#5--Big Shots Ignore Columnist. World Stunned
(or: Yo, what’s up with digital?)
Okay, this is the column where I bitch and moan. Why? Because there are powerful forces in the digital world that don’t give a damn what I think. Yes, hard to believe! Naturally I want you to sympathize with me, and sneer in disdain at these powerful forces. I’m sure you want to, and I appreciate that, but we must be coldly professional here. These are big shots, as you’ll see, whereas I’m just a talky artist. Not only that, I’ve been rejected by these powerful forces, not once but twice. First, by a show, and second, when I asked if they had a comment for this column. No, apparently they don’t. What, just because I’m not the New York Times? Not that the old gray lady has anything to say as interesting as what I’m serving up. Question is, can my judgment be trusted? Well, let me make my case, i.e. present my digital vision, and we’ll see how you feel.
THE BACK STORY--By 1997, I had my second computer, a PowerMac, I was spending thousands of hours experimenting, and my vision for the digital era was fully formed. A new kind of art would come from this machine. There was no point in having a camera and messing with photography--that was part of the past. There was no point in having a scanner and putting in stuff from the real world. That was adulteration. The point, it seemed to me, was to work on a blank screen--to use new pixels to make new art. I was sure that all digital artists would embrace this credo: digital art must be about the exploration of what had never been possible before. Oddly, some of the leading players didn’t exactly share this vision. What??!
LACDA--What a thrill when I read about the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art. Even the names are startling, both names. LACDA....a wild woman from Latvia, no doubt. But my God, this place keeps having shows where half the stuff is photography. They even gave Best in Show to a woman whose work was--children, cover your ears--mostly PAINT. I don’t get the point. I wrote to the Director asking what’s going on. Here’s my email: “LACDA calls itself a center for digital art but a lot of the art you show is basically photographic in nature or even more retro, sort of mixed media where digital is less than 50% of the art--is this because there isn't enough really good pure digital art being made? Or the owners really don't want to face making a sheep-from-goats decision?? Or what??? Your last solicitation welcomes photography that uses even a little digital. But almost all photography uses a little digital these days. There's photo and art galleries for this work, right? Why the adulteration? Why confuse the public? Or why not educate the public about how this new medium is different from what came before? The only answer I can come up with is that you don't find enough great digital art. Is that the case?”
As of press time, no comment. (Visit LACDA.COM)
BITFORMS--Oh so hip bitforms, in Manhattan and now Korea. Nothing could be cooler than this place. Think Soho. Right off the bat, about five years ago, they were ambitious enough to launch a big PR blitz. A long article got into my local paper. I was spellbound. Look, the digital revolution is happening! But something nagged. A lot of space was spent explaining and extolling a piece of “digital art” that asked all the people entering a theater to turn in their cell phone numbers; at a designated time a computer would randomly call them. The resulting rings were the art. First, it almost had to be mere cacophony. But that’s not my theoretical objection. A bunch of bingo ladies, sitting around a table at the local church, could dial those numbers--same randomness, same music. Digital not required. So where the hell is the digital art? Nowhere. It’s pure conceptual art. (Of course, it’s much cheaper to do with a computer but that’s a secondary issue.) Here’s what I wrote to the Director of Bitfoms: “Do you think of the art in your gallery as primarily digital art or it is often/sometimes primarily conceptual art or modern art or hip Soho art or what? My own tendency when I'm shown digital art is to wonder, well, could that be done non-digitally or pre-digitally? If it could, then why call it digital art? Do you ponder the same questions?”
No comment. (Visit BITFORMS.COM. You will see some cutting edge digital and also some art that is hip, modern, trendy, weird...but digital?)
PURDUE UNIVERSITY GALLERIES--The art gallery at Purdue University had a very ambitious, very heavily promoted show in 2005 called Digital Concentrate. I eagerly entered and hoped to be selected. This show had a fancy booklet and several hifalutin essays, so I could really meditate on what had excluded me. Mainly it wasn’t a digital art show. Everything was video and installation and conceptual art. So I sent this note to the Director of the Purdue Gallery: “It was a fine show; I'm sure people enjoyed it. But digital concentrate? What was concentrated? The ads, entry form and promo made me think that all the art would be focused on what digital can do. That the show would be, like me, engaged with pure digital. But to my eyes it seemed more a conceptual art show. Is this a trivial point? If you think so, say so. I'm just trying to stir up discussion. But I feel digital cannot be about the past. Wasn't that same sensibility big in the 1980's? Sure, the tools are often digital but they could as well have been movie cameras or projectors. It's idea art, right? Academia seems to love this. We look at it because there's a clever concept and because the execution is striking. Those seemed to me to be the first two requirements. Digital came in third. But many of those effects could have been done pre-digital. So where's the digital concentrate? That's my question.”
No comment. (View this show at: http://www.cla.purdue.edu/galleries/digital_concentrate/index.htm)
Wrapping up: I saw digital as NEW but these people shoehorned digital into ongoing agenda and categories. But, hey, maybe these big shots are just improvising day to day. An artist walks in with something new and interesting, digital was used at some point, so the gallery says, great, we love it. Should they be purists? I just have to state my suspicion that art history will look back at this as a period of dithering. When I see photographs at a digital art show, or conceptual art being called digital art, it feels to me like beer at a wine tasting....As for my vision, the one where this new medium must be about the exploration of what had never been possible before, well, I still think it’s true. Technology keeps booming along. The 3D stuff gets more interesting. Great digital art won’t be some crossbreed of previous artistic activities, some flashback or recap. You’ll know you’re looking into the future’s crazy blue eyes....As for big shots, I’m sorry they didn’t join the discourse. The public needs more discussion, not less. That’s what I hope I’m doing here--pumping up the volume of the dialogue.