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Re: <nettime> artists vs geeks
David Garcia on Wed, 6 May 1998 16:39:33 +0200 (MET DST)

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Re: <nettime> artists vs geeks

Mr. Meeks, art needs no protection. It is far from being an endangered 

Mr. Barlow's sound bite "information wants to be free" may be a tired
old maxim but the idea and more importantly the reality of "open
source" (Eric S. Raymond's term) culture has never been more alive and
relevant to everybody including artists. And the fact that it was
created by and for geeks does not lessen its value. It is absolutely
vital that everybody involved in both art and the net shows due respect
for what geeks have achieved, not only because they built and are
building the tools and the media that we are using and inhabiting but
also because through that process they  have articulated the most
inspiring and pragmatic principles to appear in the cultural landscape
for many a year. Begining in 1983 with super geek R.Stalman's legal
hack GNU General Public License or "copy left" and up to Eric Raymond's 
text The Cathedral and the Bazaar.  Collectively geeks have succeeded 
in articulating principles that are both utopian, inspiring and pragmatic 
(and are inspiring precisely because they are so pragmatic).

This is not about getting stuff for free. This is about the potential of
the net to release powerful new forms of creativity through cooperation
and sharing (the much maligned gift economy) not because it makes us
better people but because if properly moderated it can produce the most
powerful results. Results that are powerful because they maximize the
benefits of the  "massive peer evaluation" which the net allows. In the
creation of Linux the geeks showed us the scale and importance of what
could be achieved utilizing these principals.

For non geeks (even artists) the most important question is: to what
extent are the achievements of the "open source" approach in software
development portable to other areas? In art history there are
interesting precedents. To take just two examples (there are many
more); in recent years a large number of key works (not minor works but
great ones such as the "Helmeted Guard") formerly attributed to be by
Rembrant have turned out to have been by apprentices working in his
studio. Do we love these works any the less because the master's hand
was not on the brush? Or do we celebrate the fact that the techniques
developed by Rembrant were so openly shared by those working in his
studio and beyond?

More recently the cubist paintings (during the so called analytical
period) by Braque and Picasso are very often quite indistinguishable
from one another. Braque later described how during this period they
"worked like two mountaineers roped together". Of course this period of
source code sharing by the two great modernists was all too short, the
market place and the cheque books kicked in pretty fast, but neither
they nor modern art were ever the same again.

Of course I'm fully aware of the danger of porting a cultural practice
where evaluations are necessarily subjective from the more testable
field of creating software architectures. But the success of projects
like net-time indicate that there are some important lessons to be
learnt, if only we put our minds to it.

I would like to see artists and others in the non-geek world better
able to communicate to programmers and software designers and perhaps
hackers more willing to speak to those beyond their own people and
culture. From our side this has to begin with more respect and
understanding of what geeks have achieved. We can make a start by a
close reading of Eric S. Raymonds text "The Cathedral and the Bazaar"
the most detailed and accessible description yet of the open source


So no more whining about authorship please Mr. Meeks. Lets at least
learn to love the hacker ethic (which artists in their better moments
share) that there is more at stake than our cheque books.
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