SXSW: Everything is a remix

Published:  March 14, 2012
Bonnie Abbott
SXSW: Everything is a remix

Interactive, Film and Music Conference SXSW runs more than 5000 events over nine days. Held in Austin, Texas, the city doubles its population and the Convention Centre – the size of six city blocks – creaks under the pressure.

Catching an industry talk necessitates solid forward planning and luck , yet both are vulnerable to the queues and unexpected deviations and distractions that have become SXSW in-jokes.

What is refreshing about SXSW (for a graphic designer at least) is that it isn’t a design conference. There are a handful of designers speaking, but also technology experts, educators, futurists, bloggers, data analysts and Bruce Springsteen. Instead of a designer talking about design, there is an interesting speaker talking about an interesting topic, all under the umbrella of “interactive,” and all relevant within a designer’s holistic industry education.

The short talks that have provided an environment in which to take notes, I’ll be sharing here on desktop.

Filmmaker Kirby Ferguson (creator of the video series Everything is a Remix) and artist Austin Kleon (author of Newspaper Blackout and Steal Like an Artist) collaborated in the presentation ‘Everything is a Remix, So Steal Like an Artist’.

Structured as a conversation between the two, Kleon shared his highlights and interpretations of Ferguson’s series, while exploring the realities of being a creator in the digital age. They both stressed the importance of demystifying creativity. “There is this mythical idea of the lone genius, which is such a romantic ideal, especially in filmmaking which requires incredible collaboration and reliance on others,” explained Ferguson. “Don’t ever worry about being original, especially when you are young. Be derivative. Copy.”

Which, as Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix reiterates, is how we learn. “We learn a new language through emulation. It builds a foundation of understanding and knowledge. We apply ordinary tools of thought to existing materials, and make something new through transformation – after a lot of copying, experimenting and tinkering.”

Most of history’s great inventions already existed well before their time – it just took someone to reuse the same materials in a different way. The first typewriter was based on a piano. Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, interchangeable parts or the assembly line – but put them all together to create the first mass-produced car. And you’d be surprised how much Star Wars borrowed from Flash Gordon.

This form of originality is based on tipping points rather than unique invention. Ferguson explains it as the basic elements of creativity: copy, transform, combine. “It’s the difference between quilting and weaving,” added Kleon.

They concluded with advice especially poignant for young creatives. Ignore the myths of having to be interesting – being boring gives you time and advocates good work. Indulgence ruins talent. Don’t try to swallow all of your industry’s history – but study your heroes through what influenced them, and even those before them. Collect and combine. And don’t focus on losses rather than gains – and keep tinkering.

I highly recommend watching Kirby Ferguson’s excellent series on his site. Here’s the first edition:





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