A Rebuke of the Credited-Artist: Tools and their Bearers
The artist who employs the work of others to manifest their creations willfully divorces themselves from the final product, but only abstractly. In the confines of reality, the credited-artist merely defines what their creation will not be, while presenting a sense that they have defined what it will be. Whereas the artist who employs their own work defines both what their creation will and will not be. Therefore, the practice of treating the animate as inanimate to create the inanimate serves only to maintain an economic illusion of desirability. If there is any artistic merit to be had, it comes from critical exploration of the production, rather than the product. It seems, however, that this point has been poorly discussed, easily dismissed, and abstractly displaced.
When an artist takes a credit for a piece wherein the manifestation of said piece is more accurately credited to a field of technicians and workers, the ‘artist’ becomes a creator of absence more than presence. In this role the artist creates what the piece will not be, rather than of what the piece is. With this in mind the credited-artist is responsible more for obscuring than revealing. To have a better understanding of why this view is at odds with the current one it is necessary to recognize, more closely, the prevailing belief. This belief is a likening (or equating) of pools of technicians and artisans to ‘tools’; however, that generalization is severely lacking. Such a lack, in my opinion, leads to a blindness which I intend to describe.
1a: a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task b (1) : the cutting or shaping part in a machine or machine tool (2) : a machine for shaping metal : machine tool
2a : something (as an instrument or apparatus) used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession <a scholar's books are his tools> b : an element of a computer program (as a graphics application) that activates and controls a particular function <a drawing tool> c : a means to an end <a book's cover can be a marketing tool> d often vulgar : penis
3: one that is used or manipulated by another
In order to make such a generalization in the first place, and be taken credibly, one must have examples within the real world to point to. Such examples certainly exist and among those examples the end result of equality in tool types comes from comparison of these type-casts rather than contrast; however, I intend to point out that what comparisons can be made are selective surface-level distinctions among a broader core of contrast. Consequently, the evidence in favor of the former is arbitrary, overly simplified, and purposefully naïve.
To see the case being made, and later the weaknesses in such a case, I will first elucidate the opposing position using a progression of familiar tool types used extensively in human history. These types will approach the tool equation from both sides; the types being the progression of cattle into machines and humans into computers. In the example of cattle, one would see their use as beasts of burden as being analogous to many machines in the general marketplace throughout time. Aspects of Mining, Farming, and Manufacturing come to mind as examples of where this progression can be seen. In this example the beast is generally a second-order tool which carries, pulls, or otherwise interacts methodically with another tool. In essence, it is a tool-bearer. Nevertheless, this makes its role dependant upon the first-order tool, for instance a basket or a plow.
Being dependant on such a tool makes them, in the general approach, easily considered tools themselves. Where they necessarily approach their work with the narrow range afforded by their tool these limitations do not allow them to act, more broadly, with creativity. A plow must be pulled; a basket must be carried and moved. It is only in the first-order tools’ inability to use itself that a second-order tool becomes necessary. Indeed this example of progression ought to strengthen the general approach because it is a progression from beasts of burden to more the complex machinery inevitably taking its place. Only where cost, or perhaps feelings of social responsibility, compels the business to maintain the ‘tools at hand’ might we see beasts of burden (or humans) in use for longer than is technologically necessary.
This applies to the work of the artist as follows. The credited-artist must seek to deflate, redirect, quell, and otherwise overcome the creative interests of the other human artisans in order to maintain the vision and intent of his or her own creative will. In the same way one must harness a yoke to cattle in order to direct them in plowing a field, and in the same way a produce picker must be paid for the work one asks them to do, the credited-artist must employ similar harnesses for their artisans in order to direct them in their favor. Let me interject here to say that I do not personally advocate an equality between cattle, agricultural workers, and artisans; however, this is an inevitable and logical conclusion that stems from a lack of willful distinction between the inanimate and the animate ‘tool’. That being said, the equality of these types comes from the perceptible equality in their output. Not, as one might be able to judge, from the specific means they use to approach that output.
