Last week I was proud to deliver the Occasional Address to the graduating students from the arts and technology faculties at the University of Ballarat. In preparing my speech I spent some time pondering the intersection of arts and technology, and building the case supporting their critical role in our future world.
Returning home I realised that Arts Hub members might be interested in the sentiment, and so below is the text of my speech.
Deputy Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Members of University Council, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman. Good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity to be with you.
When I first received an invitation to speak to you today, I had visions of standing here uttering witty anecdotes of life as the owner of a business which has as its core the melding of the arts world with the technology world.
On reflection I discounted this idea. Firstly because as a stand up comedian I make a much better dishwasher, and secondly, and most importantly, because I realized there were some issues important to me which I wanted to address.
I’m particularly pleased to be speaking today because all of you here represent the people I believe are the chosen ones as our planet moves forward into the 21st century.
We live in a world dominated by political systems, and a media, that make much of economic circumstances. Which openly promotes the division between the haves and the have nots. We are deep in a global economic cycle which has led to unbelievable growth in personal wealth, often at the expense of many of the people who do the actual work which results in extraordinary prosperity for a select few.
Many people of this world live in countries whose political masters deliberately isolate a minority in order to promote an socio-economic agenda to the majority.
Their tactics are exclusionary, short sighted, and use fear of the new and unknown to encourage people to look backwards instead of forwards.
Why do I think this is important to you? Because I think you are the people who have the greatest chance of effecting change, of changing the world.
So today I’d like to touch on a couple of the issues close to my heart. For starters how art and technology are in fact two sides of the same coin; how the arts creates clever people; and then how the intellectual property created by arts and technology have the power to achieve incredible economic and social change.
Art and Technology Hand in Hand
Art and technology go hand in hand. There’s a magazine article from 10 years ago I refer back to once in a while. The author was commenting on the use of technology in the arts, and explained that sometimes technology was ahead of the artists, sometimes behind. Sometimes artists use technology in ways the technologists never envisaged. Sometimes the technologists equip the artists to achieve an artistic vision previously unattainable. The magazine article concludes that
“The relationship between the artist and the technologist needs to be seen less as a two side topology, rather, with a not so simple half twist we can turn it into a Moebius Strip, which only has one side.”
It’s how I see arts and technology – two sides of the same coin.
Arts Creates Clever People
A research project in the United States, which analysed a database of 25,000 school students, found that students with high levels of arts participation outperform “arts-poor” students by virtually every measure. Now if you think about it, that’s not particularly surprising. Children of wealthier families very often have greater opportunity to engage with the Arts. But the researchers were genuinely surprised when they crunched the numbers some more.
What they found was a statistical significance in comparisons of high and low arts participants in the lowest socioeconomic segments.
The research showed that high arts participation makes a more significant difference to students from low-income backgrounds than for high-income students.
They also found clear evidence that sustained involvement in particular art forms—music and theatre —are highly correlated with success in mathematics and reading.
Intellectual Property and Copyright
While I was researching some thoughts for today, I came across some both sobering and exciting information on the web site of the World Bank.
According to a recent World Bank report, the countries that became richer over the last 30 years were those that mostly export intellectual property. Their incomes grew faster. The incomes of poor countries that mostly export raw materials didn’t grow at all. It’s a stark contrast for an Australian economy that continues, to a large degree, to be underpinned by stuff dug out of the ground, instead of stuff dug out of our brains. An argument I know needs no explaining in this forum.
Intellectual property has helped the rich countries’ economies grow. An easy example is the insidious spread of Hollywood movies and television. I use the word insidious carefully, programs like Joe Millionaire, Survivor and Sex and the City have a lot to answer for. Yet my four year old son is entranced by Blues Clues. He watches Sesame Street with the same sense of excitement as I did when I was watching 30 years ago.
Our son is contributing, in his own small way, to a massive growth in the export of intellectual property by the United States. For example:
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all of this is automatically good. Anyone who’s suffered through the 95th repeat of Frasier, or Everybody Loves Raymond, can easily point out that not all exported intellectual property is automatically a positive influence for the importing nation.
The Global Marketplace
Let’s look at the global marketplace America and the rest of us are playing in:
Add those four items up and you’ve got a global marketplace of $337 billion. And this list doesn’t include other sectors such as design, performing arts, or books and publishing.
The creative and technology industries are the key contributors to these huge numbers.
And when I talk about contributors, I mean you. You are the next generation of people who will take on the challenges of the world, who will build the next generation of artistic and technological endeavour.
The creative and technology industries are the creators of intellectual property, of ideas and innovation – the greatest export assets Australia can possibly have. Bob Hawke called us the ‘Clever Country’, Kim Beazley gave us ‘Knowledge Nation’, Peter Beatty in Queensland has just announced the banana benders are no more, Queensland is now the ‘Smart State’.
So how are we looking in Australia?
All of which tells us two things. Firstly we’re are trying to find a foothold in the global arena; and secondly, there is a quite ludicrous sized potential in the global marketplace for us to expand and grow our creative exports.
Art and Technology Change Things
In 1937 Pablo Picasso painted one of his most well known pictures. It’s called Guernica, and it’s named after a town in Spain which was terribly affected by the Spanish Civil War. Guernica is probably modern art’s strongest anti-war statement.
It’s a very large picture, painted to decorate the Spanish stand at the 1937 Universal Exhibition in Paris – so it was seen by a vast number of people in a very short space of time. It’s been called ‘more of a cartoon than a picture’, because the text is writ so large in the image. It caused great controversy by bringing to the public conscience an important issue of the day.
Skip forward 70 years, a few months ago bloggers on the Internet forced the resignation of one of America’s most prominent television news readers. CBS news anchor Dan Rather stepped down after bloggers revealed that a series of documents he had broadcast about President George Bush’s military record, were in fact fakes.
A small group of individuals in their lounge rooms connected to the world via the Internet, did what apparently one of America’s largest media organisations could not – prove that Dan was wrong.
The impact of technology on our world and society is truly pervasive; likewise the influence of the arts. From Web masters and graphic designers to architects and filmmakers, a new generation of techno-artists is very much in demand.
There are big issues, and big challenges ahead for you. But you have been equipped with the tools and the knowledge and, I hope, the passion and commitment to employ them.
If you don’t like something in our world or community, stand up and say so.
The arts give rise to a myriad of forms of expression, to communicate your message. Technology can both assist to create the message, enables you to tell the whole world instantly.
At the intersection of art and technology lies one of the most fertile grounds for creative expression, of creating economic prosperity, of redressing the imbalance between the haves and the have nots.
Together art and technology truly can change the world.
I wish you all the best as you make your way in the world. Very many congratulations on your graduation, and thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.