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Something akin to Punk: And the Apathetic Generation - III


[Part Three]


III. Technology, Education & Control

Currently I judge the arts find themselves in an entirely unfamiliar situation. Mainly this is due to the new technologies currently being used by artists and other creative’s; relating to how works are made, reproduced and then ‘shared’. This unprecedented availability to information and an ever increasing access to works, of all types – has quickly become a facet of this constantly evolving artistic terrain, a fact which is definitely taken for granted by most. The arts are consequently in a permanent state of flux. These changes can be traced back it seems, to the materialisation of an ever expanding ‘digital age’, and with it the most dramatic technological invention, unquestionably of my life time – the Internet. For good or bad, this source of information, which now expands beyond the realms of human contemplation, has changed everything. I firmly believe that the arts and the production of art, seems to have lost a definite focus because of these specific technological and cultural advancements. These pioneering digital ‘tools’ have produced a generation of artists and creative individuals who are now able to focus on whatever specific source information they choose. They can position themselves within the arts more accurately than was ever previously possible, with regards who and what they choose to associate with, or draw inspiration from. What's more, this has had a profound effect on how they share and distribute their work. The once strict role of the artist as principally a ‘creator’ has disappeared. The visual artist and musician starting out, newly established or just working independently today, is expected to carry out all manner of duties for themselves that were once the job of a range of different professionals (I am focusing on art and ‘popular/independent’ music, as these two disciplines have an interdisciplinary relationship in this regard, and I deem have significantly correlated with one another during the period I am focusing on.). For instance the artist, as well as constructing their work now also acts as producer, arranger, manager, promoter, technician…and this can extend to virtually any job that the practitioner might require and can be feasibly carried out by them. In most instances, they are able to accomplish these tasks, firstly without considering them new or novel in anyway and secondly through access to facilities that allow these crucial jobs to be satisfactorily completed. In the last decade, the steady pace of these recent technological and behavioural developments mean that such changes – which in the past progressed at a far more modest pace – have now quickened to a new and startling rate. From the year 2000 up until today, in comparison to previous decades – if one compares technical progress, ‘like for like’ – this period seems less like a decade of change and more like several decades of technological growth. However, let me make it clear, that although now unavoidable and unquestionably pioneering, these changes in the role of the artist, due to these radical ‘industrial/technological’ expansions, are not without noteworthy issues and by my studied observations have created some intriguing predicaments. This is a further reason why I am attempting to articulate some of my judgements now.

Now I will discuss various problems with some of the work being produced by new(ish) practitioners, in both the contemporary art and music industries. What I have noticed, firstly in art, is that it seems there has been some considerable convergence between the media, commercial design and cooperate driven markets and the contemporary gallery networks. Evidently there have always been strong ties between all these well established, media driven industries. However, as I have observed, the general attitude of the contemporary art world has shifted further and further away from any sort of real overt political engagement in recent times. This is of course, largely due to huge sways of cuts in the arts budgets and the self funding root having to grow and strengthen to a level we have never before experienced. As a result, obvious compromises have had to occur. The secondary effect, which has occurred, is in the sorts of work being produced, then chosen to be exhibited and the themes these pieces invariably focus on. Furthermore, this is absolutely attached to the type of ‘Higher Education’ given to young artists today and the current contemporary arts theory/rhetoric being communicated and focused on. For example, I have noticed there has been much attention paid to the notion of ‘space’, within recent fine art practice. The concept of the “Liminal Space” is a popular area of intrigue here. There are undoubtedly many interesting theories and works being created around these ideas. Nonetheless, the general framing of these concepts has been one which shies away from any clear or defined social or ideological engagement. Ideological statements now appear largely crude, unsophisticated and out of place in the new sleek, media ‘tuned’, cultural arena. These transformations are connected to the business of arts education as well. Art colleges are in precisely the same position as all self supporting businesses today. Therefore, it is becoming harder for art schools and tertiary educational institutions generally, to maintain much of the political activism and rigorous practical ideological engagements, which were so inherit in their progression through out the twentieth century. The business and marketing model is slowly removing that sense of political foregrounding and proper student activism. One has even begun to find most of the tutors and lectures that came through this system and would have championed and held these political and social ideals as fundamental to this educational ‘enlightenment’, are either retiring now or are leaving. This has left the next generation to take their places. Typically now, one finds individuals who are absolutely career orientated; almost corporate driven and as such, entirely accepting of the art world they inhabit. The study programmes frequently conducted within today’s universities and secondary educational institutions, by these new tutors, embrace a kind of openness and apparent ambiguity. In my view however, the terminologies and characteristics of ‘subtlety’ have been applied to mask a complacent rejection and basic lack of a much needed dialogue that focuses on actual social, ideological and cultural concerns, within the work being produced. The notion of political art, as a term of characterisation, is now actually something to be scorned at it seems. A recent general artistic trend, which exists today, appears to have largely rejected subjects that have a clear political commitment at their core. Ideas based around any sort of empiricism, or actual tangible subject matter, is often derided. The view that subtlety, and work which contains allegorical qualities, could not possibly exist within works which directly equate to a subject matter that addresses shared social anxieties, I have begun to realise, has now become commonplace. If one thinks of western art history for a moment – particularly if we were to focus on the work of Géricault (1791 – 1824) or Goya (1746 – 1828), as they are perhaps considered to be the first (renown) modern painters, up to where we are today in art – then this present attitude towards artworks and their subject matter, as a consequence of this retrospection, seems even stranger to me. At present though, recent artworks which contain all the qualities of cooperate graphics and design – clean, well ordered, fairly minimal compositions – are in abundance. Some of which I do appreciate immensely. Nevertheless, the sheer quantity of this work and its apparent lack of any definitive consciousness has become a real problem for me. This is coupled with the sad truth that the practitioners producing this work and the galleries which display and now set the agenda for the work, have not maintained any meaningful balance in the art they produce and is subsequently exhibited. Because this is now an art industry fully controlled by business, it unsurprisingly means that there is a contempt held for artists who attempt to deal with subjects critical or sceptical of the ‘corridors of power’, as these same power structures fully set the schema for the mainstream contemporary art world. This is the simple and most effective course of action to take. The call appears to be: ‘shut them out, economically and culturally, by whatever means possible’. I guess it just makes good business sense. There are now simply too many problems or contradictions which would arise if the contemporary work on display had an explicit modern ideological agenda. Therefore, work must be ‘opaque’ in what it might imply, in order to be accepted into the leading cultural arenas. As a result, such derision at work which does not subscribe to these imperatives is simply self-reflecting. If one was to employ a famous adage as a way of surmising this current approach, adopted by the art establishment, I might say: If you never allow the ‘elephant’ into the room, then you don’t even have to try and ignore it. However this approach, whether automatic or consciously in operation, is at best, naïve. In an attempt to avoid contradictions or simply ‘awkward moments’, these business powers have managed to give the impression that they have closed down proper, socio-cultural debate and discussion, within the arts. Therefore I sense, although long overdue, there has to be a reaction against the controlling nature of these structures. Much in the same vein as Punk did before - perhaps the longer these seemingly ‘compulsory’ trends continue – the more culturally important the eventual reactions will prove to be?


The fourth and final part of this text will be published next Saturday, the 31st of August.


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