This is a post from the ongoing blog-to-blog conversation between myself and my friend Jason Simanek. If you need to catch up, here are our previous posts:
1. In Search of a Truly Creative Occupation
2. Fine Art in Museums: Tigers in Zoos
3. Invisible Artwork: If we ignore it maybe it will go away
4. Art is Communication, Getting Yelled At by Art Is as Much Fun as Getting Yelled At by People
“It is a certain kind of educated, intelligent and intellectually hungry person that seeks out and enjoys encountering things and people that challenge their own culture. To have any hope that the general public would embrace this practice is foolish.” – Jason Simanek
I am debating whether the population of people who embrace “a challenge to their own culture” is growing or shrinking in response to the internet age where everyone is networked together. On the one hand, people are connecting with people far different from themselves that they never would have encountered in the past. But people are also digging deeper into communities of like minded people. Is it better to be loosely connected to a physical community centered around ancestry and tradition or is it better to be tightly connected to an online community that passionately supports your obscure interests? There are pros and cons to both I suppose and a healthy person would benefit from both.
In general, I have more hope in the public than I think I have ever had in my life. One of the exciting things about the age of the internet is that the population of “intellectually hungry” people that you describe is exploding. While the walls of our homes may not reflect it, the population of artists has exploded thanks to the internet and technology.
Most people can afford a computer that makes it relatively easy to create something. Sure, the first thing they create with these machines is a video/photo/blog about their cat, but nevertheless, this has huge implications. It has changed the general public from a passive participant in our culture into an active member who is adding to and shaping the world. Now, rather than copying the rich “culture makers” sense of art, each person can define the meaning of their culture individually. And is it any wonder that the walls of most people’s homes isn’t where they choose to display their work? Now you can share your creations online with people who might actually appreciate what you are doing. The walls of the home seem pretty limiting by comparison.
So now we are shifting into a creative culture that encourages participation. We are all asking ourselves these questions: “Now that I have these tools, what should I create? Who can I share my creations with? Now that I have found a community of people who share my passions, what can I contribute? How can I improve the work that I am creating? How can I help others improve their skills?” In addition, people are forming opinions about things that they never would have thought about before.
“Only recently has the general public had the free time and money to attempt to emulate the rich by thoughtfully decorating their homes with the mass-produced copies of images that have already been defined as ‘good art’ by rich people in the past. Its as though they have a nostalgia for someone else’s past. They’ve replaced what was most likely their own relatively simple but rich folk art tradition with thoughtless, mass produced imagery.”
There is an article in Wired this month called “The Great Cognitive Surplus” that talks about how differently people are spending there time compared to a decade ago. Clay Shirky makes a great statement that, “When someone buys a TV, the number of consumers goes up by one, but the number of producers stays the same. When someone buys a computer or mobile phone, the number of consumers and producers both increase by one.” I think that the general public is shifting from a population that spends their free time into a population that uses their free time. (On a side note, the other voice in that Wired article is Daniel Pink who has a great video on YouTube talking about “the surprising truth about what motivates us.”
Five years ago it was almost impossible to connect with people who would stop and notice my work. The best I could do was offend a few people in the middle of a small town in the middle of Nebraska. Today I can share pinhole photos with hundreds of like-minded enthusiasts who appreciate what I do without giving me strange looks. These people are invested in the same kind of work and willing to contribute to my improvement.
Admittedly, I am blurring the lines between traditional artists (Warhol, Pollock, etc.) and people who just like to create things – whether that is open source software, Widipedia entries, blogs, or whatever. The internet isn’t going to transform everyone into artists and there are plenty of downsides to what the internet has contributed to society. But overall, I think it is an exciting time to be alive.