Mind the gap: the slow death of fine art

I have spent the last couple of days seriously investigating the area which for want of a better word one can call ‘Transmedia’. Coined by Henry Jenkins in his book Convergence Culture (2008) who said (and here I thank Alison Norrington for compiling the quotes)

“transmedia represents the integration of entertainment experiences across a range of different media platforms, ”

Jenkins defines transmedia as storytelling that

“immerses an audience in a story’s universe through a number of dispersed entry points, providing a comprehensive and coordinated experience of a complex story.”

I have taught in a department designated ‘Multimedia’ for the last three years and nobody has ever defined exactly what multimedia meant then opr now. Young students look blankly and mutter something about 3D and older people remember stuttering CD-Roms which thankfully gone the way of the floppy disc into cyber-extinction.

So here we are in 21st Century TRANSMEDIA land and believe me the term is catching on. The August edition of Wired UK magazine had a whole feature on it including references to latest Dr Who ‘transmedia-ing’ so it definitely a buzz word.

Let us unpack the term a little further. What it actually and quite neatly doing is removing the illusion of ‘separate’ digital worlds which we will increasingly work in. The fact is we are working in one ‘shared space’ and that space is digital. Imagine an art school where there were once nice designated rooms…..sculpture, painting, graphic design, film, theatre. In fact one does not have to imagine it in most cases despite the ‘digital’ revolution that is how our institutions are set up. But as the pace of technology increases alongside the power of the hardware we are fast approaching a point where all this ‘silo’ demarcation will become totally irrelevant. I work in such an institution however and we are going to have to tear down those walls soon….very soon…

Students raised on the internet recognise this to be true. It is harder for adults schooled in the defined areas to grasp. We cannot continue to train in silos. The future student will be operating across platforms in ‘transmedia’ studios (they already opening up). The future student will not only need a working knowledge of web and 3D ( Adobe and css 3d integration helps there) but of graphic (paper), film and conventional narrative storytelling too ( what we currently call film and TV).

So called film and TV simply do not exist from the moment Steve Jobs Apple started selling portions of ‘action’ for $99 a go. The itunisation (sounds like Balkanisation – ironically) of cultural product continues apace. I was shouted down once for suggesting we change the name of Multimedia to ‘Adobe’ art school but that is what happening. Technology is the driver and because of its omnipotence it creating some interesting side-effects.

Those students who most able are instinctively realising that to work with a defined ‘content’ call it story, narrative, subject matter have increasingly had to move from the ‘fine art’ arena to other less ‘rarified’ but craft orientated areas. This means 3D, film, web and graphic design.

It is just the combination of these areas in a new ‘Transmedia’ genre that the traditional ‘storytelling’, going back to the Greeks, is now existing and flourishing in. Fine art in contrast has fled from meaning in a dance of almost perceptible fear as the traditional avenues of expression have been closed down. The weight and academic importance given to fine artists production has increased in direct contrast to its lack of content.

Fine art cannot compete with the advances in technology and cannot seem to ‘jump the gap’. Losing traditional skills has hastened its irrelevance and baroque lack of focus. It is almost comedic to wander round any contemporary show as nine times out of ten the rehashed work is reiterating the same old tired themes…despair, isolation, anti-capitalism.. indeed we have a multi-million pound gallery devoted to this here in Nottingham. It invariably empty because the show has moved elsewhere.

The show is in people’s hands now. It was situated on their desktop, then it moved to the laptop. Within five years it will exist solely in handheld devices. Nowhere in the current fine art scene do I see any coherent attempt to deal with this seismic shift in the cultural landscape. A bunch of badly coded art websites or fleeting ‘non’ professional arty videos only underscore the failure to evolve into the new digital landscape. So we are left in a ‘gap’ or rather a divide. Before the divide fine art was taught as a fully professional, committed and ‘slow’ arena in which most artists would succeed after years of toil. Now it has jumped on the ’fast art’ bandwagon but with no clue of the digital tools it flings around. Faster and faster students are encouraged away from paint and pencil and into parading their lack of digital skills.

Meanwhile the real ‘fine artists’ for the 21st century are getting on with what they always have done..storytelling…they just aren’t called ‘fine artists’ any more…

http://www.henryjenkins.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alison_Norrington

Withering away in The Jackson Cage?

