After school on Friday, as I tidied up the paint splatters and reflected on my week, I was struck by the thought that I just sent all my students home as criminals. Red-handed ones at that! Picasso's work is under copyright until 70 years after his death in 1973 (if I read the fine print clearly). I don't need to do the math. I just made my 22 five year old students copyright criminals.
This realization didn't sit right with me - not because I realized that by "copying" Picasso they might have become "criminals" in the eyes of the law - but because in my mind they are nothing close to criminal. These children, these artists are diverse, curious and creative producers of culture. This is what make them human. Each "copy" of Picasso's Flowers for Peace s is unique. The act of being inspired by someone else is not criminal - it is what we call culture. As the writers of Rip: A Remix Manifesto so eloquently demonstrate: "no on creates in isolation...everything comes from something else".
My students were born into a world of producers and collaborators - not passive consumers. They create and they share. As a teacher it is my job to provide them opportunities to be creative and critical producers and collaborators. To provide opportunities to connect meaningfully to ideas, art, each other and the world and then remix and recreate what they find, encounter, experience. This is learning.
I wonder what Picasso, the man who once said "good artists copy, great artists steal", would think about copyright laws as they are today? I wonder what he would think about my students' interpretations of his work? I like to think he'd be impressed and honoured. Picasso loved children's art and inspired to express himself as purely as a 5 year old. “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."
Imagining a sweet 5 year old as a copyright criminal just because she did a cute little painting for her mom with a hand and some flowers is a bit extreme. But what if the child grew up and used a photo of the painting in a mashup to criticize the government's participation in some future controversial war? What if she joined Dan O'Neill's Mickey Liberation Front and included Mickey Mouse in the remix?
Rip: A Remix Manifesto is a brilliant, alive, evolving documentary that does much more than raise issues about the complex reality of copyright laws. I have a deeper understanding of culture itself and just how connected we are to not only each other but to past traditions, art ideas. I used to argue with the suggestion that "there is no such thing as an original idea". I thought creativity meant having original ideas. I'm changing my mind on this one. Creativity does not exist in and nor does it emerge from a vacuum. Creativity is being curious, making connections, building upon ideas and remixing the past to make something new.
Copyright is about conformity and compliance. As Ken Robinson points out, humans (at least the young ones) are the natural anti-thesis of conformity and compliance. Education should serve to maintain human diversity, creativity and curiosity and not be an engine that enforces conformity and compliance.
Brett Gaylor concludes Rip: A Remix Manifesto with this reminder (and call to action):
"The world is not made up of passive consumers anymore. That era is over. This world is made up of collaborators. We can create and share. We can change laws. We can act." We can use Creative Commons licensing to do what the fourth point of the remix manifesto suggests and build free societies (and free culture) by limiting the control of the past. It is my (hopeful) sense that this is the direction we, the producers and collaborators, are going.
Picasso's Flowers of Peace re-created by Rachel and Annika (published here with their permission)
Image of Picasso's Flowers of Peace courtesy of Masterworks Fine Art (Fair Use or Copyright infringement??)
Quotes by Picasso @ ― Pablo Picasso
Rip: A Remix Manifesto
Ken Robinson: How to Escape Education's Death Valley