Monday, April 28, 2003

About the term "Knowledge Art"

It shouldn't be used to refer to specific techniques (e.g. Compendium, VE) in such a way that the practice of those techniques in and of themselves 'counts' as KA. To me KA is something that certain uses of techniques like those, and unspecified others, can evoke. It's a phenomenon of which certain practices can count as instances, but not automatically.

I tried to write about this in Defining Knowledge Art:

"Knowledge Art is not a set of techniques or a theory. It more refers to a phenomenon and a potential -- something that emerges from particular practices. It involves seeing a problem from multiple perspectives; enabling a kind of multidimensional seeing; matching the representational and dialogic needs of a group at particular moments; expressing, holding, and interrelating multiple meanings; aggregating elements and relationships over time, and enabling insight at any level, time, or slice." etc.

I think there are some useful distinctions there. It would be too easy for KA to be used to refer to any use of a tool like Powerpoint, the way KM has been debased as a term.

An analogy might be that not every guitarist playing a I-IV-V progression really gets to say that they're playing the blues. The 'real' blues has to have some kind of authenticity of expression and depth that gets coupled with the specific technique. This is not to say that the examples below or that Chuck has given don't have this, but rather that as written, to me, they sound close to equating VE and Compendium with KA inherently, rather than the use of those techniques in those situations rose to the level of KA.

Does that make sense? Hope it doesn't sound doctrinaire or hair-splitting, if it does then I wasn't able to be clear and will try again.

From an IM chat w/Simon this morning:

I say:
to me KA is something that is already out there that we are trying to bring into presence
I say:
saying "Compendium is Knowledge Art" really means "Compendium can be a way of creating Knowledge Art"
Simon says:
right - so in that sense so better not to label any speific technique with that as its main name (but can refer to a KA research effort or emergent theme)
Simon says:
and Technique X as an example of KA
I say:
right... or even closer Technique X as an example of a way to get to KA
I say:
(though that sounds awkward)
Simon says:
Knowledge Artistry draws attention to the process, not just the product...
I say:
but anyway it's certainly not C+VE
I say:
right -- process

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Nothing much

Nothing much new the last few days, been very busy with VZ stuff. Some promising Compendium user activity around the world, and we've reached over 400 downloads which is very exciting. Much of the point of what we've tried to do over the past couple of years is to get the tool out to people so that they could start coming up with ideas and uses that go beyond or in new directions from the thinking/doing of the Maarten/Jeff/Simon/Al cabal, and that is really starting to happen. I'm looking forward to being able to post links to cool artifacts on the Compendium Institute site, that's something we've never really done (along with a lot of other things!).

All for now. I'll try to get over to blogextra to see if I can add the Comments ability to this.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Grateful Dawg

Last night I watched most of Grateful Dawg, a documentary about the musical collaboration of Jerry Garcia and David Grisman over the years. They talked a lot about how they would continually bring both new and old music into their playing. There was a part where they talk about listening to a lot of old whaling songs, one of which they play in the movie. Deborah Koons Garcia talks about how this type of music represented a way of bringing 'real life' into Jerry's 'performing life'. It's not the greatest film cinematographically but there's a lot of fine music and it's a pleasure to see these consummate musicians up close and personal.

A few reflections relative to KA from this. One is, as a musician myself, to see how much and how deeply the playing of and listening to music saturates their lives, as much as they get older as in their younger days, made me want more of that. I'm not playing with anyone regularly these days, and just listening is so indirect. Grisman and Garcia would get together and play just for the joy of playing, whether it was hanging around one of their houses, sitting in a recording studio, rehearsing with one of their bands, or performing; all counted equally, what mattered was the playing -- the doing of the art. One of the other musicians talks about Garcia singing the whaling song, how in every performance of any song he would evoke something, bring the people he was with into that evocation. This was constant, like every playing was a return to or revisiting of something that winds through all music and human history -- it is the way to get to that something, it can't be gotten to intellectually or in the abstract, or for that matter without the effort and devotion, or committment, it takes to get there. Watching them play their instruments -- the instruments themselves look almost silly or arbitrary in a way, a mandolin in and of itself doesn't represent anything; it's a vehicle to bring a representation, or a piece of a representation, into being, into presence.

