Monday, March 30, 2009

[Yasmin_discussions] ARTISTS AS INVENTORS---Moderator's Closing Remarks and the End of the Discussion

Dear Yasminers,

The discussion of artists as inventors throughout March 2009 has been
a richly textured, thought-provoking, and engaging experience.

Once again, I wish to thank Roger Malina for the opportunity to
moderate the discussion and our six accomplished discussants for their
insightful and lively participation: Derek Hales, Sylvie Lacerte,
Arantxa Mendiharat, Hideki Nakazawa, Barbara U. Schmidt, and Colette

The discussion was formally designated as "YASMIN in collaboration
with ARTSACTIVE" and I thank the YASMIN list and the ARTSACTIVE
network for their generosity, patience, and expertise.

Because the discussion is archived on the YASMIN discussion list, it
was of special interest to gather original research and references to
articles, books, links, and ideas as points of departure for future
discussion and research.

In addition to the ten questions posed by the discussants that were
intended to be addressed throughout the month to "seed" the
discussion, each discussant organized an opening statement to be
posted throughout the first weeks to introduce their point of view.

In advance of the YASMIN discussion, the discussants were already in
dialogue via a mini-list (comprised of an e-mail message thread that
included all of our addresses, in which we clicked "reply all" to
communicate). We used this forum to organize ourselves discretely from
the YASMIN list, including during the online discussion. This proved
to be useful to regroup and reassess the flow of the discussion.

In advance of the discussion, I posed a list of eight foundational
questions to the discussants.

Here is the original list:

1. What makes something an invention?

2. How have artists used inventorship to establish originality in the
past and the present?

3. What are some examples of artists' inventions?

4. How is an art-related invention different from an invention that is
not tied to the conventions of art?

5. When art-related inventions attempt to transcend the art context,
what are some of the outcomes?

6. How have artists appropriated existing inventions to create innovative art?

7. To what degree has the idea of intellectual property shaped the
discourse between art and science and/or shaped discourse within these
two fields?

8. Under what circumstances does "invention" mean "fiction"?

The discussants then ruminated on the questions, which led to
augmentations, refinements, and additions. In the end, there were ten
questions, with several two-part questions.

For a quick comparison/contrast here is a the final list of revised questions:

1. What makes a work an invention?

2. How have artists used " inventorship" to establish originality in
the past and today?

3. What are some examples of artists' inventions? How have artists
inventions pioneered new areas of technological development ?

4. How is an art-related invention different from an invention that is
not tied to the conventions of art? How is an art-related invention
different from invention in other fields?

5. When art-related inventions attempt to transcend the art context,
what are some of the outcomes?

6. How have artists appropriated existing inventions to create
innovative art? Is some innovation culturally sterile.

7. To what degree has the idea of intellectual property shaped the
discourse between art and science and/or shaped discourse within these
two fields?

8. Under what circumstances does "invention" mean "fiction"?

9. Often innovations in social organization and practices are as
artists contributions of this type.

10. While inventing can be expressed, documented, and put into
practice, can it be taught? Pedagogical views on inventing are

I have posted the original questions and the revisions here not only
to show how they shifted and enlarged through our work process, but
also because rather them simply "seeding" the discussion as we had
assumed, at various points they formed the primary structure of the
discussion---especially as it quickly moved in many different
directions at once. While the discussants and many of the list
participants' decision to diligently focus on the questions was
pragmatic, it surprised me a bit. I did not anticipate in advance how
important the questions would become to the discussion and I suddenly
began to wonder about their quality in relation to the larger topic of
artists as inventors. This thought quickly left me as I saw in the
various posts to the list a variety of complex questions that ensured
that we would not simply be tied to these questions alone, as a
limited kind of checklist.

At the start of the discussion, there was an immediately enthusiastic
flurry of posts in response to the topic and specifically to the
opening statements, which cause some confusion.

The first general opening statement about the discussion in some ways
invited some of the chaos in the responses.

Here is the part that I think might have created some confusion:

"A new generation of artists is making technical and social inventions
in pursuit of their artistic production. There is new interest in the
work of artists from laboratories, companies and public organizations
seeking ways of innovating in science and engineering. The ARTSACTIVE
network was established to promote these initiatives:"

"ARTSACTIVE member Robert Thill is compiling a resource directory of
patents filed by artists:"

I think the above part of the opening statement was so strong that it
overshadowed the paragraph that followed. In my mind, the following
statement was much more about the core of the discussion.

Here it is in all caps:


The primary title ARTISTS AS INVENTORS added another layer to the
discussion, which was treated in a variety of ways, including simply
ignoring it.

At the start there were nearly simultaneously posts about key figures
(Enrique Rivera posted on the Chilean pioneer inventor Carlos
Martinoya), entrepreneurial endeavors (Roger Malina posted on "the
development over the last 20 years of artists starting up companies=
artists as entrepreneurs is clearly linked to artists as inventors."),
and historical precedence (Sylvie Lacerte posted on "«9 Evenings:
Theatre and Engineering», [New York, 1966]" as the genesis of
Experiments in Art and Technology and other like programs).