The cattle is likely driven on by a human who, even more likely, considers the cattle and inanimate tool both ‘tools’. Later in history the human drives a tractor which it considers a tool, or series of tools. All of these endpoints are then a generalized tool of a higher-order human, perhaps a farm owner, who looks at the output of both the tractor and the man driving it as being tools, required to do a certain task. It is then easy to see that although the underlying means of production might change, going from cattle to machine, the quality of ‘tool’ is applied to it based on its output. However, what makes a tool capable of performing a task is its means, not its output. This makes the distinction between a good tool and a bad tool; however, it is also failing to take into account a distinction in such means. Therefore, this output-centric definition, as well as this means-centric one foolish, and the distinction I intend to make spills from the means. In as few words as possible:
When a man has a tractor to plow the land, the tractor knows exactly what it is doing. Indeed it is incapable of doing more than what it is mechanically capable of. All inputs are specific and have a specified and largely predictable output. This is not so with cattle; the input is an abstract one that flows through the animal in a largely imperceptible way, is translated into action which is chosen by the animal. Simply put, the generalized input does not have a specified output. The input is only translated into specific output via punishment/reward systems, overcoming an internal interest (among other things), and only then does the animals’ specific output begin to look like the tractor. Consequently, the means by which a general ‘tool type’ comes to action ought to inform whether it can be equated to other types, and whether it ought to be called a tool at all. This distinction of means, in my mind, ought to grow from its ability (or lack thereof) to take an abstract input and create a more specific output.
Nothing new there, deductive reasoning has been a primary skill of humans throughout its history. Being capable of such reason, they are able to take abstract inputs and create specific outputs. So acts involving computation, theory, creativity, and deduction had largely been the sole realm of human beings. In fact computers, prior to being generally known as machines, were titles for human beings. However, that shift in identification brings about the second example. Where the computer human has evolved into the computer machine. Again, a shift from animate to inanimate and again an equality of tool based on an equality of output.
On this point specifically, where the shift from animate to inanimate has occurred we have seen it do so mainly for its efficiency, economically speaking. Where a computer human might take a few minutes to finish an equation, a computer machine takes mere nano-seconds. In most cases, and certainly in these examples, we see the animate tools acting with less efficiency than their machine counterparts; by orders of magnitude. If anything these examples show that animate beings are utterly poor tools, in the case that one insists on equating them without reason.
Furthermore, when viewing the modern edge of tool-complexity we begin to see aspects of reasoning being done by machines where it was once considered solely human. As computer machines encroach into game spaces as viable competitors (e.g. Watson, Deep Blue), and as they take our abstract questions and give us more specific answers (i.e. Search Engines, Algorithmic Recommendations) we begin to see a preparation for redefining human traits and redefining machine ones. In other words, the tool and its bearer are being shaved away; not necessarily equally, but certainly. In this case the equality of tools becomes doubly meaningless; not only in generalizing humans as machines, but also in maintaining Tools as distinctive against non-Tools.
This raises questions for any artist as such. What place does the credited-artist take in contrast to his/her artisans if not against a tool/bearer backdrop? Why must that place be exclusive to the credited-artist if it is the case that, from one side, they are a tool themselves, and from the other, they are not a proper tool? What justification can a credited-artist give for their primacy that doesn’t rely on a flawed and fattened distinction masking itself as an abstract generalization?
And so, in those cases where tools do not suffice by themselves (humans), we see tool loses any functional meaning; between animate and inanimate, and ultimately between tools and their bearers. Whether we decide to find distinction between tools and humans, or decide to remove tools (and their inanimate, non-contributory implications), the credited-artist stands as an example to an outdated and poorly masked appeal to ethos.
How can an artist take full credit and authority over a piece when, upon delineating what they desire their piece to be, they hand it over completely to another human being to have it be manifested? What benefit comes from such an organization? Why ought the credited-artist benefit as the perceived creator of a piece in that structure? It seems to me that in situations like this the prevailing thought revolves around an acceptance of the lower-order artisans as being generally interchangeable with tools; slaves of a sort, not concerned with the creation of a work but rather with the proper execution of their specified task. Nevertheless, how can a belief of this kind by credited-authors and the public alike sit any higher than purposeful naïveté, unrealistic abstraction, and blind dehumanization?
