This is an essay I wrote towards the end of 2014 about being an artist and living in the context of our digital world. I have made a few changes since then but the general gist of the essay remains the same.
Today art can be split into two categories; “Pre-Internet” and “Post-Internet” art.
All the important and influential art movements are all of the Pre-Internet age. It seems to me that in this current Post-Internet age, there are no real lasting and meaningful art movements. There are of course many interesting artists today creating challenging and original works of art via digital media and who are very much in tune with the zeitgeist and more power to them. Yet there is something I long for which I feel is missing. And this is not strictly limited to artists and art. This applies to (and perhaps to a much greater degree) general living.
Before the internet the main media sources were television/video, the telephone, the radio and the printing press. The internet is all this and much much more. It enables us access to diverse and limitless quantities of information. In order to source information before the internet, most people went to libraries and even these institutions were no guarantee that you would find the specific information you were looking for. But with the internet almost all kinds of information can be accessed without having to travel to libraries or even spend valuable time and money employing people to find certain bits of information. Access to information has been truly democratised (assuming everyone has an internet connection) since the development and growth of the World Wide Web.
Today we have a whole plethora of internet related social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc. to communicate/express ourselves through. Before the internet, the only possible ways to communicate with one another apart from face to face, were via the telephone, fax, telegram or via mail (in the form of letter writing which save for a few dedicated souls is well and truly six feet underground as an art). The channels of far flung communication were limited. People were more in the woods with regards to what was happening globally.
People did not lose themselves or devote much of their time to living in “electronic virtual reality”. People actually spent much time reading books, spending their free time outside, having real relationships (we still have real relationships but these are decreasing and I believe in the wake of “hyper-immersive 3D virtual reality” more and more people will be cutting themselves off and almost be living at least half of their entire existence in this new type of virtual world. More and more people will even cease having sexual relationships since the stimulated virtual way will feel even better than the real thing).
Via the array of social media sites there are many different groups that artists join. Too many groups. A humongous vertigo-inducing fragmentation of different groups. In the context of today’s world, everything changes faster than before. This is a faster world. News travels faster. There is less mystery. Life is documented more than ever before. Through the internet, everyone can now express themselves. There are more artists today than before. Art or being an artist is not something that is taboo or contentious anymore. Things that may have been considered ‘renegade’ or less accepted in the past such as being an artist, a musician or traveling around the world are now accepted and quite conventional. To travel around the world for a year as part of a ‘gap year’ is now the done thing.
I think that to be a true artist (a most overused weird) in this current digital age is to leave no traces; no evidence of art or living. To disappear and be an eternal apparition.
Often I don’t have the guts or the humility to leave no traces. There is something intricately hardwired in me about having to ‘be somebody’. Yet as the great Indian sage Juddi Krishnamurti once said, ‘the moment we want to be someone we are no longer free’
By Nicholas Peart
Originally written on 27th December 2014
(All rights reserved)
Image source: http://www.blouinartinfo.com