State of the Arts – the internet’s poetic humanity

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Is it crazy to want the internet to have a poetic humanity?

“Being ignored is the new avant garde.” I wish I could say that I said this but in fact it was someone I do not know on a Facebook thread engaged in a discussion about the existential practice of art making in the 21st century. I say existential because at this point where everything is valued by market share and celebrity endorsement, it seems to me that making art without the goal of global phenomenon is an outright act of dissent and provocation. Why do you make your work? Is it for yourself? For the sake of just making it? Is it because it just matters that you do? Is it something you can’t help?

How dare you? To work without the approval of the market place or the gatekeepers of taste makes you a renegade. What can be problematic for me is that I don’t believe in making work for the sake of making work. I actually think that art should connect with a greater society that is also grappling with how to interpret the world. You’d think I should be right in there with my Weebly site, instagramming every time I pick up a brush, putting my work on Etsy and agreeing that making money isn’t evil or tawdry but good for me.

I won’t. I won’t because what I once thought was a great route to making the world a better and more creative place to live has now just become one big corporate love in. An image on instagram is actually just content for instagram; a company that is worth billions but only employs something like 30 people. While I enjoy the experience of social media and seeing the great creativity that exists all over the world I do so with bittersweet feelings. We are not necessarily helping ourselves with all this sharing; we are providing content in order to provide stock dividends. The kind of content you provide used to cost companies thousands of dollars to create. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t providing a service. While we use these platforms as if they have an inherent eye on our needs and good will, we are in fact padding someone’s pocket, possibly the very people that we rail against on our daily posts.

My studio in the woods. I still contend it was a radical move to become rural in the digital age.
My studio in the woods. I still contend it was a radical move to become rural in this digital age.

Twitter and Facebook et al only improve their algorithms and platform capabilities dependant on the demand from their investors, not because the improvements are a good idea.  In fact meeting consumer satisfaction no longer ranks as a motivation to improve anything. However if we were an intricate web of techno-literate communities instead of consumers I think we may have had a better chance at making all these things work for us. We learned to read, we should learn to understand technological language and advancement.

There are routes out of this quagmire. Using these platforms and the internet in your art making practice is a good idea if you are fully aware of its many pitfalls. First of all there is no silver bullet. You can’t just get a Flickr account and think that you will be famous and have curators vying for your work.  While you may have been a working artist for decades and successful, your work and your you-ness may not translate online. The most sparkly artists and creative types online are those who can write, have good imagery, share sparingly and strategically and have a very good sense of humour.  I admire those that use the platforms to organize; share ideas and articles that inspire, are helpful and show a great dignity toward the true process of creativity. Knowing how to be ‘public’ helps and not many artists are great at that. I can’t imagine Van Gogh posting emoticons for half finished canvases or the whore houses he visited.

This brings me to that great quote above: being ignored in this realm of “10,000 contacts”* seems oddly defiant. Not participating in daily ‘art challenges’ and posts reacting to abused animals is now almost radical. Having a strong, activist strategy about being online could be what wrests corporate culture from the stranglehold it has on creativity. It also helps those of us who are uncomfortable with all this happy sharing. We want to see the internet have a poetic humanity – not so crazy sounding if you put it into practice.

* from the article  The Death of the Artist and the birth of the Creative Entrepreneur

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7 thoughts on “State of the Arts – the internet’s poetic humanity”

  1. Recently a post-your-art challenge/chain letter has been circulating on Facebook. I saw the work of my friends appear — post three images a day for five days and nominate a friend to do the same each day. Days went by filled with glorious art work, but none of my friends nominated me. “Don’t they think of me as an artist?”, I dismayed. As the flurry of art posts continued I was overwhelmed by the number of images. “Over posting” seems to be the new norm. I cancelled notifications from groups I previously enjoyed because there was just too much to look at. I started to feel relief that I hadn’t been chosen. At the end of last week, a friend nominated me to take the challenge. I declined. I will do my art-making according to my goals and ideas. (I am one of those people who really does make art for myself). Sometimes I have opportunities to show publicly, but not often. In the meantime, I will post work in progress, and finished work when it feels right, and to remind my friends that I’m still around, still making. And in so doing, I find myself a part of the new avante-garde, happily ignored.

    1. Thanks for your thinking and comment. Perhaps we should all be more hesitant when it comes to sharing if only because we are not the masters of the medium we are using. As artists, we need to be in charge of what we do and sometimes I get a little paranoid about how social media pushes us away from that control. Or does it? I am still debating even as I write such things as my blog. For me it has always paid to be careful. I envy artists who make work for themselves, I believe that is perhaps the best way to go. I’m just to darn showy and opinionated to be like that. We all have our issues and mine are plenty. LOL

      1. I like to think that my approach is now being deemed “avante garde” but the truth is, I made the decision to work for myself early on.
        I realized, shortly after finishing school and having a few shows, that I didn’t the scene. When one is starting out, group shows are the norm. I felt that fitting my work to prescribed themes felt a lot like school projects. It was never my best work and I always felt either stifled, like I was faking something, but always disappointed. It didn’t take me long to realize that to do the work I felt I wanted or, more accurately, needed to do to satisfy myself I couldn’t worry about making what would sell or what fit the parameters of some proposal or other. I decided that I would do other work to pay the bills, and do my art work for me. Sometimes I show, sometimes I sell.
        Now, twenty five years after making that decision, I am unemployed and thinking it might be a good idea to make some work specifically with the intent to sell. So, will I turn to social media and other on-line marketing tools?
        Yeah, probably. After all, considering the situation, I have to ask myself what is to be gained by not participating — high ideals don’t count for all that much at the bank. 🙂

  2. ‘Liking’ something has obviously replaced the effort it takes to respond thoughtfully in words – the same can be said for displaying images ad nauseum likewise without any attempt at explanation or personal context. To me it all amounts to a global perception that we can be no more active in community or world circumstances than non-participants at a sporting event. It’s sad to think of the possibility that saying nothing or not making oneself present is a valid form of activism. Nevertheless I keep asking myself “what is the worst that could happen if artists simply didn’t show…?
    Keep your thoughtful comments coming, Vic, you’re an oasis in the desert.

  3. I enjoyed your article, which of course is utilizing social media for personal gain as well as the greater good. The reality is that we are as vulnerable to the contamination by the mainstream as we are propelled by collective spirit. Finding an intelligent balance is a worthy, idealistic goal.

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