Firstly, in divorcing the individual steps between conception and manifestation, and by doling them out to individuals or groups of them for execution, the credited-artist applies themselves more to defining what a piece will not be rather than creating what it will be. In contrast, the individual artist, who works on and credits themselves, approaches each aspect (will be/will not be) together, forming a perimeter of flux wherein the artist moves between both as it suits them. When a credited-artist relieves themselves of the act of manifestation they don’t set up a generous machine and let it play, they effectively hand their idea off to someone else whose own perimeter will now define what the piece might be.
In this sense the piece of art is not via one person, but many. Even in the individual artist who works alone, their materials are increasingly made by other people, regulating the eventual form of the piece. But moving back to the more blatant example of credited-artist, their front-facing denial of others and back-facing denial of self becomes utterly absurd. Childish vanity. Where does the credited-artist justify this act outside the realm of abstraction? In reality, only via very small appeasements to the artisans under him or her can one even pretend at equitability. Whether that appeasement be personal or institutional, it is still used so one might overcome a human desire to create and be recognized as creating. The credited-artist asks for the workers underneath to sacrifice their humanity so that he might be deified.
Secondly, one has to wonder if there is any justification of this act that doesn’t inevitably slave itself to economics. It doesn’t take a long walk to see that this style of art production has worked quite nicely inside a global economic model of consumer-corporate capitalism. The question I ask myself upon seeing this agreeability is whether one informs the other, or if both are slaves of something else. Perhaps my first clue is in the seemingly comfortable fit of the term slave, one which sits easily with this structure, both inside the art world and out. Therefore, to drop out all the logic-chopping-definition-management, let’s just agree that a master believes he is capable of things a slave isn’t.
In the slave/master relationship the role of thinking ‘human being’ largely goes to the master. And if it does not it’s merely due to the slave’s recognition of their own humanity, necessitating the master becoming something more. This might be any number of veils; in artistry it might be the gift of the artist, or perhaps their genius creativity. All of these distinctions, tool into slave, into human, into master, seek to reveal the work of one at the expense of the others. What justification does this have? A public blindness to dependence? A personal vanity for power and influence? A societal fantasy of originality? A resignation to mediocrity? It flashes in our face every moment we spend invested in the world around us, that we rely on others so often and that this reliance skirts so close to explication that only our silence keeps us from recognizing that the ground beneath us isn’t ground at all, it’s flesh.
Even so, I easily perceive the abstract argument for this relationship; that we are all tools and slaves to other forces, in no sense do we act without prior commands of a sort. Nevertheless, if we are to accept this abstraction then why is it we only see it applied to certain beings and aspects of being? We ought to see it in every day life, alongside all things and people. Despite the abstract arguments in favor of this reduction, the real-world implementation has been arbitrary and only to the benefit of those able to pretend disconnection between themselves and either the ‘other people’ (as in feudalism/democracy), or between themselves and their own identity (as in nationalism/communism). Let’s accept that this mental reduction to the lowest common denominator, i.e. tools/slaves, just doesn’t fucking cut it.
Finally, not only will this arbitrary distinction continue providing quality defense for those who see it against those who don’t, but it will also impede future progression of our species and others. Where a computer can start to determine what will and will not be present in an output more specific than the input how can we continue calling that machine a tool? Or even a machine in the general sense? What good does this distinction of tool/human or slave/master really afford us? Too many institutions, and too many generations, have gone by walking firmly on a denial of personhood for affirmative personal gain. Shouldn’t we just say ‘quit it’ and start searching for something else? The lower-order artisan is not a tool and the higher-order artist is not the creator.To each end of this worthless spectrum I say: Get over yourself.
The credited-artist of a piece, in using other workers to create it, resigns themselves to a castle and king’s throne made of marshmallows. They hope to maintain an illusion of divine creative right by using these sweet candies to induce salivation in their serfs while projecting, to a more distant crowd, a shape of heavenly power. Together, these self-proscribed creatures cut the creative process in half, with king defining the law (what will not be) and serfs defining the land (what will be). When will these middle-ages end?