On Retroactively Changing Art Via Digital Technology

By Justin Galle

For years now, video game/software developers have been changing and enhancing their products via downloadable fixes known as patches. Though there are exceptions, this is normally seen as a good thing. Software developers find objective errors in their product, and they release an objective correction to those errors for free. This is an inherently pro-consumer practice.

Where retroactively changing a product becomes confusing is when the fixes are no longer objectively good. It’s impossible to always tell what’s right from what’s wrong when it comes to art. Recent technological advances have enabled artists to revisit earlier work and add “fixes” to them. Sometimes, however, an audience may completely disagree that published work needs to be fixed.

A particularly egregious example of an artist tampering with his own work is when George Lucas took his original Star Wars trilogy and added CGI and other addenda to the narrative. I personally could have done without ever seeing this, though Lucas stands by his changes.

More recently, musical genius/fashion-forward man-child Kanye West released his latest album The Life of Pablo, then immediately afterward Tweeted “Ima fix wolves”, referring to the song “Wolves” on the record.

Kanye not only changed the song that had been on the streaming platform Tidal, he continued to make other changes for months afterward. His label Def Jam described the project as “… a living, evolving art project.” If I cared at all about Kanye’s music, I might find this idea really interesting.

And of course, since I am writing this for a social media class, I must mention J.K. Rowling adding to her Harry Potter universe directly via Twitter:

Source: @jk_rowling on Twitter

The real question is whether or not it’s alright for artists to do this. Does the art forever belong to the creator? Should it be malleable and ever-changing? Or once art is released, does it belong to the public?

I do quite enjoy the idea of Dumbledore posthumously being outed as gay. He was well-spoken and well-dressed, so why not? But some Kanye fans seem to actually enjoy earlier versions of his album more than the new versions, and I personally despise George Lucas’ changes to the Star Wars films, which could potentially live forever as the definitive versions.

With new media and new ideas, these questions become more complicated to me. I find myself having difficulty in answering them, though if I do come up with a definite opinion, I’ll be sure to add an addendum to this blog.


Gardler, R. (2013). What is a software patch?. Oss-watch.ac.uk. Retrieved 17 October 2016, from http://oss-watch.ac.uk/resources/softwarepatch

(2016). Vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net. Retrieved 17 October 2016, from http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/starwars/images/b/bd/Hot_Lips_Snootles.png/revision/latest?cb=20130331034108

Maicki,S. (2016). Here Are All the Changes Made to Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” So Far. Complex. Retrieved 17 October 2016, from http://www.complex.com/music/2016/04/kanye-west-the-life-of-pablo-changes

KANYE WEST on Twitter. (2016). Twitter. Retrieved 17 October 2016, from https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/698971890581401600

Hawkes, R. (2015). JK Rowling’s brilliant response to fan who asked ‘why is Dumbledore gay?’ . Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 17 October 2016, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/harry-potter/11493611/JK-Rowlings-brilliant-response-to-fan-who-asked-why-is-Dumbledore-gay.html


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Class members of the social media class in the Mayborn School of Journalism