It’s obvious – guest post by Bryan Mathers


It’s obvious

It’s obvious. Any sensible person can see that…

It may be obvious to you, but it took me a while to realise that how I see the world is not how others see it. (And not just because I’m remarkably tall). No two eyes are the same. Therefore, no two eyes see colour the same; or rather no two brains see colour the same. Yet our conspiracy of convenience allows us to say blue and expect others to know what we mean by that four-letter descriptor.

(Having said that, there was no word for blue in Ancient Greek, and classical Welsh had no words for brown, grey, blue or green...)

And what a conspiracy it is, as we blindly assume that people see and think and feel the same blue as we do. As I do. Maybe it’s hardwired by a group-focused education system which insists that kids of a similar age are expected to know similar stuff, perform and behave in similar ways, and see blue as just blue. But it’s a fundamental cognitive error: we think that what our brains tells us about the world is how the world actually is.

It’s obvious. Any sensible <insert bias flags here: -educated-like-me -privileged-like-me -white-like-me -funny-like-me -brought-up-like-me -damaged-like-me> person can see that…

Since the early days of Visual Thinkery, I’ve been releasing my artwork under a Creative Commons no-derivatives licence. My rationale was that others shouldn’t really change the artwork because they weren’t there when it was getting created. They didn’t hear what I heard. They didn’t see what I saw.

It’s also tempting to limit remixing of artwork depending on the remixer-in-question’s skill. Yes, you can tinker with my artwork, so long as you know how to create pretty digital stuff.

However, it has only recently occurred to me that what’s of real value is the remixer’s perspective, and what appears as obvious to them from that perspective.

Recently I started to experiment with a way to create artwork that anyone could remix. But also to add creative restraint – where there’s only a few parameters open to tinkering, but which doesn’t restrict in terms of pixel-pushing skills.

Here’s what I’ve found to be a wonderful thing when allowing others to remix a creation. When people remix my thinkery, they create in ways I don’t expect; ways that were obvious to them.

In the last few months, I’ve used the term “remixable SVG” so much, it has become an in-joke in the We Are Open workers co-op I’m a member of. But I’m genuinely excited about creating participatory artwork, that others can remix, use and share. Here are two examples from this blog post:

“Paintone” – can be remixed here:

“OER” – can be remixed here:

To allow remixing of your work is to say “I am open to the opportunity of what’s obvious to someone else.”

I’m really looking forward to OER18 – to meet up with the community that taught me about the Commons and about remixing.

But what will you create? You don’t need to be different, because maybe what’s obvious to you, isn’t really that obvious to others.

About Bryan Mathers…

Bryan is the founder of Visual Thinkery, and co-founder of We Are Open Co-operative. He has a head for programming, a hand that draws, a listening ear, and a heart for social justice. He is happiest when making something.

You can see more of his visual thinkery on his blog or on Twitter.