Genres, authenticity, technology and constraints

I have not read any literature about genre theory or anything closely related to the following spiel, but these are my thoughts and wonders. I am sure they are muddled and confused and not clear but it seems worth thinking about.

I don’t think I’m a fan of genres, or of works that adhere strictly to genres. To me, genre seems like a synonym for constraint, and I think constraints are unnecessary and unhelpful when working on and creating anything. Genres and movements allow the use of certain devices and only certain devices to deliver content. They are meant to allow expression through these devices. However, by limiting the available devices you can use you are constraining yourself. I have spoken to people who think these constraints are good, that they may even be necessary to allow any expression at all (for how could you even begin to express yourself with everything in the universe available to you? There is nowhere to start…) I can sympathise a little with this view, as sometimes constraints can be helpful (and challenging) in giving you guidelines as to how to do something.

However, it seems ridiculous to me to voluntarily adhere to (arbitrary) constraints, where we could have none. As an example, you wouldn’t ask an illustrator to produce something good only using one pen, or a writer to only use twenty words, or a filmmaker to not use a tripod (unless you’re Lars von Trier). In general, it seems better to allow the artist any means available to them to create what they want, and this includes enforcing no practical or theoretical limits on their work. To do so, to adhere to genres, seems to be unnecessarily limiting the artist’s expression, or ease of creating what they want.

As technology develops we have less physical barriers to achieving the results we want. Digital software is making it easier to do exactly what you want with any form of art – Photoshop, After Effects, Logic, etc are incredibly powerful pieces of software, and allow creations that were impossible a while ago. I see no reason to eschew these possibilities in favour of ‘authentic’ acoustic or analogue means of production, as some people would. There is nothing authentic, or natural, about the sound of a trumpet, or guitar, if you are to claim digital media (e.g. synthesised sounds) is inauthentic. These acoustic instruments are not natural. They are instruments – tools made by humans for achieving something we could not produce without them (certain sounds), or with far less effort. Instruments/tools in the same way the laptop is an instrument/tool.

–I have a nasty feeling that here I am 1. arguing against no-one, 2. equivocating between physical constraints and cultural constraints. But I’m gonna leave it.

Maybe the last paragraph is trying to quell my unease about digital photography seeming ‘wrong’ or too easy in some way. For I think the boundary between analogue, ‘authentic’ photography and digital, ‘inauthentic’ photography is false. I have a mode on my dslr (sony a55, it’s good) that produces images in high contrast black and white. I like the results, but it somehow feels wrong, or false. Furthermore any photos I modify at all (on photoshop or otherwise) stop feeling like ‘true’ photos. But then I try and remind myself that these methods of digital manipulation are simply tools to make something easier. And that if I were to use a ‘real’ slr, I could use black and white film, and it would have the same effect. In short, the boundary between real photos and digital (and digitally manipulated) photos is false, as none of them are natural.


Nowadays (what a great word) we have less and less constraints, almost to the point where anything is possible and achievable. I believe we should revel in this, and do whatever the fuck we want with what we’ve got. For we have been doing that as long as we have been able through whatever instruments we’ve had available to us, consciously or unconsciously. No need for genres now. It’s just a shame that business in the arts world seems to work around genres.