05 January 2007


innovative: adjective
1. ahead of the times; "the advanced teaching methods"; "had advanced views on the subject"; "a forward-looking corporation"; "is British industry innovative enough?" [syn: advanced]
2. being or producing something like nothing done or experienced or created before; "stylistically innovative works"; "innovative members of the artistic community"; "a mind so innovational, so original"

This from WordNet® 2.1. Princeton University by way of dictionary.com

I've always thought of innovation as inherently good, useful, and productive (though I couldn't find any dictionary to support my sense of the word). It isn't like invention or creativity. They can be negative. Inventors come up with useles junk all the time, and we've all (at one point or another) been abused by the very annoying creativity of others. But no one ever bothers to say "positive innovation", useful innovation", or "constructive innovation", to give a few examples. To do so would be redundant, at least in our current use of the term.

Given that innovation is seen (by me at least) as relevant, needful, and good, does the ongoing story of art require anything more than this?


Josh said...

let me make sure i understand... does the (hi)story of art require anything more than innovation?

it's a great question. to me, it's one of the most relevant questions about art. i'm not sure i have an answer, though.

i think the prevailing answer in the artworld is no. i'm guessing that in art history classes, some very successful, prominent, and famous artists are not covered. in music history american band master john phillip sousa is not touched and tchaikovsky is only quickly mentioned, yet their music is much more recognizable to us than innovators like mahler, berlioz, or ives. the converse is sometimes true, though. salieri was the most popular composer in vienna in his day, yet we only know mozart. quantz was the prussian court composer, while bach labored away in relative obscurity. but who does history say was the better composer? and why? innovation gets you in the history book.

but what about the craft of composers like john williams who can manipulate the emotions of moviegoers like no one else. it's a skill that cannot be called not art, but he obviously copies styles from generations past not even attempting to be innovative. what about technical artists who can create photorealism with a brush? isn't that an artistic skill worth noting? even if they don't drive the plot of the big-picture story of art forward, they're still constructive contributors.

i think the artworld is generally a puffed-up institution that markets itself as innovative very much like the emperor marketed his new clothes.

Dad said...

I guess I am not your only reader. It is interesting that there is not any dictionary definition to support the positive component of innovation but it has the same implied meaning in my mind also. Being "ahead of the times" and being advanced would imply, from my perspective, as something inherently good or more useful than what is being used.

Mary Ann said...

Josh, thanks for the lovely long discourse. I think about innovation more in terms of art's present than its history. What else does art need NOW to keep on going? Will the fire under it eventually die out? That's sort of what happened with Modernism. We were supposed to be headed toward this great, transcendent purity of form and then we got there and realized how completely unsatisfactory it all was. Clean cup! Move down!

I think that (within visual art anyway) innovation actually is the real deal. I think it is happening. But often, you can't recognize it until it has already passed you by. Then it hits you, that, wow, that was it.

Mary Ann said...

Dan, glad to hear some agreement about innovation's colloquial context. Thanks for validating that.

Josh said...

sorry. i always think i'm just writing something short and then it ends up being like 15 inches down the screen. thanks for indulging me :)