Bruce Springsteen lyric from The River album

Jackson Cage
Down in Jackson Cage
Well darlin’ can you understand
The way that they will turn a man
Into a stranger to waste away
Down in the Jackson Cage

Well I not exactly this far gone but there some pretty bad side-effects of the always-on internet life. As a lecturer in almost impossible to ‘switch-off’ from the always on environment. Students are online on facebook and twitter and I actually push them into the ‘online’ life. But there are significant downsides. Soon it will so encompassing that I will only move once a day to ingest food (still a requirement) despite everything the web can do….not good healthwise. It a good job I still have to physically meet student body (despite e-learning ventures) or I’d probably lose use of my legs.

The enveloping nature of the internet means that everything we,  see, do and think is processed through a web lens and recently I have noticed this happening to friends of mine too. Facebook is a dominant force in shaping the local arts groups events and actually channelling local arts debate. Like mobile phones what did we do before facebook…talk…ring…email…make posters…thinking back to my pre-internet art school how on earth did things happen at all? Happen they did though as my Alumni group on facebook for Hornsey College of Art attests..

https://www.facebook.com/groups/189414558562/

In writing this blog entry I will have a fairly constant online ‘audience’ through facebook and virtually everything I currently mulling over is now appearing as links on facebook or twitter or both. This can be useful as a kind of strategic bookmarking but instead of being personal and private it is open and capable of endless revision….in fact holding a fast opinion seems to be becoming ever more difficult. This can have unexpected bonuses but also problems arise. A factual mistake…e.g. did I really imagine a Ceramicist won the Nottingham Open show becomes a hard fact that has to be retracted. Private opinion is spread so quickly that it becomes more than a blog note and a career defining standpoint. Where is the boundary between a provisional and a fixed opinion. Or is that where we now stand in endless revisionism territory?

The price of spectacular connections across continents and time is a fluctuating lack of finality in artworks and strength of opinion. In a web that always on and always in a sate of flux these things become expendable. Springsteen’s album becomes simply a stream of out-takes, alternative album shots, a flood of all the mistakes he made as much as an album. Finality and craftsmanship becomes a negotiable stream. Today through twitter/facebook I became aware of a live performance of songwriter Tom Russell. Did it change the perception of the song because in a new context. The fixity of art-forms is lost. All very post-Derrida the academics would scoff..but it happening. How do young people hold an opinion in such mutable environments?

This is the real price of never-ending revisionism. The real artefact becomes lost in a fog of ‘versions’. I love to touch a vinyl album and remove the actual ‘sculpted’ object. I remember sitting and staring at Matisse’s Red Studio painting when on loan to the ‘old’ Tate. I love this private photo I found on web (there are thousands of version sof this image in a range of hues) as it reminds one that no reproduction can supplant actual viewing.

More than simple cramp I feel that the internet has supplanted all the physical artefacts I once held dear and like the proverbial bathwater what have I and by extending the metaphor ‘we’ lost? I cannot put a finger on it yet but as I see students in our local tea shop flicking through positions and networks on their macbooks I feel a nostalgia for a pre-internet time of certainty and argument away from the shimmering stream. Oliver Reed banging his fist on the wooden table in a mock Parisienne cafe in Tony Hancock’s ‘The Rebel’ was a cliche but it feels more real than current debate. I can talk to everybody at once but really I am addressing no-one but mysefl in a loft space on a cold, dark winter night. Reality exists beyond the screen but somehow I have lost touch with it.

Maybe if the web splinters it may not be a bad thing. Content will start to re-assert itself as ‘definitive’ once again. Maybe people will read the same version, listen to the same song. This endless variety flowing across the screen will start to slow down and we will all have time to concentrate instead of time to be distracted.

To make art at this juncture is to my mind impossible. We are looking at the remnants of art-forms post-internet. We seek out the novelty, the half-finished..the mistake. With no fixity one cannot create anything but a blur? I am simply adding to the blur at present. I seek the fixed stare..a Ruskinian calm maybe and then I can proceed.

Artists at present are like so many sparrows flitting through the halls..which will survive to next summer and which will smash against their own reflections here?