Collage is conversation first, art second.

Warren Ellis very nearly gets at something I’ve tried to get my head around for some time.To butcher his argument, the Web is, or should be, moving beyond the era of linkblogs like Boing Boing “curating” the net. He thinks it’s easy enough getting linked, and that “half the web” shouldn’t just be links to the other half.

But I think Mr. Ellis, who I hold in the highest esteem, misses something: link curation is a type of collage, which comes from the French word coller, meaning “to paste.” So when he writes, “Cory and Xeni [of Boing Boing] are the copy/paste editors for the internet,” he’s actually describing what they do as collage.

Linkblogging is only one kind of collage, or more broadly assemblage, which some people have begun to think of as art. We all know, or have been, that guy who thinks that his mix tapes are art, or his DJing is art, or that his mashups and submissions to I can has cheezburger? are art.

And maybe they are. I don’t want to be in the business of telling people what is or isn’t art. But then, if all collage, all “remix culture” is art, so is wearing the right combination of designer clothes (wardrobe design, not fashion design), stuffing your house full of the right stuff (interior furnishing, not interior design), and listening to the right bands are art. Because you’re assembling them, transforming them into something new through combination and personalization. And I don’t want to go down that road, myself: consumption and self-selection through purchasing aren’t art, at least not to me.

So if these things aren’t art, or are art only incidentally, what is their primary function?

The astute reader will guess my assertion by checking my post title: I think these things are a conversation, an ongoing conversation.

Now, conversation absolutely can be cultural production in the Warren Ellis-approved sense: good book reviews, or film reviews, are part of a conversation between the author or filmmaker, the critic, other critics, and the reader or viewer. Mixtapes achieve their power through comparison and contrast, reinforcement and juxtaposition. The best LOLcats, as Anil Dash has argued, achieve their power through a consistent grammar of repetition and variation changing through time. Isn’t that just a fancy way of describing a conversation?

This is one reason that blogs with comments seemed to be the thing just a little while ago. I remember, at the one Seattle Bloggers meetup I can recall attending, that Robert Scoble criticized my metablog design for not making comments obvious. I felt, and still feel, that the best response to a blog post isn’t a comment but another blog post. Now Scoble says that blog comments are dead. I can’t figure out if I’m on the bleeding edge, or so far back that I only look like I’m in the race. (Or maybe the universe wraps around on itself, and I am so far back that I’m in first place. Or vice-versa.)

In the end, it might be nice to separate the web into content and remixed indices to that content, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think we’re going to keep surfing the wave of remix culture for some time to come, and that the waves will be made of old and new alike. Sorry Warren, the linkblog is probably here to stay, at least for a while.

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