The Always-On Artist

This evening, I attended this talk given by Dennis Cass, subtitled “Technology, Creativity, and the Making of Meaning in the 21st Century.  David’s blog is entitled “Dennis Cass wants you to be more awesome,” purposefully an ill-defined title.  Dennis is teaches creative nonfiction, has been a literary agent, and is the author of Head Case : How I almost lost my mind trying to understand my brain, a book where he describes how he went about learning about the brain; he started in an effort to help get himself past writer’s block.

David spoke of how he used to be able to tell a student and aspiring writer specific steps that he needed to do to become published, and then “one day I woke up, and the rules had totally changed.” Technology has caused that change.

An early slide was what he termed the history of art, a triptych of three images.  The first of the three images was of a prehistoric cave painting.  Dave’s theory is that this is magical thinking, that thinking can help give you power: paint a hunt, you can have a good hunt.  The center was an image from the Italian Renaissance, “human-centered” art. The third was from I can haz cheez burger.  He called this an example of macro, its meaning diffused across people.


Dave spoke of the sheer quantity of information, referencing a previous study done which identified the NEW information accrued in 2002, including print and online.  New information in that year alone was 5 exabytes.  An exabyte is one quintillion bytes (the progression is kilobyte, mega-, giga-, tera-, peta-, and then exabyte).  The Library of Congress contains 17 million items, the amount of information in 5 exabytes is the same as 37,000 Libraries of Congress.

Making connections

He used an athlete as an example.  You can find information in print — but also in Google, Google pictures, Facebook, YouTube, a Google Map made of places the athlete visits.  All this information creates an anxiety of awareness.  There’s so much information, you believe that you are missing something.  All this information can cause artists to worry about originality, the artist needs to know people (non-artists) can make things without you with the tools now available.


Dave’s example was of a friend who made a mashup of the Iraqi journalist throwing a shoe at former President Bush.  In the space of 48 hours, he had made several spoofs of the incident including Matrix-style shoe throwing, World of Warcraft shoe throwing, and more.  What is reacting fast now?  If your work isn’t right now, it should be timeless.  Maybe be right now, but timeless too, like the website for No one belongs here but me.  Technology gives you the opportunity to make something that doesn’t fall apart.  So if you want the fast game, you have to be FAST.  If not, make your work so it doesn’t date.

Testing limits

How far can you take an idea?  Dave described how collage was shocking when Dada artists began to use it.  It depends on your audience.


To promote the release of the paperback of his book, Dave made a YouTube video to promote it.  He was quite pleased with the number of hits that he received.  Then he learned of Google Hot Spots, a tool which can tell what part of a video appears to be most popular.  Through this he learned that the first 40-some seconds of his 3+ minute video was not popular at all: he had spent too much time setting up the jokes for the rest of the video and he lost viewers.

In closing, David asks, how much do you want to listen to what technology tells you?  How do we deal with the surfeit of information?  Develop a working philosophy on how to work with technology and information, to be a fast responder or to be timeless.

4 Replies to “The Always-On Artist”

Leave a Reply