Tim Berners-Lee's Words on Freedom Have Lessons for the Art World - Spear's Magazine

Tim Berners-Lee’s Words on Freedom Have Lessons for the Art World

His not-for-profit motive is noble and inspiring with a lot of art world parallels, namely, Berners-Lee promotes a system that is for everyone with open access as a human right – not unlike the institutional obligation to ensure art is freely (or reasonably) available to the public

The FT had lunch with Tim Berners-Lee this weekend, who invented the world wide web and made an Olympic opening ceremony cameo. (Just don’t tell Al Gore.) According to the article ‘[NBC] commentators told viewers, “If you haven’t heard of him, we haven’t either.”’

But his not-for-profit motive is noble and inspiring with a lot of art world parallels, namely, Berners-Lee promotes a system that is for everyone with open access as a human right – not unlike the institutional obligation to ensure art is freely (or reasonably) available to the public vs. the recent trend for usurious admission fees and difficult to come by ticketing schemes.

Says Berners-Lee: ‘The whole web had always been done by people who were very internationally-minded, very public-spirited, and very excited about the outcome.’ This is similar to artists going to great lengths to expose their works to the pubic, from the Impressionists’ DIY, pop-up galleries to the hit and run initiatives of artists today.

Amazingly, rather than asking how could this have enriched him, which would have been in manifold ways and forms, Berners-Lee questions: ‘Is the web serving humanity? The web is a social invention as much as a technical invention.’ Imagine Jeff Koons asking of Hirst, how can we better help, serve and make a deeper contribution? And as important as the art, the community surrounding it is as significant a social phenomenon.

Canadian journalist Cory Doctorow wrote of a looming ‘war on computation’, and Berners-Lee warns of a web ‘broken into fragmented islands’. In art we are facing a similar dilemma: with museums on their financial knees due to lack of funding, and hogtied, beholden to blockbusters and lava-like programming, private museums are filling the breach. At worst, hybrid, quasi-public spaces are qualitative wild cards, accountable to no one.

Pictured above: Sir Tim Berners-Lee at the Olympic Opening Ceremony

Monopolies threaten the health of the markets, whether it’s the internet and phone companies like Facebook and Apple or the art market with multinational galleries or collector-dealers cornering artists then unfairly controlling prices through auction trade. When any party becomes too dominant, Berners-Less states the well-known principle that they lose their incentive to innovate. And usually end up screwing the end user, ie you and me.

A world in which open standards are promoted across the board, while simultaneously protecting copyright and operating within an overall profit making structure would be the best of all, as much in computing as in art. On the subject of hackers, a libertarian such as Berners-Lee believes that disconnecting a family from the internet is akin to a form of imprisonment, not unlike depriving anyone on the planet the right to stand in front of a great painting in awe and for free.

When asked to explain the notion of a paradigm shift in the land of engineering the web’s code, Berners-Lee compared it to when ‘gorgeous situations… lift the spirit’. Not a more apt parallel could be conjured for the realm of art and creation, conceptual and aesthetic. Where things might benefit from being a little more closed are our inboxes when it comes to spam (reaping lottery millions and penis enlargers) and the streets of the world’s cities when it comes to annoyingly painted cows.

Read more from Kenny Schachter’s blog

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