Digital Technology is Not the End of Artistic Trends

by Art Fag City on December 21, 2009 · 28 comments Events

POST BY: PADDY JOHNSON
Angry LOLcat. Image via: Icanhascheezburger?

The Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout thinks future generations will consider itunes, youtube, and Kindle a more important cultural development than anything it distributes. He’s right to point out the huge change these technologies have brought, but hosting services and art aren’t comparable. Flickr would not exist without users, or to put it the analogue way, museums are not more important than the painting. After all, the building’s very existence relies on the production of work.

Teachout cites Hip Hop as the last true artistic trend, a contentious statement for a number of reasons. I’d argue that while diverse, Internet mash-up culture, LOLcat memes, and youtube video responses and remakes, are distinct enough in form to label as a significant and distinct “artistic trend” of the twenty-first century.  Interestingly, the rationale provided by Teachout for lack of trends — that nothing lasts — is also a defining characteristic of the web. Littered with defunct blogs, websites, and youtube channels, the Internet is simultaneously fascinating and dreary in its endless archiving of abandoned crap.

But not every point made misses the mark. “Our culture was always more diverse than media let on…”, writes Teachout, an idea of some merit. Sure, Twitter demonstrates a sameness to all this “original” communication, but we still now consume vastly different cultural material.  Arts Writers grant awardee Gene McHugh provides an excellent example of this in a recent essay, reflecting on a recent attempt to sing campfire songs with friends that failed after the group discovered no one knew the same music. Interestingly, the piece also cites artist Ryan Trecartin’s videos featuring strange characters complaining about their lack of identity as a unifying voice amongst those of his generation (or at least his friend circle). McHugh is 27.

  • http://ghostfuk3r.com ghostfuk3r

    the “artistic trend” was staring right back at the author of this article’s face – and it went unnoticed.

  • http://ghostfuk3r.com ghostfuk3r

    the “artistic trend” was staring right back at the author of this article’s face – and it went unnoticed.

  • http://www.ianaleksanderadams.com Ian Aleksander Adams

    I haven’t read the article, but on my gut feeling is that this might be a “medium/message” thing. Certainly youtube, flickr, and so on have their own culture and lend themselves to certain modes of expression as distrobution mediums.

    I don’t think there is a lack of trends, personally – everything just goes faster. You can almost chart out the development and competition of some memes.

  • http://www.ianaleksanderadams.com Ian Aleksander Adams

    I haven’t read the article, but on my gut feeling is that this might be a “medium/message” thing. Certainly youtube, flickr, and so on have their own culture and lend themselves to certain modes of expression as distrobution mediums.

    I don’t think there is a lack of trends, personally – everything just goes faster. You can almost chart out the development and competition of some memes.

  • http://artblog.net Franklin

    I’d argue that while diverse, Internet mash-up culture, LOLcat memes, and youtube video responses and remakes, are distinct enough in form to label as a significant and distinct “artistic trend” of the twenty-first century.

    The scare quotes prove him right.

  • http://artblog.net Franklin

    I’d argue that while diverse, Internet mash-up culture, LOLcat memes, and youtube video responses and remakes, are distinct enough in form to label as a significant and distinct “artistic trend” of the twenty-first century.

    The scare quotes prove him right.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    You’ll need to provide a little more substantive feedback to make that point. I think it’s ridiculous to claim itunes is a more important artistic development than whatever it hosts. Putting quotes around those trends doesn’t challenge that notion. itunes is software not art. It wasn’t developed by artists nor was there any artistic intent. It was produced by a commercial enterprise with the intent to make money.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    You’ll need to provide a little more substantive feedback to make that point. I think it’s ridiculous to claim itunes is a more important artistic development than whatever it hosts. Putting quotes around those trends doesn’t challenge that notion. itunes is software not art. It wasn’t developed by artists nor was there any artistic intent. It was produced by a commercial enterprise with the intent to make money.

  • http://artblog.net Franklin

    He didn’t say that iTunes was art – he said it was a cultural development, and pointedly distinguishes that and other distribution mechanisms from a work of creative art. I loves me some LOLkitteh, but I don’t liken it to the power, influence, or expressive range of rap. He’s correct that no musical form has come forward since then that is both novel and compelling enough to galvanize a movement, and art has been in this boat since the early Eighties. Instead we have micro-trends for “niche audiences of passionate enthusiasts,” as he aptly puts it. Jonathan Jones today just tried to coin a movement himself. It’s sad, because it’s so clearly not going to stick.

    If that list of yours was “distinct enough in form to label as a significant and distinct ‘artistic trend’”, it might have been possible to call it something. To label it, period. It can’t be done. The hodge-podge isn’t coalescing into anything, and it may not be necessary for it to do so for good work to get made. As Teachout says.