And that made me think about how much of KA has to do with reuse and recurrence, with a commitment to one's instruments so that one is able to -- not *create* a representation so much as revisit one, or bring one back into existence, informed by the exigencies of the present moment. These musicians played mostly old music and compositions by others, and each performance not only seemed to enshrine and respect the original composition and its own roots, but also seem completely in the present moment, completely made by the circle of musicians playing at that moment, completely fresh and authentic, no less so for being drawn from the past and from others' work. These poles -- the past and the present -- are not in opposition, they can be made to be in harmony and synchrony.

This idea seems very foreign in corporate/organizational life -- everything is always talked about and addressed as only in the present. History plays almost no direct, acknowledged role (except in the "we've always done it this way" sense). What is absent is the sense of what has shaped the artifacts and structures at work in the present. And the consequence of this is (paradoxically) so much of the response to present situations seems stale, or at least lacking in inspiration and nuance. We're not sufficiently connected to what is past, not sufficiently connected to a discipline of evoking that past, so therefore we are not able to act fully in the present. One of the thrusts of KA is to provide a means and a discipline of bringing what mattered into the past into the present moment, without losing its original significance, but applying and integrating that significance into the present. We have no shared means for doing this; everything is at the level of the individual and what they do, say, and perhaps remember.

I have experienced, at times, with Compendium this interweaving of present and past, with nuance and fresh expression, done in a communal sense (that is, not the product of one individual). The role of the knowledge artist at those times is not to own or create the interweaving, but rather assist in bringing it into being; without that assistance it's likely to stay mute and unevoked. I've experienced this with music as well -- at the peak moments, what matters is not the artistry and expertise of the original musicians but what they help to bring into being at those moments, that goes way beyond the individual and their personality to some sort of deep multi-faceted connection. And it seems to matter deeply at those moments, as deeply as anything else, so much so that sometimes even the memory of that moment brings one out of the mundane months or years later. We get pushed beyond our usual sense of what is possible and acceptable to something greater and fuller, and we seem to achieve it, if just for a few moments (this makes me think of the Matisse/Picasso exhibit -- what's amazing about some of those paintings is that they are still able to evoke this, at least in some dim sense -- engaging with the painting brings us out of the mundane into something larger and deeper, something that needs to be taken into account. Another connection, which I loved in that exhibit, was similar to Garcia and Grisman -- these artists met when they were young and continued to make their art, separately and together, on through their lives. This is something I don't want to lose).

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Floors, museums

Spent most of today putting down yet more floorboards, most of yesterday on Verizon stuff. Really have not spent much time in the last month or so on this work as we've been working intensively on the house in all my non-VZ time, with a few days break for family visits and a trip with the kids to NYC this week. Went to the Greek and Roman gallery at the Metropolitan and walked through Central Park from there down to 59th St. Everything was blooming, people laying out in the sun in that first warm day after unbelievably cold winter. Just finished the last part of the floors we could do with the power nailer, so it is now wending its way back to Home Depot Tool Rental with our best wishes.

Re the Greek and Roman exhibit, in the few minutes we actually got to spend looking at the vessels, reliefs, statues, etc. (hard to really tune in with the kids there), struck me again how much all we have been doing is trying to recreate the depth of expression and longevity of meaning that these artisans were doing 3000 years ago. I remember how strongly this first hit me when I was wandering around the Ellora caves in India in 1986, thinking "we haven't gotten anywhere beyond where these people were."

The day before Debbie and I had gone to the Matisse/Picasso exhibit at the New Museum of Modern Art, a few minutes from where we used to live in Sunnyside. Two art museums in two days! That brings the total of the last ten years or so up to maybe ten. It was too crowded and a little rushed, but terrific to see Demoiselles d'Avignon, Girl Before a Mirror, Three Musicians and so many more in the flesh. I didn't get to do what I usually do, which is go through the whole exhibit once then go back to the few that really spoke to me, so nothing much interesting to say.

Friday, April 18, 2003


I'd like this blog to be a place for ongoing thinking about the idea of knowledge art, which is described here. I'm about to start working on a PhD in this general area at the Knowledge Media Institute/Open University, still exploring which way this could/should go, which I'll talk about more soon.