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

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Shaun Belcher

Contemporary art critic

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