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.
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