Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair, Arts Council (credit: Steven Peskett)
Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair, Arts Council (credit: Steven Peskett)
A view from Sir Peter Bazalgette

Sir Peter Bazalgette on how technology drives creativity

Digital technology is having a profound impact on the development, distribution and commercial use of creativity, says Arts Council chair and media consultant Sir Peter...

We are only 14 years into a digital millennium and it is forcing all sorts of remarkable creative opportunities in ways we can’t even imagine.

We are just beginning with what we do know. We know nothing, and are only starting to explore the possibilities.

I can be blamed for bringing Big Brother to Britain in 1999 during the dotcom boom; it was the first entertainment property that combined TV, the internet and the telephone.

It was a dotcommer’s wet dream. It was also the first TV show in history to, in essence, show its rushes to the public by hosting the live feed on a website.

Viewers suddenly realised that edited TV programmes are the subjective view of the director and producer, and not some piece of golden truth.

Now there are three broad areas of technology influencing the arts that really excite me: the creation of art digitally, the wonderful opportunities for the distribution of culture, and the collection and sharing of data.

Digital art

At the Art 14 fair at Olympia recently, I noticed a couple of artists called Rob and Nick Carter who do brilliant video art that looks like a painting. Every now and again it animates and a butterfly floats across the screen.

I am allowed to have three of the 7500 pieces of art in the Arts Council’s collection in my office and one of those pieces is by the artist Julian Opie, the man behind the famous cover for the Blur: The Best of album.

I have a computer display screen mounted on my wall like a picture; it is called Fiona. She is currently blinking at me. Now she has raised her eyebrows – and, if I play my cards right, she might just smile… ah, she’s smiled. If you look at it only for a short while, you get the impression that she is reacting to you.

The digital distribution of culture

The National Theatre (NT) currently has the greatest Shakespearean actor of our age, Simon Russell Beale, giving a brilliant portrayal of King Lear. They put that on NT Live [which broadcasts performances live to cinemas], so instead of  being watched by 300 to 400 people in the Olivier Theatre, the play could be watched by 100,000 people, not just in Britain, but around the world. That’s a wonderful thing.

I’m a bit suspicious of the term co-creation – it sounds a bit cool and trendy, but describes something we have been doing forever.

I don’t use the word convergence, because I believe it is a bit of a cliché and I’m not entirely sure what it means, but I do like to see pieces of creative intellectual property exploited across as many media as possible.

The distribution of arts content digitally is a great opportunity that we just did not have 20 years ago.

Data collection

If you simply ask the audience what sort of shows they want, you end up with Snakes on a Plane. Danny Boyle was needed to create a vision for a great show for the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

You don’t do that through data, you need a great creative vision for it – but you still need data to sell
the tickets.

A lot of the video and lighting designers who took part in the production of the Olympics opening ceremony cut their teeth on theatre, opera and dance productions.

I’m intrigued by virtual-reality technology such as Oculus Rift. Clever use of set design in opera and theatre is already using what you would call virtual-reality techniques to create virtual sets which are actually video images.

It is ridiculous to be didactic and say that an individual or a team produces the best creativity – it could be either.

I’m also a bit suspicious of the term co-creation – it sounds a bit cool and trendy, but describes something we have been doing forever. Co-creation is how advertising has always worked, and the King James Bible, which, after Shakespeare, is the greatest work of literature in the English language, was created by a committee.