A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece about two drill musicians who had been arrested for performing one of their songs, and argued that free speech and expression must be universal for all people and styles of art. Towards the end, I pointed out that art itself can only grow and develop through experimentation, and the random behaviour of people trying to make it as creators.
While this point was relegated to the end of that article, it’s a concept that certainly deserves on of its own. After all, the spontaneous growth of artistic forms is an almost-perfect analogy for how society itself changes and evolves.
To illustrate this, all we have to do is look at how quickly and how broadly different tastes and smiles have emerged in the past few years. For instance, just look at how quickly electronic music shifted from avant garde to mainstream – in less than thirty years, the medium switched from a few fringe artists experimenting with computers and synthesizers, to one of the most popular and culturally significant styles of music.
Kraftwerk, one of my personal favourite bands, perfectly symbolise how widespread this impact of artistic experimentation can be. Forming in Düsseldorf in 1970, the band’s experimentation with synthesizers, vocoders, and industrial-inspired beats influenced future musicians from a range of genres. Because four German guys decided to get together and sing about motorways, we got David Bowie, Depeche Mode, and even some of the first hip-hop tracks.
This is the real beauty of a totally free, unrestrained, uncensored artistic marketplace. The random decisions of random people can unwittingly create whole new genres, and influence countless other artists to take their work to strange new places.
Cinema, too, moves in unpredictable and uncontrollable patterns. Nowhere is this more evident than in the ‘so bad, it’s good’ category that has emerged as a strangely important piece of modern pop-culture; I’m not sure anybody could have predicted that movies like ‘The Room’ would eventually play to sell-out midnight screenings fifteen years after its release. Nor could anyone have guessed that obscure, low-budget movies like ‘Samurai Cop’ or ‘Fateful Findings’ (both of which I fully recommend watching) would garner such large cult followings. Yet, here we are.
These are just a few examples to illustrate the weird and wonderful results of free expression and artistic experimentation. When people have the freedom to try new things, pursue vanity projects, or just muck around, there’s no telling what the next big thing is going to be.
What’s more, is that we live in a time where this experimentation has never been easier. Where Kraftwerk had to invest in expensive instruments and vinyl-presses, a wannabe musician today just needs some mixing software and a soundcloud account (it worked for Soulja boy, at least). It’s a brilliant state of affairs when quite literally anyone can achieve stardom and success, virtually all by themselves.
But it isn’t just art that benefits so greatly from these random interactions. In fact, the random evolution of music, film, etc. simply mirror a wider social process called ‘spontaneous order’ by social scientists. Just as the millions of artists all experimenting with new styles and techniques spontaneously create new genres and subcultures, so to does the random behaviour of the millions of wannabe entrepreneurs and inventors.
So, to build on what I wrote two weeks ago, art has to remain free, uncensored, and unplanned because that’s the only way it can grow and develop. Once we can recognise the power of spontaneity in art, we can begin to comprehend its power in the rest of society too, and enjoy all the entrepreneurial delights it brings along.