Thursday, November 09, 2006
A few weeks ago, a friend shared this video with me about people who intentionally create ugly MySpace pages. Warning: you may find it annoying. And that's part of the point.
The core of Ze Frank's argument is this:
“Ugly when compared to pre-existing notions of taste is a bummer. But ugly as a representation of mass experimentation and learning is pretty damn cool.”
I have a schizophrenic reaction to this argument. One side of me, the pro-2.0 let's all get involved side, cheers. The other side, the poet who's been to WAY too many bad open mics, shudders. Philosophically, I want everyone to feel empowered to raise their creative flag--but I only want to be in the audience for the good stuff.
Would you go to a museum of bad visitor-generated content? Would it be worth it if the process of developing that content brought those visitors to new levels of thinking and engagement? Museums are designed spaces, and I'd venture to answer no--that I wouldn't enjoy or return to a museum that featured random visitor-created crap--even if I appreciated the fact that it was enabling visitors to have a quality learning experience.
Museums will be most successful not if they throw open their doors without oversight, as MySpace has, but if they can evolve into structured venues for participation. I have more experience with this in the poetry world than the museum world. Some poetry venues foster communities of quality poets; others are hotbeds of mediocrity. What's the difference? The same newbies are showing up the first time, clutching a poem scribbled under the covers in hand. The difference is the quality of the venue, the community, and the host.
Imagine a museum as a "venue" rather than a content provider. Museum staff become the "hosts"--the people who BOTH set the rules and inspire participation. A good host leads by example and creates an environment where the community rewards growth and ignores/chastises derivative, derogatory work. A good venue is conducive to participation while setting a high standard.
Is this different from what museums are today? Absolutely. I'm curious to see what programs like Agents of Change at Ontario Science Centre are doing in this regard. But I think most museums are too afraid of the "ugly" that comes with total visitor participation to consider the possible beauty that could be generated in a well-thought-out venue.