Sunday, October 07, 2007

It’s a Cut and Paste World

From Photoshop to ProTools: We live in a Cut and Paste world.

Modern music making tools –synthesizers, samplers and digital audio workstations– draw a striking parallel to cameras, scanners and software applications such as those provided by Adobe; Illustrator and Photoshop for instance.

Think of a camera or scanner as samplers, and Photoshop a Digital Workstation for its ability to manipulate, enhance and process media elements into a composite whole.

One interesting side effect of modern image and audio production tools is that their use often allows amateurs to create images or sound works that are as entertaining and engaging to behold as those produced by a master artisan.

Some argue audio samples and their use by electronic musicians cannot even be described as a legitimate art. [The Artistic Legitimacy of Electronic Music]

Consider, though, the photographer who captures an image. You might say he samples it. He may present it later unadulterated, as a journalist might, or manipulate it into a unique photo collage. Who would deny the photographer his claim to art? Not I. After all, the camera didn't take the picture, the photographer did!

I've come to consider samples in the same vein I think of stock photography: Convenient and useful when producing commercial art under a deadline and limited budget; or as source material for a collage.

Being a Rauschenberg fan I absolutely consider the art of collage to be Art with a capital 'A', and I think of it is every bit as substantial as masterwork paintings, sculptures, or any other kind of work.

I tend to think of every human action as resulting in art, too, but I'll leave that one for another blog entry.

Not everyone feels the way I do. Some will argue that a collagist begins with found elements, and beginning with 'something' therefore makes one's job 'easier' than say, a traditional painter who they will argue must create an image from scratch, –'out of nothing' so to speak.

But master collagists aren't simply reproducing verbatim the existing works of others and then offering exact reproductions as their own original works of art. Rather, they modify and manipulate images into something new; they may certainly build on existing images by adding their own original enhancements, too; but what I find really intriguing is how they create new context around existing media that somehow transforms them by transforming the very idea of them.

The result can be extremely engaging and intellectually sustentative, and otherwise engages a viewer to an equivalent degree as would the original source/s, and perhaps even more so.

One could argue that curators and people who frame pictures do the same thing. Well, there is art in that, too. Oh, I hear a collective groan out there, but consider this:

In a very elemental sense art is nothing more than the presentation of one or more ideas whose juxtaposition against one another serves to communicate a composite concept. The addition of a frame to an artwork often serves to underscore, emphasize or otherwise enhance the artist's original communique by demanding that one focus on the presentation itself, at the exclusion of other concepts competing in the space. Examples follow: A frame around a picture; a stage in a theater; a movie or television screen; or even the civic space around a city sculpture. Anyone who is a fan of dance or drama has experienced the marked difference of watching the same choreography or play performed in a black box contrasted with under a proscenium arch.

A curator selects several complete works as his or her palette. Using the exhibit space itself as the 'frame', their juxtaposition against one another implies a connection, or causes us to create one. The curator's work results in the transmission of a new communication. Perhaps it is an idea about the works themselves, –their relationship with one another. Or perhaps once completed the display conveys nothing about the works themselves, but rather uses the collective artworks to deliver some sort of unified social commentary.

Hip Hop artists, for another example, use loops to frame samples, and may juxtapose samples from various sources within a single musical work. The individual samples themselves may be unmodified by the musical collagist, but their inclusion within one single work changes the context by which our brains consume them. The result is a transformation of the original communication into something new and if not wholly different, potentially and substantially original in concept.

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