I’ve been coming to terms with what feels like a fact; the ways we have learned to take in info through digital platforms has issued a challenge to anyone making any sort of art now.
I’m a great believer that to put your head in the sand and create in outmoded styles, because they fit your current way of seeing the world, is to fail to do the proper job of an artist and stretch your head so that it’s big enough to appreciate and communicate the new phenomena of our times. In fifty years, I bet it’s the people who went with the difficult path and didn’t get much public appreciation for their apparently incomprehensible output, who will be seen as the real ground-breakers and prophets. That’s what I’d rather be, anyway, though I’m maybe being idealistic.
One of the biggest changes of now is the way the internet has made loads of stuff accessible all the time. There’s a lot of writing around just now in magazines about people being scared of what’s happening to our heads as a result of this connectivity. People have always been scared of new technologies (Victorians thinking their blood would boil if they went faster than 30mph etc.) but it’s a given that our brains are learning new behaviours. I’m not averse to this, but I think it’s having an impact on both the form and content of art works (including literature, music etc).
Formally – because we’re skitting around between lots of information as a habit (realising a postmodern ideal?) and we can rely on the person consuming our creative output to have access to related media. They can look things up on wikipedia, they can follow links, they can see what other people who saw this also watched etc. I feel that the boundaries of an art work have become more blurred than ever because of this linkedness. I think also it’s breaking down boundaries between traditional artforms (a process already underway pre-internet, for sure).
Contentwise – because one of the side effects of having access to every view or culture under the sun, especially on user-generated platforms like youtube, is that everything seems very provisional and relative. Taking a permanent position, isn’t very easy to pull off in the context of a whirl of data and contradiction only a click away. I’m sensing there’s a retreat from work that asserts strong positions, that makes claims for individual superiority, genius, or that believes confidently in its ability to communicate a precise message.
I think people have developed an aesthetics of multiplicity and there’s often a sense in art work of being immersed in infinite data or something. I like writing like this which plays with all these different voices, sometimes like my friend Colin Herd’s poetry (see my links) lifting speech verbatim out of the ether(net). I say I like writing like that, but I admit it took me a while to even begin to see what might be done with it rather than just baffle me.
I came across this art-work online by Rafael Rozendaal the other day which harks back to that nostalgic hinterland of early computer graphics. It’s basically a sort of 3-D colourful maze which you can mindlessly scroll around in a happy haze. Although the look of it is retro, the artist is very interested in the ‘space of the browser’ as a site for images and also in the interaction we can have in the form of the internet. This is a total example of someone letting the new forms available dictate, bravely, how they create, I think. Also, interestingly, I came across the work on an online artfair, where it was being offered for sale alongside actual physical artworks. I think that’s one of the challenges for an artist these days. Fine, make art that’s online, but will anyone actually literally buy it? It’s a similar challenge, perhaps, to the ones facing music and film with regard to free or cheap download culture. Mind you, seen from a different perspective, it’s a challenge to the big grip of Capitalism. If creativity no longer functions as commodity, then where does that leave things. Good luck to those stuck in the hinterland in the meantime. May I be adventurous enough to have a look in my own works, even if it means no one pays me