January 19, 2012 | 1
So I’m sitting in an airport on a long layover in the middle of the night, excited to be heading to ScienceOnline 2012 for my 4th time. CNN is on repeat, talking about the SOPA protest blackouts by Wikipedia and others. I’ve for science-based imagery on my mind.
Like many science bloggers, I enjoy a good dressing-down of superstition and religion in the face of facts and reason now and again. On the plane, I was thinking about how the simple symbols can sometimes be the most powerful. I’m not a graphic designer, my work is too messy and complex, but I appreciate powerful designs when I see them.
In my portrait of Charles Darwin. “Darwin Took Steps”, I included the little tree of speciation Darwin had sketched and famously written, “I think.”
It’s an incredibly descriptive little diagram. It’s possible to imagine other ways to depict evolution by natural selection: a wildfire, spiral river-eddies, interlocking Venn circles, perhaps.
But Charles made an awkward, halting little tree that still describes his theory well even after the discovery of DNA and cataloguing the genome.
I was thinking: what if some skeptic, atheist group really promoted it, really rattled religious cages successfully and it became an important, loud rallying symbol? In the news, punk kids wearing it on their knapsacks. Talking head on CNN dismissing stunts an graffiti without understanding it.
Would that be what Charles Darwin would have wanted for his little sketch? By all accounts he tried to avoid needless controversy while preserving the idea. (It could be easily argued that better science ed is a necessary controversy.)
Charles Darwin drew that little tree, but due to copyright laws, there’s no claim he can posthumously make for it. Or his estate. So it could be used by a noisy group he would have disavowed for their tactics and there’s nothing anyone could say about it. Because copyright eventually expires, and the most impact-full images are remembered and echo through culture. The echo might get distorted but we still hear/see it.
Da Vinci, in his attempts at joining noble society would no doubt have lost his temper when Dadaist Marcel Duchamp drew a moustache on a print of the Mona Lisa. But even before copyright laws, our society understand that sometimes preserving images from the past means re-imagining them.
This is why, even as an artist and content-creator, I oppose SOPA. Eventually, all artists have to let their creations live in the world. Punishing the unfettered creativity of the Internet and sometimes, even the artist’s own fans is just fighting against the life-cycle of an image. Creators *do* have the right to nurse their creations along.
Let them go. At your own speed, of course, make your career, control your creations, steer them to the right clients and in service of the right causes and genres.
But one day, they’re going to go off on their own.
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