“Cutting edge” doesn’t mean solo

“Cutting edge doesn’t mean perfect, or without challenges. It simply means ‘The position of greatest advancement or importance. The forefront.'”

Alyx Dellamonica

Kelly, Alyx and I had a passionate chat recently about the pressure we, as a collective culture, put on our trailblazers to keep on breaking trail. Alyx posted a great piece today sparked, in part, by that wide wild conversation about how, for instance, we can give Joss Whedon the credit he’s due for putting kick-ass women on the screen without expecting–or demanding–that he be perfect and pioneering on every project. (This isn’t just about Avengers: Age of Ultron, but that’s a point of reference.)

I know it seemed like Alyx mixed all of the available sports metaphors, but she confined herself to the track and field events. I’d like to work in one more analogy.

Isaac Newton once said, in an uncharacteristic moment of modesty, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” It was an acknowledgement that he was indebted to thinkers who came before him… and an implication that future scientists would, in turn, be indebted to him. Isaac Newton wasn’t Canadian. Let me put this in the language of my people: in short track speed skating relays, you don’t just tag the next skater on your team, you push them. You transfer all of your momentum to the next racer to give them a boost.

Charles Hamelin, photograph (c) Guy Mayer 2009, CC-BY-NC-ND Creative Commons license

Charles Hamelin, photograph (c) Guy Mayer 2009, CC-BY-NC-ND Creative Commons license

Culture’s not a monologue, it’s a conversation. Or a relay. The artists I admire most pass their momentum on to others, then rest up, and maybe–if we’re all lucky–get back into it. They’re not exempt from critique but it’s not their job to skate the whole race, or to skate it alone.

Full disclosure: My own prejudice is that I feel we’re honour-bound to celebrate our trailblazers (unless they turn out to be poisonous assholes). I’m so over the myth of the lone genius. I want my culture even better labelled than my food. Tell me where you grew that idea, whose example got you started, whose best stuff gave you the strength to go on, and whose critique polished the rough edges off your work. Your best work should be full of implicit hyperlinks to the related treasures that made it what it is and made you who you are as an artist.

“Cutting edge” doesn’t mean perfect. It doesn’t mean solo, either.

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