  • http://artblog.net Franklin

    He didn’t say that iTunes was art – he said it was a cultural development, and pointedly distinguishes that and other distribution mechanisms from a work of creative art. I loves me some LOLkitteh, but I don’t liken it to the power, influence, or expressive range of rap. He’s correct that no musical form has come forward since then that is both novel and compelling enough to galvanize a movement, and art has been in this boat since the early Eighties. Instead we have micro-trends for “niche audiences of passionate enthusiasts,” as he aptly puts it. Jonathan Jones today just tried to coin a movement himself. It’s sad, because it’s so clearly not going to stick.

    If that list of yours was “distinct enough in form to label as a significant and distinct ‘artistic trend’”, it might have been possible to call it something. To label it, period. It can’t be done. The hodge-podge isn’t coalescing into anything, and it may not be necessary for it to do so for good work to get made. As Teachout says.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    You know, I almost made that mistake when I was writing the post — the cultural development vs art form. There’s definitely a distinction being made, but why not make it a little clearer?

    Sure Lonely Girl isn’t comparable individually to some of the best rap made, but I do think the DIY phenomenon is — and there are books written and being written on the the subject by art critics (Cranbrook’s critic in residence for example). The DIY movement is definitely labelable as such, and I don’t think Teachout is correct that it’s all micro-trends.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    You know, I almost made that mistake when I was writing the post — the cultural development vs art form. There’s definitely a distinction being made, but why not make it a little clearer?

    Sure Lonely Girl isn’t comparable individually to some of the best rap made, but I do think the DIY phenomenon is — and there are books written and being written on the the subject by art critics (Cranbrook’s critic in residence for example). The DIY movement is definitely labelable as such, and I don’t think Teachout is correct that it’s all micro-trends.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I would add however, that I do think it’s all micro-trends within the art world proper.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I would add however, that I do think it’s all micro-trends within the art world proper.

  • http://artblog.net Franklin

    It’s all going to be micro-trends for the simple reason that there are six billion people on the planet speaking seven thousand languages. The number of people not paying attention to any given creative development is enormous.

    DIY may have an ethos, but it has no particular style, inclusive as it is of 8-bit, steampunk, cosplay, zines, and a ton of other stuff that doesn’t relate except that the Internet enabled the weirdos to find each other. Again, compare it to rap, which you can identify stylistically from three seconds of performance whether it’s coming from Run-DMC or MC Frontalot.

    If I were going to identify an exception, I’d cite the Burning Man community (which I don’t expect the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal to be familiar with), or the gamers. Both of these groups have an ethos and an aesthetic, subgenres can be reconciled with the supergenre in each case, large numbers of people are either creators or aficionados, and both inspire in-group chatter and competition on ill-defined but widely understood parameters. I think it’s no accident that both groups operate outside of serious art.

  • http://artblog.net Franklin

    It’s all going to be micro-trends for the simple reason that there are six billion people on the planet speaking seven thousand languages. The number of people not paying attention to any given creative development is enormous.

    DIY may have an ethos, but it has no particular style, inclusive as it is of 8-bit, steampunk, cosplay, zines, and a ton of other stuff that doesn’t relate except that the Internet enabled the weirdos to find each other. Again, compare it to rap, which you can identify stylistically from three seconds of performance whether it’s coming from Run-DMC or MC Frontalot.

    If I were going to identify an exception, I’d cite the Burning Man community (which I don’t expect the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal to be familiar with), or the gamers. Both of these groups have an ethos and an aesthetic, subgenres can be reconciled with the supergenre in each case, large numbers of people are either creators or aficionados, and both inspire in-group chatter and competition on ill-defined but widely understood parameters. I think it’s no accident that both groups operate outside of serious art.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I would think it’s easier to identify an ethos behind a fair amount of conceptual art, as opposed to a unified form the work takes. It’s still clearly an established genre. DIY is diverse, but I think there’s an identifiable style at work. ROFLcon’s entire existence demonstrates there’s something here: Know your meme, the Rick Roll database, ADD-art…these people are building their own software for creative ends. It’s an an identifiable artistic practice. Web 2.0 is an identifiable design aesthetic. I just don’t see what’s missing here.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I would think it’s easier to identify an ethos behind a fair amount of conceptual art, as opposed to a unified form the work takes. It’s still clearly an established genre. DIY is diverse, but I think there’s an identifiable style at work. ROFLcon’s entire existence demonstrates there’s something here: Know your meme, the Rick Roll database, ADD-art…these people are building their own software for creative ends. It’s an an identifiable artistic practice. Web 2.0 is an identifiable design aesthetic. I just don’t see what’s missing here.

