Where is Art Going?Yesterday, as we were discussing various current, highly esoteric movements in the art world, a reader posed the question to me, "Where is art going?" As much as the "know it all" in me might liked to have filled her in on all the different trends and "directions" afoot in the art world today, prognosticating all over the artistic landscape about what I knew or felt about various different types of art, in truth, I have to admit, I haven't the "foggiest." At the moment the best I could say is that we seem to be in a kind of whirlpool, rediscovering what was rediscovered a century or more ago every century or so. If Modern Art was just "one damned thing after another," then it would seem that Postmodernism is the "same damned thing over and over again." Modern Art was mostly linear, while Post-modern Art seems to be cyclical.
If there is anything "new" in art it is only that which grows out of new media and their technological refinements. For example, creating art on a computer is new. The results however, while they may look new, because the artist is pushing pixels instead of paint, still tend to hearken back to episodes from our artistic past. But utilising photos, merging them with pixel paint, mathematically screening them, filtering out part of their essence, toying with what remains - this is new...sort of. Actually motion pictures have been doing pretty much all that for decades (the hard way); the only difference being, the computer has democratised the whole thing, allowing virtually anyone with the tools, the training, and the urge, to dabble quite easily and cheaply in this "new" art. Perhaps the only really new element computers lend to such art is the element of increased interactivity. Yet the art world has been slow to embrace really revolutionary interactive art in its truest form--computer gaming. How many of us would consider Doom to be a work of art?
The traditional art world, if it embraces electronic interactivity at all, seems limited to timid ventures into allowing the viewer to electronically play with their art within limited, rigid, preordained bounds - adjusting the speed, colour, and configuration of rotating balls for instance - playing in the pinball, or at best the Pong, era while computer gaming is out there exploring the universe. In the past, the artist's idea of interactivity has been allowing (or insisting that) the viewer guess what he or she was trying to do or say - basically trying to pick out representational clues as to the meaning of non-representational paintings. The problem (or some might say the best feature) with such a game is that there would seem to be no "right answer" to what is, in any case, a fairly meaningless intellectual and perhaps emotional exercise.
But besides adding interactivity to art, the computer has the capability of mixing with it what could be called a fourth dimension - time. And if the concept of letting the viewer change his or her art disturbs the artist, injecting the nearly uncontrollable element of time, frankly scares the hell out of us. The artist strives for perfection. Time desecrates perfection, warping it, wounding it, dulling it, diluting it, and maybe even destroying the whole concept of it. Thus, whatever else it may do, while easing the technical burdens, the computer vastly increases the conceptual demands placed upon the artist. But in doing so, it also offers an exit from the "same old same old" whirlpool that Postmodernism seems to be otherwise, allowing the truly exceptional artist a means of escape. So, is this where art is going? I still haven't the "foggiest." But it seems a strong possibility.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
9 July 2001