Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Digital Dialog || Open Thread

In response to the question raised in yesterday's post about regionalism (i.e., Could there be such a thing as conceptual regionalism?), self-declared "Generic Artist" (who lives in self-declared "Quaintsville" [i.e., no where near a major arts center]) suggested:
Maybe a long time ago people from Quaintsville were less informed on current conceptual trends, but that's certainly not the case now. You can be typing away in Elk River Idaho, working on your MFA thesis from a top conceptual University via correspondence. Most people have access to all of the same information.

To assume that an artist is less involved in progressive dialogue simply because they're in Quaintsville is highly dismissive. Everyone is on Facebook. Everyone Tweets. Everyone blogs. We all know what color tie Jerry Saltz wore to the last opening. Quaintsvillagers have their finger on the pulse.
And while I certainly agree that the Internet has facilitated a much wider form of connection than we've ever had in human history, the depth of that connection remains in question, in my humble opinion.

Indeed, in a great op-ed in the Times a few days back, Sherry Turkle (a psychologist, professor at M.I.T., and the author of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other”) argues that while technology has permitted us to connect, it has also essentially killed conversation:
Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.
We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places — in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.
Connecting in sips may work for gathering discrete bits of information or for saying, “I am thinking about you.” Or even for saying, “I love you.” But connecting in sips doesn’t work as well when it comes to understanding and knowing one another. In conversation we tend to one another. (The word itself is kinetic; it’s derived from words that mean to move, together.) We can attend to tone and nuance. In conversation, we are called upon to see things from another’s point of view.
FACE-TO-FACE conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters. It is as though we have all put ourselves on cable news. Shakespeare might have said, “We are consum’d with that which we were nourish’d by.”
All of which both rings true to me and makes me question the value of the so-called digital dialog, particularly as it feeds a conceptual art practice.

Of course, as soon as I say that, the old question "do I have to move to New York?" rears its head, and there are clearly enough examples of artists with successful careers living in other places to suggest the answer is no. But, and with recognition that he/she was merely making a lighthearted point, it should probably be emphasized for some people that knowing what color tie Jerry Saltz wore to an opening (sidebar: I have never seen Jerry wearing a tie, but...) is not the same as face-to-face feedback from sources you trust about the ideas and experiments you're wading through in your studio.

Consider this an open thread on the value (or limits) of the "digital dialog."

9 Comments:

Anonymous Laura Isaac said...

I question the assertions that being engaged in "digital dialog" somehow diminishes the ability to carry out meaningful in-person dialogs. It's like saying driving a car to work makes me forget how to ride a bike to the market. They are separate practices.

Of course, face-to-face interaction is important. But would you refuse to read a book simply because you never got to meet the author and shake her hand?

I find food for my practice where I can get it. I cultivate the online interactions as I do the face-to-face. This is why I'm willing to get on planes and trains and throw myself into an extroverted whirlwind every 6 months or so before returning to my cave, er, studio.

Many times I find that all of the communication I have with others online allows for a greater depth and stillness in the face-to-face interactions simply because we're caught up on all the "chatter" and can simply be humans in the moment.

4/24/2012 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger christian said...

I think we are caught between competing truths here. The statement that "...Quaintsvillagers have their finger on the pulse..." is absolutely true - I live in Quaintsville myself. However so is Edward's statement that "...is not the same as face-to-face feedback from sources you trust about the ideas and experiments you're wading through in your studio..."
And therein lies Quaintesville's almost unsurmountable obstacle.
I am totally convinced that the art produced in both places can be of equal significance or quality, and I think many times Quaintsville artists are actually ahead of the pack, but they miss out because of the lack of true personal connections.
And from what I see in much of the photography world anyhow, personal connections trumps talent anytime.

4/24/2012 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger findingfabulous said...

I feel so strongly about how the internet is quashing our ability and need to have in depth interactions that I cannot express it adequately in a comment.. an actual face to face discussion however would work.. Digital Dialog is valuable if Quaintsville, and all of us, take the info and then run with it like Laura above does.

4/24/2012 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Online dialogue allows some things to happen that do not happen face to face. It is an interesting leveling of the field. Online we are all reduced to words and images and the content of our thought matters without the subtle judgements of a physical presentation.
When I first moved to New York, galleries were intimidating places to visit. I came for the art, but in my inexpensive clothes and odd gait felt paranoid that "I" don't belong there. I'm not a buyer, and the pretty woman (usually a woman then, still often) behind the tall desk glares at me while the director is in a back room on the phone talking about moving important, expensive art and too busy to appear friendly. After awhile it didn't matter anymore and I could ignore the pomp and peacefully look at the art. Now, It's no longer intimidating and today the art world from my experience has to some degree became more inviting. However, when there is a need to engage a gallerist in dialogue the topics and conversations that can happen here online are not dependent on mustered confidence, little facial gestures, height of the person, skin tone, gender, disposition, or quick wit.
Online dialogue can allow for more thoughtful responses (granted a share of the opposite also happens; drunk texting, anonymous badgering, etc.), but for shy people who in the presence of someone might be at a loss for words, it allows for a bit more personal space and time to compose. Sometimes online the idiosyncratic figures of speech (artspeak vs. slang vs. regionalisms) can confuse the dialogue but it still happens in-spite of the awkwardness, whereas in a gallery setting those situations might be entirely avoided. I don't think of it as a replacement for face to face dialogue but as an important addition. What I appreciate is the ability to meet someone online and then in person, or meet them in person and then continue to deepen the conversation online, when we are unable to physically meet.

