Opinion

Is Ambient Creativity Killing Our Ambition?

Is easy ambient creativity just leaving a blank space? (image via michaelpeters.de)

Social media has brought the art community huge benefits, chief among them the ability to easily share artistic creations, whether it’s through Twitter, Facebook or a group Tumblr. But is the possibility of easy creation and publishing diminishing our drive for making more ambitious works? Are iconic masterpieces rarer in this age of ambient creativity?

In a study carried out by the European Commission’s Culture office called the “Ambiant Creativity Project,” the term is explained in somewhat scientific terms:

This phenomenon is a reflection of the facts that digital technologies and tools are easily available for a large public (not necessarily professionals), and that this public develops its own creativity in producing and diffusing multimedia works and stimulating back general public and professionals, as never before. However, it is a difficult and problematic task today to use a “new technology” immediately in a relevant way without considering the paradigm shift it has brought with regards to previous technologies. The variety of tools available for artistic creation may blur the artistic process.

The everyday creative exercises of composing Tweets, editing and posting Facebook albums and naming a personal blog or Tumblr are often referred to as ambient creativity. It’s an interesting term that creates a verbal double-edged sword– the possibility of more creativity is always a good thing, but ambient creativity seems to undermine the very significance of the creative act itself. Ambient sounds like unintentional, like we just happen to make things that don’t require much effort, and our creative drives are thus sated. What more could anyone want besides a cleverly titled Facebook photo album?

Facebook's new photo viewer (image via facebook.com)

Ambient intimacy, a similarly ambivalent term, has been making in-roads into popular dialogue, referring to our ambient relationships with others’ daily lives through the internet. Think of seeing facets of friends’ lives on their Twitter accounts or Facebook pages and feeling like you don’t really need to hear about the wedding in person, it was enough just to read the post, see the photos and hit the like button. The problem I have with both of these terms, but particularly with ambient creativity, is that it seems to denigrate not the creative act, but the media we use in our creative acts today.

It’s not that we’ll never create a masterpiece with Twitter, it’s that we have to find new ways to think about these new media. As the European Commission’s study points out, what ambient creativity points out isn’t so much a downturn in creative productivity or people actually making things, it’s simply a paradigm shift. To me, a Tumblr image or a tweet or a written status (or a GIF) are just as worthy of artistic consideration as a painted canvas. It’s more difficult to make an emotionally impactful work through a medium known for its lack of deep engagement, but I have no doubt that it is possible. Artists more and more are using these new media, the stomping grounds of “ambient creativity,” to create deep and significant works, and viewers are more and more learning to understand them as such.

The fact that pieces involving social media could have been made quickly and were easily published should in no way dominate the discussion of their overall artistic success. If Robert Frank’s The Americans were a Facebook photo album, would it really be any less powerful? Personally, I don’t think so.

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