Monthly Archives: November 2011

Hinge-point: the social media and technology revolution in the art world

“Hinge-point: the social media and technology revolution in the art world”

Originally published in Art of England, Issue 65, 2010. Reproduced with permission.

Recently, I went to an exhibit of a friend, who with colleagues, produced a piece called “Cases” using iPod videos as an installation probing the nature of health and the senses – son et lumière for the iPod generation. Their work resonated with thoughts I’d been having of the impact of new technology on art. Art and technology have always been linked, but it seemed to me as I looked at the iPod videos and listened to the eight different ‘cases’, that something potentially more disruptive might be on the horizon.

What interests me is that new and emerging technologies enable art to be made by a wider range of people, through a social-democratising, accessible and open process. “Who is the artist?” becomes a very interesting question.

Some food for thought…

Commuters crowd many corridors across the city during the morning rush-hour, all is hustle and bustle. Their sighs, words, movements, are captured by sensors, and translated into real-time images which animate the otherwise naked walls. The work is called “I’m thinking of you right now”.

My hand flicks, a gesture in space, and a coloured beam races across a wall embedded with nano-particle sized LEDs. I toss the Wii-Art wand into the air and another light curve spreads across the ceiling. The room will remember what I have done, but I can always change it later.

The 3D printer buzzes on the table beside me, chunks and bumps while a 3D sculpture takes shape made of polymers, resins and colouring. I have created a probably impossible object from samples of space that I bundled together with my smartphone camera and downloaded to my computer.

Slouching in my comfy chair, I put on the headset to have my thoughts read. I call up the latest issue of Art of England on my Plastic Logic e-reader. The computer records what I am thinking and produces a picture which I can play with later, or print out on canvas. Apparently, some people still use paint – how yesterday!

The artificial intelligence, called Alicia, shares my likes and dislikes. Alicia is my writing buddy and editor as I work on my next novel; she has a real instinct for narrative. My friend’s AI, he calls his Boris, is a painter and together they are an artist collaborative. Alicia apparently wrote Boris a poem. Should I be jealous?

One hundred people link their smartphones and flash-art a sunset, capturing what they see and collectively producing a single painting from 100 different perspectives at the same time. The image appears on YouTube and is viewed by 100 million people. 100,000 people buy the image for a pound.

I am less concerned with how artists today are using technology. Artists always adopt and test out new technologies, e.g. watercolour, acrylic paint, plastics, video, computer animation, digital printers, PhotoShop or GIMP, and so on.

What is significant is that new and emerging technologies lower the costs and time of art-making, and reducing these hurdles increases accessibility for people who in the past found the existing technologies (of paint, canvas, stone, clay) formidable. I think we’re at a hinge-point in art and art-making because of this and which could radically alter what we think of as the ‘art world’.

In the end, anyone can be an artist. Technologies will facilitate creativity to enable more people to have artistic expression. The Web and social media make collective art-making possible as we move beyond individual authorship. There will be implications for art schools – whom and what they teach; commissioning bodies — whom they support; galleries – what they are like; and artists – what they are for.

And the meaning of art will change. Art is often thought of as special, in public places, commissioned, housed in galleries where you can’t touch, exclusive, remote. Art can be obscure, requiring specialist interpretation; it is often inaccessible and mute to the majority of people. Through technologies, art will become embedded in the fabric of our lives; it will be ambient and ubiquitous. It will be social and shared as much as individual. By democratising art and art-making, new technologies and social media will make it more important and relevant.

Please touch the painting.

Frankenfolks can be artists too!

“Frankenfolks” can be artists too!”

Originally published in Art of England, Issue 86, 2011. Reproduced with permission.

Are older people curiosities, especially the long-lived? Do we see them as ‘marvellous’ simply for their fact of survival. Perhaps instead, we trap others in the medico-social web of nursing homes, expensive end-of-life care, and dependency on others. Perhaps old people become ‘Frankenfolks’, as Margaret Morganroth Gullette wrote recently in her book on ageism.

Working as I do in the health arena, but a painter as such, her comments drew my attention. Figuring out what her comments mean entails coming to grips with something else she wrote: “Sometimes pop culture looks like nothing more than a giant machine for excreting ageism.”

Certainly less than a century ago, the average life expectancy was 40 years, death of children was expected; today neither is true, with life expectancy of a healthy person being at least to the mid 90s. Furthermore, most of us will not pass our final days in nursing or care homes. And despite doom-laden predictions of rising cancers and metabolic disorders, most people should expect healthy ageing and natural death. So much for the good news.

The departure of Cy Twombly is a timely opportunity to reflect on all his work, and how it evolved, and challenged us as he himself moved through the phases of his life. All long-lived artists evolve, some like Picasso were condemned in old age for what was seen as inferior work by people with short memories.

We all have life trajectories, and some are acutely aware of the process of personal evolution and seek to reinvent themselves over and over again. Others, whose lives may be more tied to the corporate business cycle may just stop when they hit a ‘retirement age’. Regardless of personal life experiences, ignoring the evolving talent potential of ‘older folk’ echoes ageism.

I’ve noted in other writing the dismal performance of the UK’s art schools. It is also worth noting that while an arts education is a wonderful thing in and of itself, few arts graduates actually make a career out of their studies. And this at the expense of art schools themselves becoming engines of creative expression for the whole of society regardless of age. Like pop culture, art schools also seem to be engines of ageism.

There may be a reason for this. For some, art history is broadly linear; this is a typical western approach, that present perceptions replace past perceptions, a sort of movement from/to. Other cultures see all history as living in the present, so art movements of the past also speak to the present: Sumi-e for example. Can abstract expressionism, described as dated by some, be relevant – no sooner had abstract expressionism burst upon the scene, pop artists were claiming it was obsolete. Really?

The point here is a simple one and betrays the superficial approach to creativity that abounds in the art world and that fosters ageism, namely, that new art replaces old art, and when an art ‘style’ has been replaced, it has no more to say to us. In that respect, we are always looking for the ‘shock of the new’, like Matisse’s gouaches découpés, themselves his response to ageing.

Is everything before transformed, as newness forces us to reassess everything that went before, and must we then consign it to the bins of the history of art?

What can Malevich, or the Futurists, say of relevance to ourselves in our 21st century angst when no sooner are we tweeted than we’ve moved on to the ‘next big thing’. And the next big thing is showing his or her work at some dodgy art school of middling quality at taxpayer’s expense, hoping to shock you with some edgy work of marginal interest (this sentence could go on and on….)

And so we never notice that we are drawn to the specious moment, in our search for that euphoria of artistic discovery, a type of addictive behaviour overwhelms, which always needs a fix. In this way the conditions for ageism in art are created. QED.