Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Sat 20th May, 2006

Preaching Without Proselytising

In a fun-filled action-packed afternoon, Kate and I went to see Eddy Somethingorother at the National Museum. He's a graphic designer and gave a talk about his work and some of the projects he's done to the eager ears of a large audience of mostly graphic design students. He'd done the Honda 'Grrr' ad and a couple of short segments for SNCF (the French national rail system). Then he asked for questions.

I couldn't help it. My question was, "With the existence of the Creative Commons License and an increasing body of work in the public domain, how is the availability of existing art that you're allowed to use influencing your work as a Graphic Designer?" OK, so it was a bit all over the place, and it had a political agenda behind it, but I think it was a reasonably sound question.

Eddy sort of stared vacantly at me and asked me, "What was it you were asking again?" I explained a bit about using media from the Internet that was free to use. His reply was that he basically preferred to do everything from scratch and he didn't really think of using other people's work much. A few questions later, Kate and I realised that his vagueness was swimming in a big morass of being scared of presenting, trying to look cool and detached, and not really making the effort to connect with the questioner. When asked, "What's the pros and cons of working freelance, in a small group and in a large company?" by someone else, again he just said, "What are you asking?" I can forgive him for being nervous, but not bothering to understand the question and trying to make it sound like the other person is fault is not a very nice thing for a speaker to do.

But I had a quick chat to him later and tried to mention the other side of collaboration - putting his work into the public domain. Here I really put my foot in it, because I should have asked about whether he'd considered working with other people on collaborative artwork or collections. Obviously, a freelance artist's work is their lifeblood; trying to tell them that they should give it away is going to get all the bristles up really quick.

I wish I was intelligent, and could apply Pia's excellent advice in her talk about pitching Open Source to education groups - you have to find the angle that the other people are seeing the picture from and pitch the idea in that direction. (This is why, perhaps in retrospect, I was better off asking about what he thought about using other people's public-domain work - he could probably see the advantage of being able to grab off-the-shelf models and textures and pictures rather than having to go out and make or photograph them himself.)

But it also served as another point in the continued lesson that Open Source, and the philosophy behind it and the Creative Commons and other 'sharing' licenses, is still a paradigm that relatively few people in mainstream life really know about and think about. The idea that his Mac G5 runs on thirty years of public, shared development is unimportant: what matters is that it looks cool and it runs all the nifty proprietary tools that he needs to do his job. He just sees the price of those tools as the price of wanting to work in the workforce; like owning your own set of pantone markers or an A3 sketch book. The idea of having to pick up someone else's model and use that means more learning time, and perhaps time wasted to make the model look right or do the things you want, is a disincentive to even look for open, free formats and collaborate.

The question I ask myself is: how do I balanced trying to educate people like him, who are in a position to tell a lot of students and contribute a lot of experience, without coming across as a preachy, free-love hippy who thinks that everything should be given away for free?

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