Sunday, November 7, 2010

Part One - Where do we go from here?

So much for being on top of things! Lucky for you all I did not post the first of a three part installment essay on how social media has influenced and affected the visual arts (besides the obvious) because as I went through my stack of magazines, the Editor’s Letter of the November 2010 issue of W (that is not a political mag, it is a full version of Women’s Wear Daily) was almost point for point my same perspective. Their version was oriented towards international changes whereas I was strictly thinking locally but I was pleased to see that I am not imagining things.  The issue in question is the annual issue devoted to the visual arts. I will bring it to the studio for anyone who wishes to see what passes for “art” these days. Poor Canton, we are so 20 years ago. Who knew that painting a nude Kim Car/ - / E / in all silver then photographing her ample behind qualifies as a groundbreaking statement piece?  18 years ago, I had a dead Japanese maple in my front yard so I spray painted it silver. That thing drew attention for two years until it finally blew over and was composted. So many gullible people believed me when I told them it was a rare Japanese silver maple tree. Duh!

 I still want to make my own points about social media influences so I reworked by original premise to incorporate the bigger picture of life outside of our county. So below begins part 1 -----

The aspect of how social media affects the arts has finally hit me. I am not talking about the ease of the submission process, the ability to send out announcements and invites, or the increase in sales due to online resources; I am refereeing to how the process of art has become a group effort. Now bear with me on this, I am not being critical of the change or judging this development as being good or bad, right or wrong, I am just making note of what is a social or cultural shift in the concept of being an “artist”. Perhaps my revelation is the result of age or a new awareness now that my own circumstances have shifted, so allow me the chance to explain my observation and you can judge for yourself when all is said and done.

First, a bit of perspective; I have been in this business a long time. Like most artists, we know what we want to be from a very young age and like all good students of our career, begin researching it as soon as we can read. Therefore, since we learned to read back in Kindergarten at age 5 (none of this Baby Einstein crap for us), that would make me a 45 year student of the arts. Earliest recollections are drawing along with John Nagy on TV (whose books I still have to this day) and attending the original Case Mansion in Canton when it was the Art Institute.  Continuing through High School (dropped out of those lame art classes to go to college ones as soon as the ink on the driver’s license was dry), college, grad school, and enough additional accumulation of credit hours to qualify for a second graduate degree, (too much paperwork to make the effort), and over 100 national shows, I will defend my position to say that I think I know what I am talking about.  What I see happening in the arts is definitely a cultural shift that is not an anomaly, but a trend here to stay based on the development of social networking and its influence on the younger generation of artists who are now making their presence known on the scene. (Just why do we call it an art scene anyway?)

Now we have to take a moment to discuss the “social media” influence to which I will be referring. To call the web based connection sites an addiction would be correct. Clinical studies show that areas of our brain affected by gambling for example are also stimulated when someone is gaming, chatting and otherwise actively engaged on a computer based interactive system. I will pick on good old Facebook since this electronic world is still confusing to me and like a daily calcium pill (getting old is a bitch ladies), something I must tolerate but not have to like. These socially interactive sites allow for fast and easy communications, the sharing of ideas and plans that used to be done in person, by land line or even the dreaded letter! Art is no longer a solitary activity. But before I get into my argument, we have to go back to how things used to be in order to see where things are going.

Obviously there will be exceptions to everything, so suffice to say that my conclusions exclude the major
movements and media darlings which get all the art history press. Let us focus on the nuts and bolts type of artists, those who work at their craft but must still maintain a “real” day to day job in order to survive as an artist at all. That “real job” may be in the arts such as a teacher, curator, designer etc. where the production of one’s signature work is not part of the daily routine which pays the bills. Before the world wide web of wonders, artists generally worked alone or in small clusters in co-op studios, enclaves, and/or classrooms exploring different ideas and processes towards the goal of developing a body of work for exhibition.  Feedback came from immediate friends, other artists and professors who could view the actual work and were knowledgeable about the production process. An artist used that feedback to change course, push themselves and strive to achieve even greater pieces.  We were taught to write down a plan for 5 years, 10 years, 15 years and finally 20 years, a list of goals to get us through a generation.  What did we want? How do we get there? What do I need to have done by each deadline? What will I do when I get there? We were instructed to think ahead, sacrifice, save, and develop a network (of live people) that could mentor us as time went by.  First and foremost, as a fine artist in the genre of making individual pieces, was the goal of having a solo show.  Sometimes we would team up for a dual show and at most, 4 or 5 people in the same gallery space, showing their own work. This does still happen so don’t be snorting at me just yet, things have not changed all that much in some regards.  Artists who are from my generation and those before me, my mentors and professors, still follow this plan. We are not computer dependent or socially dependent upon the computer to define us as artists, let alone as people.  To quote Arthur Lubow in the article “Ryan’s Web” from the above issue….”The twentysomething artist uses video and computer technology to create work that is ‘of, by, and for the Internet’,”  a concept that leaves me wondering if these people are artists, technicians, videographers or what? Let me ask you a question, as a visual artist with talent in your hands, your eye, and your ability to create something tangible, how do you feel about this? After all, if the electrical grid were to suddenly collapse, then what? Ryan T., the artist, says “he looks forward to a time when people no longer distinguish between their technology and their humanity” in which case my friends..God, help us all.
To be continued…… (at my word limit, sorry, stay tuned for Part Two later this week...)

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