  • http://artblog.net Franklin

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to establish at 8:59. Conceptual art predates rap. ADD-art is a delivery platform, like iTunes. I challenge you to identify the “identifiable style” of DIY. ROFLcon and the attendant concerns that you list deal with Internet culture, not art. Not that there is no overlap, but that the overlap isn’t the point. Thus “it will likely be remembered less for its art than for the inventions that put the art into circulation.”

    What’s missing is a demonstration that any creative trend that can be identified as such, originating in 1990 or later, is capable of presenting a full range of humanistic concerns, or a narrow range with sublime examples, in a lasting manner. The world would be poorer without I Can Has Cheezburger, but we’re not going to get great art out of LOLcats in the way we’ve gotten it out of rap, or abstract expressionism, or film noir, or magic realist fiction, or other artistic phenomena that we can readily name and describe.

  • http://artblog.net Franklin

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to establish at 8:59. Conceptual art predates rap. ADD-art is a delivery platform, like iTunes. I challenge you to identify the “identifiable style” of DIY. ROFLcon and the attendant concerns that you list deal with Internet culture, not art. Not that there is no overlap, but that the overlap isn’t the point. Thus “it will likely be remembered less for its art than for the inventions that put the art into circulation.”

    What’s missing is a demonstration that any creative trend that can be identified as such, originating in 1990 or later, is capable of presenting a full range of humanistic concerns, or a narrow range with sublime examples, in a lasting manner. The world would be poorer without I Can Has Cheezburger, but we’re not going to get great art out of LOLcats in the way we’ve gotten it out of rap, or abstract expressionism, or film noir, or magic realist fiction, or other artistic phenomena that we can readily name and describe.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to prove at 10:15 pm (why is the time stamp on this conversation relevant)? I wasn’t using conceptual art as a movement that came after rap — it’s simply an established genre of art making with a shifting form. I think the same can be said of the DIY movement. You have a point with ADD-art, but as I mentioned earlier, I make a distinction here, because it was developed with artistic impetus not as a for profit venture. Finally, The identifiable style I’m discussing has been written about extensively by net scholar Olia Lialina. Her essay needs an update — it was written two years ago — but it makes the point pretty clearly I think. Her new book is coming to me in the mail shortly.

    http://www.contemporary-home-computing.org/vernacular-web-2/

    In any event – you’re right, most of this stuff is crap — but that’s the same with anything. We’re really only looking for the 2% that’s worth remembering, and like everything else, we have to look very hard to find it.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to prove at 10:15 pm (why is the time stamp on this conversation relevant)? I wasn’t using conceptual art as a movement that came after rap — it’s simply an established genre of art making with a shifting form. I think the same can be said of the DIY movement. You have a point with ADD-art, but as I mentioned earlier, I make a distinction here, because it was developed with artistic impetus not as a for profit venture. Finally, The identifiable style I’m discussing has been written about extensively by net scholar Olia Lialina. Her essay needs an update — it was written two years ago — but it makes the point pretty clearly I think. Her new book is coming to me in the mail shortly.

    http://www.contemporary-home-computing.org/vernacular-web-2/

    In any event – you’re right, most of this stuff is crap — but that’s the same with anything. We’re really only looking for the 2% that’s worth remembering, and like everything else, we have to look very hard to find it.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I’ll be honest – I’m not sure about the Add-art thing now. I think the artistic impetus is important to contextualizing the software, but I’m wondering to what extent. Read the Lialina essay though. It answers a lot of your questions.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    I’ll be honest – I’m not sure about the Add-art thing now. I think the artistic impetus is important to contextualizing the software, but I’m wondering to what extent. Read the Lialina essay though. It answers a lot of your questions.

  • http://artblog.net Franklin

    Conceptual art can trace its lineage back to a handful of prototypes and disparate examples still represent a common culture. The stylistic variation in DIY is a different sort of thing. Clearly these people and these people are not pulling from the same sources, or even thinking about each other. This is an interesting conversation, but the bed beckons. Good night.

  • http://artblog.net Franklin

    Conceptual art can trace its lineage back to a handful of prototypes and disparate examples still represent a common culture. The stylistic variation in DIY is a different sort of thing. Clearly these people and these people are not pulling from the same sources, or even thinking about each other. This is an interesting conversation, but the bed beckons. Good night.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    This is a good point. I will note though, that although DIY culture extends far beyond the web, we’re really talking digital culture and web aesthetics here. I suggest reading the article I linked to before continuing, as it adds something to the debate.

  • http://www.artfagcity.com Art Fag City

    This is a good point. I will note though, that although DIY culture extends far beyond the web, we’re really talking digital culture and web aesthetics here. I suggest reading the article I linked to before continuing, as it adds something to the debate.

Previous post:

Next post: