art by committee

A friend of mine sent me this article and asked me what I thought about it…

Well, I champion all kinds of advances in technology – not least the advent of the ebook – however there is the ever present temptation that because we can do something that we should do it. The creeping digitisation of everything – from music to video, and now books – makes all of these media infinitely malleable to anyone who can afford a computer; a device that is becoming an universal ‘solvent’. Digital objects together with the internet must surely eliminate traditional distribution systems (with their limitations of penetration of, and consequently of access to, that distribution). For good or ill, the marriage of computer and internet is bound to tear down not only the traditional gatekeepers of all the medias (publishers, record companies etc), but also the gates they guarded and must, ultimately (barring the intervention of political ideologies and/or corporate imperialisms – though these interventions, I believe, must ultimately fail), give everyone access to everything digital. Though this outcome forms a part of my creed, I have made the statements above because I believe that these freedoms are inherent in the structure of the internet – or, at least, in how that structure is likely to develop given human nature.

Evolution of the internet could lead to all kinds of blissful outcomes one of the greatest of which, surely, would be that an artist can freely create and give (how an artist is recompensed sufficiently to allow ongoing creation is another issue) his or her creation to whoever is interested in experiencing it. However, though the internet tends to thin the boundary between an artist and the experiencer of his or her art, much (all, even) could be lost if this boundary thins too much: the experiencer must not begin dictating the nature and content of the artist’s creations. I say this not because I believe this would be detrimental to the artist primarily, but because the real victim would be the experiencer – for surely any value that the art may have for that person is that it provides a unique expression of the artist’s psyche, and that it comes from the viewpoint that he or she occupies in the world.

The notion that we should use ebook technology as a way to enable readers to control what a writer actually writes is abhorrent to me. How could this not further increase the already overpowering commercial pressure on an author? How could it not end up with all books converging on the same book – a book effectively written by a vast committee?

It seems to me that the beauty of a flower is not likely to be best realized by attempts to force open its bud.

4 thoughts on “art by committee

  1. Interesting article and blog. I agree with what you say although China Mieville’s point occurred to me also. The internet is large enough for both camps I guess but human nature being what it is most would want their work to be popular. I actually really dislike the idea of the readers dictating the story and multiple endings and I wonder if this isn’t just a passing fad simply because it’s something new that we can do just now but will ultimately be unsatisfying. Knowing you can dictate the ending must surely remove any tension in the story.
    The same is happening with the film industry with test screenings resulting in tacked on happy endings that are simply misplaced. If you have seen Before I go to Sleep you will know exactly what I mean.

Leave a Reply