Q: What is the difference between authorship and use?

Manivich says that “Although more complex types of interactivity can be created by a computer program that controls and modifies the media object at run-time, the majority of interactive media uses fixed branching-tree structures.”

 He goes on to claim that we can choose one of two perspectives regarding the use interactive media:

 (i) Author

“…the user of a branching interactive program becomes its coauthor: By choosing a unique path through the elements of a work, she supposedly creates a new work.”

 (ii) User

 .  “…the user following a particular path accesses only a part of this whole.  In other words, the user is activating only a part of the total work that already exists.”

If we assume the second perspective, then, Manovich says that

 “Paradoxically, by following an interactive path, one does not construct a unique self but instead adopts already pre-established identities.  Similarly, choosing values from a menu or customizing one’s desktop or an application automatically makes one participate in the “changing collage of personal whims and fancies” mapped out and coded into software by companies….I would prefer using Microsoft Windows exactly the same way it was installed at the factory instead of customizing it in the hope of expressing my ‘unique identity’ “.

But now I’m confused.  When does selection constitute authorship rather than use?  Under perspective (ii), couldn’t we view writing this blog entry as “activating only a part of the total work that already exists”, namely this sequence of characters amongst the set of all possible characters allowed by this wordpress blogging software? Doesn’t composition of a text have a fixed-branching tree structure (I select a letter, then another letter, etc.)  If so, where is the distinction between authorship and use?   Can’t we view all acts of creativity as selecting some subset from a pre-existing set?  When does a language become rich enough that we can use it to author new works?  Structurally, how do we differentiate an authored work from a work that was simply a byproduct of use?  Phenomenologically, how do we distinguish the too?



  1. airlee

    I used to have same question like the way you said writing blog entry- Someone says : what is noveloist? it is a kind of cheaters reorganize all characters that our ancestor created, pick up a sequence, and then printed in paper in order to cheat of reader’s money. 🙂
    So far, my understanding about language and character is: first, I don’t think we can separate language as morpheme which is the minimal unit because it always always hide inside of word. For instance, when we want to describe a feeling like a strong desire, we can use words like motivation, anticipation, expectation, and so forh; each word has its own suitable scope, intention and focus point depending on how we use it. I am thinking if we replace all the word-“motivation” appeared in a novel by “anticipation” or expectation , the meaning may change a lot.
    But still if we generally say motivation, anticipation, it is kind of same meaning. So the MEANING that we want to convey to others by using these words, is the thing related these words, also is the thing I don’t know how to separate/split from each word. if there is a darts board, and the MEANINGwe want to say is the red spot in center, each word can shot in the red spot however it can not avoid to cover the green part around the red spot. that is my understand. … I am still confused..

  2. thismarty

    Historically, this whole idea of a creative tool being a co-author is endemic. We see it re-emerge every time new technologies come along that appear to the uninitiated to be actually doing, rather than merely enabling, creation. The only thing that surprises me here is that someone as clued-in as Manovich would espouse it.

    Case in point, in the middle of the 19th century there were a bunch of rapid developments in the technologies that surround oil painting. New kinds and colors of oils that came ready-to-use in little tubes so you didn’t have to mix them yourself from primaries, new brushes that held and released the oils almost effortlessly, more durable and forgiving canvases that could be “erased”, and so on.

    Right about this same time, a bunch of artists created an enduring movement in art that took direct benefit from most of these advances – the Impressionists. You may have heard of them. 😉 The thing is, how often have you been told the story of their supposed co-creators, these new oils and brushes, etc.? Probably never. And yet, at the time, some critics derided that the impressions were just tools of these new technologies, mindlessly fleshing out their innate capabilities. See the connection? Many of those who didn’t understand the true nature of the new art tech way back in 1860, elevated it to the level of the artist. In 2007 though, we know better, and thus we celebrate Monet, et al, and not their new oils and brushes.

    Similarly, today, people less-familiar with computer technology will watch someone like Robbie Dingo and see computer “magic” happening, unaware that the SL world editor is really doing little more than merely enabaling a wonderful artist. It’s just like those 19th century art critics who saw enabling tools as process-drivers, not process-enablers.

  3. jeffreybardzell

    I don’t think you’re giving enough credit to this line of reasoning. I think what’s bugging you (it seems) is that this theory seems to diminish the role of the artist, possibly even replacing the artist with technology.

    I don’t think that’s Manovich’s point at all.

    Rather, technologies, just like ideologies and genres, condition the mechanisms by which the artist creates. The fact that people create through selection doesn’t necessarily diminish art. One way to look at it is that there is still room for a great artist to (a) invent new techniques of compositing and with it new modes of self-expression, and (b) push the logic of compositing to limits never practical before. Indeed, I think we’ve seen in the past decade evidence of both.

    So it’s not a matter of dismissing contemporary art and suggesting that it’s all automated. Rather, it’s a matter of recognizing how automation changes the artist’s relationship with the subject of art, and how that helps her or his audiences perceive the world or relationships in new ways, which is what art has always done.

  4. thismarty

    I guess it really has to do with how strict a reading you give Manovich on this one. And, I’ll concede that continued reading of his thoughts on the subject don’t square with so tight a construction as mine.

    Still, I think that there are a lot of people whose conception of the role and contribution made by creators of digitally-designed and -experienced things is incorrect in this way, as they think of the computer and software more as contributor or even crutch, rather than merely the enabling tools that they are.

    Plus, this angle on subject gave me a great chance to use some of that year of Art History courses that I had to take back in design school. I sure wasn’t going to let that opportunity get away. 😉


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