How was a moderator supposed to respond to all of this? Apparently,
the answer was to wait to be saved by Simón Pérez Wilson, who offered
very good advice to a confused discussion list. He authoritatively
wrote, "I think we need to start this discussion with the parameters
and categories of what we think is an invention and their social and
technological implications in art and culture," repeating for emphasis
(and helping us along with a disciplined tone): "Start with this."

Barbara U. Schmidt followed up by writing a request for contextualized
definitions from those in various fields on the list: "What I am very
much interested in, are more precise descriptions of the concepts of
"invention", "innovation", "creativity" including the concepts of
"work" and "authorship" in relation to these different fields,"
including differences and contradictions to help find common ground.

The moderated list platform introduced some challenges to creating a
coherent discussion at times. There was also continued to be friction
between posts that eagerly and simultaneously broached different
subjects. When this aspect was brought up to Roger Malina, he wrote
that this process was not a "fine art." I responded by writing that it
also did not appear to be a "science," so that we all must be in the
right place.

Natasha Vita-More wrote: "The issue of being both a creative thinker
and a critical thinker of invention is beyond the arts/science test.
It leaps into a domain which must include strategic thinking, scenario
development, environmental scanning, forecasting, systems analysis,
etc. "

And then, despite Simón Pérez Wilson's very good advice, the list
system crashed on March 5, bringing the flood of posts to a sudden
halt. Yet, very soon the discussion quietly began again.

Ultimately, the discussion began to gather many different ideas that
together seemed to fundamentally address the convergence of a
multiplicity of value and communication systems, including law,
language, globalization or post-globalization (the joining of western
and non-western values), including ideas of sharing and bartering.
These lines of thought encompassed how value is established and
maintained and under what various circumstances. The discussion list
also offered examples of intentionally ephemeral rituals art forms,
such as "Rangoli" and sand painting. On March 4, Klaus Hu wrote: "My
quest would be to speak more about different value systems, instead of
analyzing and positioning words. Different value systems create also
different perspectives, and that would open up this "western"
aspiration of clarification, what an invention is, besides creativity
and art," pointing to his lecture upon "Space and Narrative Identity,"
which turned out to be prescient of the final themes in the

There were also posts about artists whose work deliberately embraced
market values, attracting little commentary despite a variety of posts
that seemed to be in opposition to this idea, with the exception of
Hideki Nakazawa, who described a more circumstance-based approach,
writing on March 25 that "at different times, artists need different
strategies and options."

Arantxa Mendiharat took a pragmatic approach to the discussion's
topic, writing: "If we agree that artists are sometimes inventors,"
she asked and gave solutions to the question of "how to ensure that
both artist and society can beneficiate from those inventions?" on
March 4.

The topic of ARTISTS AS INVENTORS instead of ART AS INVENTION had a
subtle and important effect on the discussion. There were a number of
posts, including my own post of definitions, which circled around the
two terms (nouns to verbs to nouns). On March 2, I posted links to a
an online dictionary definition of "invention" and wrote:

"Since we are talking about artists as inventors, here is what is
offered by the same source for "inventor" (it redirects one to

On March 29, after Roger Malina post about the nature of consciousness
and Ramon Guardans's post about "the invention of the self," Derek
Hales commented on the discussion as follows: "I love the way this is
developing into a process philosophy of invention," after having
framed his interest in "invention as a nexus of the real and the

Where past posts about the inequities of various parts of the world in
relationship to ownership and wealth did not gather much traction, the
notion of "the invention of the self" captured the imagination and
seemed to appeal to the egos and the experiences of some frequent
posters on the list, including my own, at least one of whom (Simon
Biggs) very wisely (and quickly) pointed toward inventing the self in
relation to communities.

Again, the specific emphasis on the roles of artists and inventors as
the topic of the discussion created an ongoing tension, with traces of
it left throughout the discussion. Highlighting the two distinct roles
eventually led to an examination of narrative (storytelling) in
relation to the invention of the self---bring forth a complex
conception of consciousness and the multifaceted and highly
personalized construction of identity, which included Sylvie Lacerte's
reference to an artist's fictive identities.

Bringing technology in relation to subjectivity and cultural history
and commenting on the very communication system of the discussion,
Colette Tron wrote about digital writing systems taking on a
"multimedia dimension," stating that "we have to consider the
technical supports of the writing in the relationship with the
symbolic forms, that is what artists work on."

I do not think we would have ended the discussion on these last themes
and ideas if we had not begun with the focus on the roles of artists
and inventors.

Because properly summarize the month's discussion would be nearly
impossible and because it is all systematically archived by YASMIN at
the following link:, I have decided
to end with a slightly different approach. During the discussion the
sheer number of links that were dropped into the messages caught my
attention. Many of the references are complex undertakings that demand
time to comprehend. So, I thought it might be interesting to mine this
data and extract only the links that were posted in the various
threads and create a kind of catalogue of them by date. Yes, they
appear out of context but maybe that will make them useful in another

I also hope there is some humor in this form of summary.

Please know that I repeated links at signature lines and included
those related to April's discussion, creating a kind of trail of URLs.

I have pasted them below (please forgive me for any omissions).

Thank you to all of my colleagues on the list. I hope projects and
relationships will continue and grow beyond our discussions of artists
as inventors this month. Many thanks to you all. I learned a great


Robert Thill

March 1, 2009

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