As someone who has worked as an art and non-profit administrator for some decades, I am well-acquainted with what a very nasty and competitive world it can be. It saps our energy, our joy, our creativity. I have seen it turn idealistic, energetic young people full of ideas into bitter, guarded, pessimists within years of working in an embattled orchestra or other arts organization.
Part of what is so restorative about participation in Second Life arts over the past three years has been the relative rarity of huge egos, competition and other nonsense of one kind or another. Anyone making art or supporting the creation of art in SL has to be mainly doing it for the love of it. Financial rewards are much lower than RL and promotional rewards have been slow in coming. While all of us hope to improve the tangible rewards for SL’s fine artists, it would be a shame if the positive spirit of collaboration were to be lost.
A small event that is both ridiculous and dismaying over the past couple of days has given me pause. Although the Music Island series is two years old, and my own participation in Second Life has spanned 3.5 years, I only started this blog a couple of months ago because a) I was too busy actually organizing value-added content in Second Life to spend much time writing about it b) a couple of server crashes that affected the Cedar Island website made the events listing on Music Island unavailable anywhere on the web, c) the visit of Toronto Star music critic, John Terauds to a Music Island concert made me realize that while there were bits of content everywhere about Music Island, there was no one spot on the web to refer anyone to for history, information and ongoing news of Music Island concerts, and d) lastly, I had been occasionally writing about arts in SL and Music Island concerts in the context of my more general arts & social issues blog which was muddying the mission of that blog and not providing a focused account of the activities of the artistic community surrounding Music Island. And so with all these utilitarian reasons rather than any sense of blogging for the sake of blogging, nor aggrandizement of my virtual self as author, I set text to .html to pen these pages.
As it has been my intention to mix news of upcoming and recent events with articles of a more general nature and some reflection on past events, I thought to write a post on a group of concerts presented over a period of about a year that were not possible in real life. In my May 2008 presentation at the Technology in the Arts Conference at the University of Waterloo, I noted that the reasons for presenting concerts in SL included: audience development, musical education, professional development, musician promotion, international musical collaborations, and not-possible-in-real-life multi-media creation. The last is the only purely artistic objective and as such is uniquely important and worthy of comment by all of us who care about arts in virtual worlds, or any world.
Soon after my post appeared I logged on in Second Life to receive a message from an avatar, Bettina Tizzy, whose name was not familiar to me. The content of that message was simply, “What the hell?” followed by the URL of my blog post. It was an odd introduction, and although taken aback, I remembered the simple credo of one of my mentors, Howard Rheingold to “assume good will” and remembered that “What the hell?” with a different tone of voice can mean surprise or puzzlement, so I queried the sender and provided a little background. A little while later I saw that the same individual had commented on my blog post, “Is this an April Fool’s Day joke?” and I again tried to ‘assume goodwill” and thought, “hmmm, likely is someone who finds the accounts of these concerts to be preposterous” and so I provided a courteous reply expanding on the information. However, clicking on the link of the poster’s comment, I saw that she in fact had a blog which she had named after the familiar VW catch-phrase “not possible in real life”. While I applauded the effort and intent of the blog, I had a sinking feeling that this individual’s recent communications signalled that she felt that she “owned” a common phrase that is in use far beyond her blog, her group and pre-dates her own participation in Second Life.
I did not have to wait long for confirmation of my theory as I dealt with an IM communication that made me sigh and, Gentle Readers, please forgive me, even to muse out-loud that Ms. Tizzy had chosen her last name with an aptness that eludes many of us in Second Life as this little tempest-in-a-teapot had all the ear-marks of a classic tizzy.
In describing the various concerts in series at Music Island over the years, I have employed many phrases in familiar use: classical music, early music, electro-accoustic music, new-age music, ambient music, space music, etc. Yet I have not had, for example, Thom Dowd, the owner of the Early Music group say, “I own the group and you cannot use ‘Early Music’ to describe your concert!!!!” Why? Because he knows that the concert I have described as “early music”, is in fact early music as broadly defined in the world at large. Nor has Tyrol Rimbaud, the grande doyenne of the Classical Music group asserted ownership over the phrase “classical music”.
By the same token, “not possible in real life” describes a type of virtual reality experience–not limited to artistic practice–that when applied to artistic practice denotes a school of artistic expression within 3-D virtual reality. It is great that Ms. Tizzy has chosen to seek out and write about her experience and critiques of such events within SL and I honestly hope that her prolific blog has promoted awareness and practice. But to put the cart before the horse and suggest that a blog which titled itself after a familiar phrase and began to report on an artistic school of practice well underway at its inception in fact “owns” the phrase or created the movement is a transcendentally ridiculous position.
In conversation with a couple of artists yesterday (whom I will not name so they not be troubled by our volative blogger’s demonstrated vitriol) we amused ourselves as we tried to find a word for a blogger whose ego and sense of entitlement had transcended their subject and all sense of reality. My favorites were “blaggart” (a cross between braggart and blog) and “blogusoity” (a cross between “blog” and “pomposity”). Personally I thought “blogulence” (blog+flatulence) was a little rude although it did capture a certain something of how a good thing…. a blog post celebrating some fine not-possible-in-real-life concerts…. can be stink-bombed by negativity.
I was just going to let this all blow away (as bad smells tend to do) until I was contacted by one of the artists involved in the concerts who had been approached by Ms. Tizzy to ask me to do what…not clear… remove my post… not use the phrase? Now that really got this plain Kate angry. When people start to involve and trouble the artists over their petty agendas, the gloves come off. I HAVE now edited my post to acknowledge the existence of Ms. Tizzy’s blog and to make it clear that I am using “not possible in real life” as a descriptor and not a title of a concert series, which I am told by some might have been a reading by someone unfamiliar with the varied Music Island concert series. Frankly, at this point, despite any positive Ms. Tizzy’s blog may have done for SL Art, her territorial and uncollaborative attitude of blowing up before engaging in any courteous dialogue or fact-finding, makes any association with any of her enterprises anathema to this SL and RL arts presenter.
So please a disclaimer: When there is a “not possible in real life” concert at Music Island–and I am sure we will host many more– it is not to be confused with the SL group of the same name, or to signify endorsement by the blog of that title.
Ah, there, breathes easily again. And now back to our regularly scheduled program–putting the focus on artistic creation, on art, on celebrating and sharing the opening of our spirits through art.