one source talent who ventures onto the Internet quickly discovers that the creative spirit is riotously alive. On any given day, 8 million bloggers forage the deep forests of the World Wide Web for twigs and leaves of information, which they weave into personal nests. Remix musicians sample snippets of music and ambient sounds, synthesizing them into startling new musical creations.
Tens of thousands of software programmers collaborate in building soaring cathedrals of code, which run operating systems, Web sites, document archives and much more. Filmmakers and photographers pore through archives of public domain and privately owned material searching for the perfect images from which to create new visual works.
The open, participatory culture found on the Internet and other digital media is perhaps the defining crucible of creativity in our time. Guided by a sensibility that appropriates from irregular materials that exist in other contexts and forms, the Internet has redefined the way we express ourselves and relate to culture. Structuralist Claude Levi-Strauss once
described this recombinant creative process,1 a concept that refers to the constant mixing and morphing of incongruous “found” elements into a new synthesis.
But is this environment of open borrowing and transformation a liberating place for the
imagination – or simply a state of lawless anarchy in which pirates prey upon the work of the truly creative and hard-working? Can a cultural milieu truly flourish without strong intellectual property rights and market control over creative work? Or, to the contrary, is a deliberately unstructured, uncontrolled environment one of the most powerful ways to nurture innovation?
We believe that the world of fashion – known for its embrace of appropriation, derivation and imitation and for its ferocious attention to the bottom line – can shed light on these questions. It can help us understand the social and cultural wellsprings of creativity as well as the plasticity of the marketplace. There are, in fact, many ways that the raw social and human energy known as creativity can be refined and packaged as it travels from the human mind and social groups to the marketplace. This reality is not only on display in the world of fashion, but also in the growing universe of digital culture. The “ecologies of creativity” in both realms are strikingly similar.