An Adventure in Education, Technology, and the Arts Pt 2: Information. Access. Research.

I like to think of myself as a curious individual who really appreciates knowing how things work, but I must admit, there are certain inventions and technologies that just dumbfound me.

A Series of Tubes: At Terremark's Miami headquarters,
undersea Internet cables emerge from the Atlantic
and connect to the rest of the country
John B. Carnett
Do you know how the Internet works? If you are reading this you probably should. I came to this realization today during a conversation with my friend Shannon. She mentioned that there are actually cables that run from continent to continent on the ocean floor. Pretty crazy right? I laughed. Then she found proof! Despite how very removed we have become from the hardware that provides our connection there is still a very physical aspect to the Internet and it requires constant maintenance and is maintained by humans! We are not as "wireless" as we think we are! The Internet has truly changed how we share information.

Last Thursday I met with Darin Murphy, SMFA’s librarian. We had a very eye opening discussion and I have been trying to condense our conversation into a post so that I can better understand what I learned.

Darin and I began our meeting by discussing the issue of technology in relation to arts and education. He cited a NYTimes book review from mid-December by Robert Darnton, a professor at Harvard (who coincidentally contributed to the Radcliff Symposium, “Why Books?”). This book review centered on the challenges centered around scholarship in libraries everywhere. Digital and technological research is needed now (and by now we mean yesterday). Research centers at Harvard and MIT have recognized the importance of the [instant] dissemination of scholarly research and have began practicing copyleft by allowing their research to be accessed for free instantly. This allows for the burden of dissemination to shared and through this research is actually enhanced do to the simple fact that people have access to it. Takeaway message: access to information is key.

How does this relate to the arts?

Artists are constantly pushing the fair use envelope, and a critical point of art making is having access to scholarly research. In this instance scholarly research pushes art forward, and decision made throughout the artistic process are believed to be influenced by scholarly research. Fair argument. We discussed a website that provides free access to research to anyone (once you register). The website is constantly fleeting legal action, and in order to keep information free flowing the website is changed. This seemed counterintuitive to me. While making research free for all to access the website's accessibility is compromised by its constant need to escape legal action. This actually brings me back to the discussion about copyright I had with James Dingle the week before last as it could be argued that those who do need to access the research do not wish to profit off of it, but simply advance their research or creation.

If scholarly research was freely accessible it would create a more egalitarian society and more egalitarian art.

We then discussed different art projects of note that had been produced with technology, specifically the New York Times Special Edition project that was organized by the Yes Men, and how their very public projects make their art and their cause very accessible and also pushed the copyright/fair use envelope. The Yes Men self identify as, "Impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Our targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else."

New York Times Special Edition Video News Release - Nov. 12, 2008 from H Schweppes on Vimeo.

We also discussed the challenges of maintaining and supporting performance and digital art archival. Darin expressed that one of his biggest challenges in the Museum Schools library was making archival data available to students due to lack of funds. He pointed to the Mobius Artist Group, a performance group comprised of sound and performance artists that was formed about 34 years ago in Boston. The Mobius Artist Group is internationally known; however much of their early work has not been archived, and thus, it is difficult to really study their earlier works. For this reason it could be said that the lack of research available to performance art is hindering their growth.

Information, access, and research. These are the three things that push us forward in life and in our art, and technology can make it all so much easier. Whether or not we access the information needed for research legally seems to become the next issue.

I actually have more to share, but this is getting a little long, and I need to stop editing this post before it gets even longer. I leave for Texas in about 38 hours. I am so excited and more nervous than ever! I plan to do one more update before I leave (I had one last discussion yesterday!) and then I will do a few next week just to document my experiences in the Austin area. If you are still reading... thanks for doing so! The feedback I have received after my last few posts has been really encouraging!


  1. Anonymous17.2.11

    You write "If scholarly research was freely accessibly it would create a more egalitarian society and more egalitarian art." Yes, but....
    I'm 100% supportive of a more egalitarian society, but when you take something out of a market model, be it scholarship or art, some institution needs to step in to compensate for the market failure via subsidy -- usually the government, and you know what's happening there.

  2. I think it will be interesting to see what results come from the copyright debate in the coming years as copyright has not evolved with our technology. With technology comes an emergence of hackers. In many cases almost any software that you can buy in a store can be found on the Internet as an open source program (One example, Microsoft Office's copycat free source version is Open Office). The same goes for research. If someone really needs to read your research they can probably register onto an open source research database and find it. In addition to this, Creative Commons (a 501 (c) 3) provides licensing that allows people to use and build on other people's work under certain guidelines.

    Obviously all of this has pros and cons. Free accessibility to research can also compromise the integrity of the research simply due to an overabundance of mediocre research. What I do know is that people are already moving toward some type of change in the way that information and research is disseminated as the has changed everything.

    I now realize that my quote should read, "If research was freely accessible (spelled correctly) it would create a more egalitarian society and more egalitarian art."

    Thanks for your comment!