Consumption, Creation and Art Spaces

There’s lots of discussion around consumption versus creation. We worry that schools teach about products when they should be teaching about processes, or that our culture is still dominated by mass consumption platforms.

But you could argue that consumption and creation are just two sides of the same coin. They’re so closely related that people will find the tools/means/inspiration to create, whatever the circumstances. If you can make just a little space, allow just a little freedom, people will get on with it.

The thing we should really be worried about is not whether people create or consume things but where they create and consume them. If people need just a little space and freedom to create things then the nature of that space and freedom becomes all important.

The internet provides brilliant examples of these different spaces. On the surface every idea, every app seems to be tinkering around the edges of a single reality. This new social networking platform is a bit like that social networking platform. But take two fairly recent examples, Pinterest and Instagram and think about what spaces they inhabit.

Pinterest is a great example of the self-referential model of the internet. It provides an efficient machine for recycling, organising and curating content. It draws us further in. In contrast Instagram occupies a very different space. It sends us out into the world to look, explore our surroundings. Its digital manifestation is just a driving mechanism, a backbone.

In many ways Pinterest and Instagram couldn’t be more different, and all because the spaces are so different. You could argue that one is more about creation than the other but I don’t think that’s the important issue. It’s all about where they take us, not the means of travel.

I was lucky enough to spend much of my early working life with a contemporary dance company. I got to be with artists, dancers, musicians and the artistic process every single day. I saw new pieces go from an idea to a finished performance and was part of the journey that made that happen.

I felt privileged to be part of that, but in reality we can all have our share of that experience if we look for it. After all, seeing a play makes you part of it. Being in a rehearsal makes you part of the process that creates a finished piece, however small that part.

In fact, any kind of exposure to live art makes you a participant. And if you participate in something you shape it. So, when it comes to live art that consumption/creation distinction gets blurred.

I don’t believe that there’s a real substitute for this participation. Recorded, packaged representations of that play, that rehearsal are good, but the danger is that people start to think that they’re good enough. And ultimately, putting resources into changing the space for art takes resources away from putting people in the art space.

So, I think it’s great to see new, digital spaces for art but I wonder what this means for getting people out in the real world, watching rehearsals, seeing live plays. Are the new spaces for art going to be more like Pinterest or Instagram? In other words, are they going to draw us in or send us out?

  1. This is a very interesting post, Simon, on a subject which is complex to describe.

    While discussing the activities of creation, curation and consumption, it seems primarily to be dealing with the issue of the value attributed to each activity, including to its purpose and to the meaning that is created or consumed. However, is the space in which these activities occur only a quantitative issue of having sufficient space? Or is it also a qualitative issue, as the context which it provides is necessary for both the generation of content from meaning during creation, and for the attribution of meaning to content during consumption, with the intermediate activities of curation allowing manipulation of content to provide filtering, amplification and potential distortion of meaning?

    Your specific point about the contrast between live and recorded performances is also interesting, with there being value of different kinds in each. Of course, there have been productions of recordings (whether “studio” or “live”) of music, acting, sport, etc. for decades as alternatives, or in addition, to real live viewing and participation. The characteristics of each depends, in general, on the synchronicity and reciprocity of the communication between participants; and these are likely to continue to vary between types of content and of channel, as technologies for content acquisition, storage, communication and reproduction are deployed.

    As your examples illustrate, this is not likely to stop any time soon!

  2. Thanks, John. I think that the quality over quantity issue is even more pertinent now that we have ostensibly unlimited space on the internet to explore content. What matters is that people start thinking about what the simple mechanisms of interaction mean for the relationship we have with content in the same way as different channels for music drastically change our relationship with it, as in your example.

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