My head hurts

Okay, so that’s the pgpd out of the way. I loved doing all the reading for mine but am a bit unhappy with the end result. I feel like I’ve learned lots though. And it’s got me wanting to read more theory. I’ve also begun to think that writing this blog is becoming very important in the process of actualising my thoughts and taking them from vague mumblings toward genuine orientation. So, I’ve found myself sitting with the seeds of a few thoughts/questions that I want to write down here, so I can see how they look on paper (sorry, screen) as much as anything. Some might either be obvious or plain wrong, but I want to get a bit more of a grasp of how these things fit together.

Nicholas Bourriaud argues that modernism never died, it just shifted shape and found a new dream. Read this PDF to get a fuller idea. It’s a decent chunk of his very useful, if slightly full of itself book Relational Aesthetics.

Here’s Bourriaud’s definition of art, found in the glossary at the back Relational Aesthetics.

1. General term describing a set of objects presented as part of a narrative known as art history. This narrative draws up the critical genealogy and discusses the issues raised by these objects, by way of three sub sets: painting, sculpture, architecture.
2. Nowadays, the word “art” seems to be no more than a semantic leftover of this narrative, whose more accurate definition would read as follows: Art is an activity consisting in producing relationships with the world with the help of signs, forms, actions and objects.

In the main body of the book he builds up a picture of art as a game where the main playing arena is the mind, the viewer’s own experience. He makes reference to the Phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty along the way. It transpires I must read some of this guy’s work. He had many thoughts about language and related issues. Phenomenology, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is ‘the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view.’ Art viewed phenomenologically becomes – instead of a static object – an experience waiting to be completed. This isn’t a new idea. Bourriaud quotes Duchamp’s lecture The Creative Act which argues “All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.”

So, if art is a game and the definition of the word art is open to change, how is it changing? I’ve suddenly got a feeling that there’s soon going to be a massive paradigm shift of how art is made, seen and thought about on the horizon the likes of which hasn’t been seen for 90 odd years. I’m really posting most of this stuff here more because I’m asking myself the questions than wanting to make a big statement, but I do think they add up to the likelihood of interesting changes. If anyone reading this has any comments (including ones clubbing me over the head with the munter stick) please do e-mail me.

Anyway, here are the reasons:

  1. We’re still digesting the full implications of Web 2.0: Wikinomics Folksonomy, Creative Commons, networked, participatory web experiences in general. These things are all going to change the world outside of the internet as well as the internet itself. They’re also going to change the way we view the world and consequently the way artists view the world. Ergo…?
  2. 17 year olds can’t even remember ZX Spectrums and Commodore 64s. They weren’t alive when people actually used them. How sick is that? We’re on the cusp of a generation of adults who’ve always had pentium computers. There are going to be less and less people who opt out of using computers because they’ll barely know anything else. So we’ll have very computer savvy users. Sophisticated users make for sophisticated demands on the Human Computer Interface front. Demand will be satisfied sooner or later.
  3. Increasingly, users are the people who can satisfy this demand as much as big corporations. I’m looking at learning Processing. You can use Processing to make pretty data heavy interactive animations and applications. When people as (relatively) technically inept as I am can use things like that, it might be time to run for the hills. Imagination will meet with technical ability in new ways. Where is it going to stop, though? And where did it start? Another thing this means is that there’s going to be a lot of rubbish to sift through. If almost everyone is an author, what happens to the reader?
  4. The blurring of the boundaries of art experiences. Often television can look like art, art can look like a bowl of soup, a bowl of soup can look like a urinal, a urinal can look like, well, like it was way ahead of its time. Does anyone even care anymore what art is or isn’t? When people stop caring about this boundary, what does art do? Where does it go? What does it become? If this boundary continues to blur, what will happen to galleries?
  5. The internet has barely gotten started, in an art context at least. It’s still in its incunabular phase. Lots of internet art is still awful (At least I think so) and doesn’t follow basic rules that should have been learned from art history. Some of it remains at the level of gadget. Bourriaud talks about technological advances influencing the way artists think but having little effect on the materials they use; meaning he thinks the effects of current change can be seen in non internet based art. But internet art is going to grow up soon enough. Then what?
  6. The long tail. This is the idea that business is changing because space is changing. A jukebox can hold hundreds of thousands of songs instead of merely hundreds. I buy music and books from Amazon because they have all the obscure stuff I want. Now I pretty much only buy obscure stuff. Shops would often box me in to buying more mainstream records and books. I’m not sure how, but they did. What this means is that all of the obscure, cultish stuff put together adds up to something bigger than the mainstream in a way that was never true previously. The thing that I’m curious about with the Long Tail is, what does it mean for the small time artist, musician or film maker? It’s great for Amazon, but what about us? The long tail only really means anything when all of the content is put together in one accessible place, like iTunes, or Amazon. Looking at point 3, though, it’s bound to mean something in terms of the variety of things produced.
  7. Whenever there are new technological advances afoot, art changes too. The printing press and the multitude of advances around the turn of the 20th century are prime examples. Do current advances compare with those?
  8. Tightening spirals of progression. We’re getting faster at getting faster. We’re also getting faster at understanding how things are getting faster. There’s just too much media coverage out there and too many people gabbling on about pretty much anything. Another question: Is time moving more quickly, in the context of art progression? Is time linear when thought of in terms of art history? What happens to it when so many things are being discussed? Many years ago, stories grew very slowly over hundreds of years and would be told by many storytellers. Progress was slow. Do we cover the more ‘mileage’ in less linear time now? Is that mileage of the same quality? Or is everything being stretched too thin?

I’m not suggesting that painting, sculpture, printmaking etc will disappear. They won’t. But it seems so obvious something utterly mental is going to happen very soon on the art scene that there’s almost no point writing this post. I’m also not saying any future change will necessarily be focused on the internet. It will be profoundly influenced by it though.

Also, of what is this paradigm shift likely to consist? Or am I just totally wrong? None of the above is particularly new, and there’s stuff I’ve missed, but what does it all mean? I think I’m going to have to leave that for another day.

PS – I quite liked this video. It’s about the development of web 2.0 and is by a Cultural Anthropologist called Michael Wesch. Not sure what to make of the implications though. They’re actually pretty well documented by now, I think, but I’m still digesting it all. The thousand odd words above should make that pretty clear, though, right?

PPS – Has anyone read any good books dealing with all of this stuff?

PPPS – Completely beside the point but does anyone else feel like that whole baddies are the goodies are all in a confusing moral universe skit has gotten a bit old? Just watched a bit of Heroes and it was even more ridiculous than usual. Very tired and predictably unpredictable. And why do none of these people have utterly useless powers? I want one of them to do something with jam or something.

Category thinking aloud | Tags: ,,,,,,,,

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1 Comment so far
  1. by Libby

    On November 1, 2008 at 2:42 pm

One Response to “My head hurts”

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