The Messy Truth: Authorship in the Digital Age

October 10, 2018

Authorship is a messy subject. Attempting to articulate a clear and concise position on it can be difficult because the matter is so utterly personal. Every creative person embarks on their own journey towards understanding it. For some, it comes almost inherently, while for others the road can take a lifetime to travail.

An already tricky issue becomes even more complicated when you consider that fact that interpretations of authorship differ from individual to individual. For some, it could be a byline, a credit, or a your name on a white wall. To me, authorship is a culmination of past experiences, influences, and inspirations, and how they manifest in my own creative output. It’s like Gilbert and George once said: “People don’t draw with a pencil. It’s done by their heads, their souls and their sex.”

Back in April, Kanye West lobbed a 140-character grenade into the timeline. He informed his 27 million followers that we should “be less concerned with ownership of ideas,” as “it’s more important that ideas see the light of day even if you don’t get credit for them.” Regardless what you think of the rapper-cum-multimedia mogul, his stance has raised some interesting questions about the relevance of authorship and ownership in the defiantly digital age we find ourselves inhabiting.

There are lots of reasons to love the Internet. It’s opened up endless possibilities for creativity through collaboration and community, and it’s democratised distribution by giving visual artists a direct connection to their audience. In a recent talk for Adobe, fashion photographer Nick Knight stated “the Internet felt to me just like the arrival of punk in the 70’s, you just get up and do it yourself. You don’t have to ask anyone else for permission.”

Likewise, social media has become a never-ending cabinet of curiosities, a space to discover new artists, share ideas and invite people into your process. Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist stated he “can’t live without Instagram.” The shout out from the upper echelons of the art world might seem like an unexpected one, but there’s comfort to be taken in the knowledge that all of us can get subsumed in the endless deep scroll.

It isn’t all good out there online. For one thing, the pond’s expanding as we’re shrinking. Competition is increasingly tough and the challenge of standing out as an individual while still contributing to the cultural conversation can give creatives sleepless nights. I know this because they tell me all the time. The portfolio review has become a secular confession. We bare ourselves with the hope of renewed faith in what we are doing.

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