So my question is, how did we get from a point where only products that maintained at least rudimentary relevance could see the light of day to a point where totally irrelevant creative output is more easily found than the relevant stuff? Or has popular art always been mostly irrelevant, but not as obviously so?

Is our society now encouraging crappy art over well put together art? And if so, how did that happen?

I invite your responses on this topic before I post my theory in a follow-up to this entry. Please share your thoughts, be they about internet creativity and the general decline in quality of this content, or even about my definition of quality in terms of relevance.

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