The Arts & The Internet
I’ve long thought that true creativity is not just about originality; it’s about making connections that others don’t notice. When we were kids it was hard to draw these invisible lines between people and places, objects and ideas. Very rarely someone sprang out of nowhere, fully formed – Mozart, Dickens, Van Gogh – but most of the time the young Turks were nothing of a sort; they worked long and hard to achieve success; it takes years to become an ingenue.
Enter the internet, shortcutting in a way that allows us all to make connections – whether we see them or not is another matter. But while we were thinking that space was the final frontier (space, for our little planet, is sadly all too unknowable) we discovered internal space, and through it, new ways of thinking. Suddenly, if you could imagine it, it could exist, without a huge cost outlay, just time and patience.
Let’s take three examples.
1. The Viral Video.
Christian Marclay (often mentioned here before) uses film clips of repeated actions to make his artistic points, and so do a great many non-professionals – someone recently bothered to compile every shot where a motorbike slides away from the camera, and then contrasts them with his dog sliding away in the snow in exactly the same pose. The internet makes artists of everyone, but only a few of the artworks prove appealing or are any good. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of fun to be had; the alternative versions of Hitler’s map scene from ‘Downfall’ irrevocably changed the film’s image.
Juxtaposing imagery has been with us for a hundred years kin the form of collages, but now they take on a new perspective, and have affected art. I saw an exhibition in Venice which featured hundreds of photographs of Hollywood stars who’d played Nazi generals. It had the odd effect of making you review what you really knew about history. How much of it came from fact, how much from fiction? It was the kind of artwork which has been made possible by the viral video.
2. New Music-Visual Fusions
As the traditional music industry collapsed, felled by its own greed, it was replaced by a more fragmented digital world that created stars out of kids in bedrooms. I was a long-time fan of Pogo and DJ Zebra, both of whom mashed together sounds and chords to create new music, funded online, released as MP3s. They sampled and snipped old footage into new forms, and in Pogo’s case, used everyday sounds in the way that minimal modernist Steve Reichs used them. Pogo also added visuals to create strange collaged tracks that recycled harmonies into beats.
Equally, new film directors have appeared because they’ve made short films using Final Cut Pro at home. Welshman Gareth Edwards went from dabbling with effects to directing Hollywood’s biggest summer blockbuster, ‘Godzilla’, virtually overnight.
This form of reverse-funding, from the computer back towards tangible formats, has also been the salvation of much writing, although it is mainly being used to restore wonderful old books to print because for new authors the digital literary equivalent has become dominated by Amazon, where you can hit bestseller status not through book quality but by endlessly lowering price – a ludicrous state of affairs.
3. Traditional Musicians
Maria Schneider is a jazz composer whose superbly elegant works became funded by fans online. Such was her success that she was the first person to win a grammy solely through online distribution of her music. She tours with her big band, and has been a huge supporter of crowdfunding, which has given her the kind of status that artists once only received through companies like Deutsche Grammaphon. Talent found a way out through digital availability.
In the future we will look back at what we’ve come to regard as traditional artists, writers and musicians and not see how their work was distributed – we’ll only see and hear and remember the work itself. The internet will have become an invisible instigator, a distribution tool – and if companies try to dominate artists again their power will be reduced by sheer weight of numbers.