Art and the Internet: Would Picasso be on Twitter?

There is no denying that the Internet has made an enormous impact on all facets of our culture in a multitude of ways. For instance, eBay has challenged the traditional flea markets, making them not only a place to revel in nostalgia, but the flea market itself an archaic form.

With the knowledge that the Internet can enact change even on the least willing to change, it is worthwhile to examine the impact that online marketplaces and social media could have on the art world.

Macleans Magazine explored this issue in a recent article. “Even mediocre artists who harness the power of Tumblr and command ffffound.com will feast, while talented artists without URLs will starve,” Vancouver artist Jeff Hamada told Macleans. “A search-engine-friendly blog can be exponentially more powerful than gallery representation, especially for an emerging artist.” Hamada’s Tumblr blog, Booooooom.com, gets more than three million page views a month.

Meanwhile, a Vancouver gallery representative reduces “high art” to “relationship selling”, and relegates online sales to “the Costco and Zellers market”.

What is interesting is how the so-called “democratizing” effect of the Internet takes power away from the usual channels, and gives it to individuals who can successfully portray themselves online. The reformation of the artistic community online makes one reconsider the traditional role of cliques made up of elitist, fine-art taste makers. At the same time, opening up the flood gates, and allowing anyone to claim their place in the artistic community is not necessarily a good replacement for an art community, which could be seen to dictate tastes.

As we are given ways to force ourselves into the public sphere by controlling the way we represent ourselves, we have to examine our notions about the communities we replace. The communities that existed before were able to identify Pablo Picasso and countless other worthy artists. It remains to be seen whether the online environment is able to create the right type of space where creativity can be recognized and awarded.

Chris Kraus’s book Where Art Belongs, according to an excellent article by Anne K. Yoder, explains how there are places in contemporary culture that can channel creative energy that was once solely within the art’s realm, and by doing so become a kind of art. Kraus uses the tacit example of American Apparel’s creative corporate vision, which parallels 1960’s artists collectives such as Chia Jen and The Family. Kraus writes: “From its manufacturing philosophy of vertical integration to its marketing and the deliberate location of its gallery-esque stores in urban neighborhoods on the cusp of gentrification, American Apparel resonates against the economic and psychogeographic state of the culture like a gigantic work of conceptual art. As an artwork, it is breathtakingly brilliant in ambition and scope.”

Yoder concludes her review stating that while spaces and contexts change, what matters is that the spirit remain the same. “And while institutions, art museums, and corporations may be easy stand-ins for sterility, Kraus’s investigation also demonstrates how creativity will resurge in unlikely spaces,” she writes.

Indeed, the Internet threatens to reformulate the spaces and contexts for art, but there is reason to feel confident that the systems that bring worthy art into the fore. This could mean new forms of curation, appreciation and discussion, or a reworking of old systems to fit the new online realities. As artists have flooded the Internet in force, so too have critics.

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