Saturday, April 23, 2011

Reality or Reproduction: Does it Matter?

We may be awash in great industrial design, but I wonder how many people today actually experience a painting with their faces so close to the canvas that it can be appreciated not simply as a two dimensional image on a screen, but as the 3D object it actually is?

Because at such scale, image is incidental. Instead, we become aware that the thing can be appreciated for its texture as well as the image it projects. This is an important note, because it is in that very texture, in the evidence left behind by the application of paint, that we can experience an artist's effort, energy and humanity. It is, to put it another way, the blood left behind at the crime scene.

A parallel circumstance exists in music. There are substantial numbers of people who rarely experience music live. By 'live', I don't simple mean, in person, I mean, without pre-recorded accompaniment.

For this audience, music is experienced as a recording, or as a recording accompanied by dancers pretending to sing live. The result is that we've produced in ourselves a population that considers the product of art to be some perfect thing, when in fact, its real power is in its imperfections, which  possess the innate ability to communicate something directly from the artist's soul to the viewer or listener, who then elects to accept or reject an opportunity to learn something about our collective humanity.

What is 'Style', anyway, but the sum composite of perfectly executed imperfections from a given performer?

I can imagine that one day the act of looking at a painting will come to mean all of the following as a simultaneous action:

  • Looking at a given painting;
  • Listening to a playlist or pre-recorded narrative;
  • Watching a multimedia display;
  • Taking a picture of the given artwork;
  • Posting the image to the web;
  • Alerting all our social networks that we are presently admiring art;
  • Some virtual applause, not for the art itself, but for appreciation of the art.

Or will we instead choose to take our time sauntering through World of Warcraft galleries, content to linger in the cloud for hours, just so long as we don't actually have to leave the house?

Don't laugh, because actually, we are already there.

If there is a reason photographs and video dominate our taste, it is because we live in age that lacks exposure and appreciation for timbre and texture. We see a sign and accept it at face value; who among us today asks if the brush stroke itself contains meaning?

So, if our main experience of art is only via reproduction on a screen, it may seem to lack something. Or if our main experience of art is flipping through an online gallery, it may be that art in the flesh, however original or brilliantly executed, simply doesn't move fast enough (to move us). Or if we have all suddenly evolved into astute, design minded visual thinkers, then maybe we're simply jaded with this avalanche of image –screens and logos everywhere, even in one's pocket!

Certainly there are new artists doing new things, even old artists doing new things, and artists and non-artists alike doing interesting things (this is the really beauty of the Internet). But on the surface it also feels like many of those things are additions to an existing cultural repertoire, not an evolution, much less an indication of a radical evolutionary shift.

Thus it bears mentioning, the digital divide is not simply an economic one, nor does it always favor the wired.

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