4/24/2012 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger Rico said...

In some ways I feel artists are using social media today the way that scientists were using the internet in its infancy. I exchange studio shots with a handful of artists on both coasts and internationally. We read each others' blogs, and I have seen a clear "call and respond" aspect to our work. Not that it becomes "similar" so much as we seem to be creating virtual villages of a sort. That being said, I've met most of these artists in person at one time or another. So I think you can use the internet in general and social media in particular to be a part of an artistic community, and that can be a lifeline to artists who happen to live in parts of the country that do not have metropolitan centers readily accessible for their work.

Saltz's recent article got me thinking about this use of technology and how it is (to some degree) nullifying regional barriers in art. ...Perhaps.

But I agree with Christian in that the art world is primarily about human relationships and physical meeting. It's like dating. You have to flirt. You have to get to know one another, you just do. I have a much better chance of having my work honestly looked at by someone I've known for a while socially and haven't asked anything of than if I shoot off an email to a gallery I've never set foot in asking them to look at my website. One is an honest and respectful attempt and the other is equivalent to "hey baby!" And while the occasional one-night-stand can happen and even turn into something deeper and even create a megastar, those are the exceptions. So I think even if you don't live in a place, if you're going to try to get your work there you need to visit. You need to make that happen somehow.

4/24/2012 04:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Ries said...

While dialog, either digital or analog, is important to some artists, its not some sort of absolute essential for creating art. Even important art.

Take, for example, Michael Heizer, or Bruce Nauman, who both live in places where Quaintsville is a big city two hours drive away. Or James Turrell. The late Georgia Okeefe. And I am sure, with a bit of thought and research, you could come up with a couple dozen more artists who just make their work, sans dialog. Sans coffeehouse, in many cases even sans internet.

Some people are social, and some are not, and artists seem to be the same.

4/24/2012 10:59:00 PM  
Blogger jane said...

Well, I am going to arrive in New York (from Glasgow) on Saturday, so clearly I believe in face-to-face meeting.

However (to side track the conversation a little), facebook and the internet has been very good for me - as a partially hearing person, the benefits are manifold. Proper nouns (and hence names) are very difficult for me to remember - unless I see them written down. Preferably attached to a photograph. And what does facebook provide? Quite brilliant. If it had been around when I was a teenager, I am sure I would have many more friends today. Of course, with good friends it makes no difference. But in getting to know people, not knowing their name is a huge handicap.

So for me it allows me to make connections easier - that can then be developed further in real life, face to face. And I am not the only one - I suspect it levels the playing field a little for many of us.

4/25/2012 07:07:00 AM  
Blogger markcreegan said...

When I graduated with my MFA in 2005, I was encouraged by my teachers to move to NYC. In fact one teacher thought that the city I ended up moving to would kill me as an artist. I understood their concerns then, but I also had the naive idea that, because of the internet, I could have a dynamic art career even from the small non-art city I lived.
I thought my website would be the same as my studio, it would represent me and have images and text that inform curators, dealers, etc. who would want to engage with me and have me show in their different contexts. I mean why not? There are artists living in remote parts of the world that have dynamic art careers...so?
And this did happen a couple of times, but mostly this is not a viable strategy for the simple fact that art is social as someone above mentioned. Physical proximity is needed. People need to get to know the personalities of the various people they are going to be dealing with for weeks. months or years. The internet can provide that to a limited extent, but it takes the intensity of interaction in live, real time that provides the most accurate reading.
But at the same time their is a stigma to living outside of art centers in the US. It seems fair that if my local contemporary art museum can have no qualms about inviting an artist from NY or LA to have an exhibit then a reverse exchange could happen as well (not a formal "exchange" of artists, I just mean the idea of the Whitney say looking at smaller cities in the US in the same way they look internationally.
But maybe it comes down to the work in the end anyway, and I have to admit that if my work was really good, my online presence would work better for me, and I have to own that. I am not "killed" as an artist, stunted maybe.

4/25/2012 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

I have two comments here.
First, I think art is the most interesting when it is specific, but can be understood to have broader implications - rather than trying to reach an international audience in the first place. This is how a band like Die Antwoord can sing in Afrikaans and speak directly to an extremely located South African culture, yet become a sensation throughout the world, while Shepard Fairey's Obey posters seem quaint and silly to many. They're not specific enough.
Second, I'd say the same of The Digital. Simon Penny prefers not to speak of digital art or digital theory, but rather to engage with what he calls "digital cultural practices." I believe the best art asks us to both wonder at, and be critical of, ourselves in our environments. It invites us - in various and sometimes beautiful ways - to live an examined life. The best digital art asks us to live a (perhaps specifically digital/cultural) examined life, and also has broader implications beyond that locality. I believe some of the media projects you've hosted, Edward (examining both media and the art world), are both specific and have broader implications in this manner.

4/25/2012 04:38:00 PM  

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