Everything That’s Old is New Again…

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011 | Reviews

…in which I talk about the current exhibition in the Art Building.

So, the New Media program has another exhibition on display in the building this week, and I am once again assaulted by the overall concept that “it’s weird so it must be art.” To this idea, I do not agree. While art does not have to be “pretty” or “clean,” there are definitely some communicative conditions that must be met for something to function in an artistic way. I rarely see anything come out of our New Media program that would, in my mind, be considered art. And I like to think of myself as a pretty free thinking person.

I get a sadistic glee when technological art projects crash...
When Art Crashes, Art Fails.

The thing is, there’s a certain, visceral language that exists in art that allows it to successfully communicate a desired message to us. Art is communication, it takes the idea, or feeling, or emotion developed by the artist and projects it upon us through an unspoken, unwritten dialogue. Of course this only works if we’re speaking the same language.

One of the benefits to art, as communication, is that it has the ability to transcend lexicon and language. Much like sign language, you don’t need to know the words that your audience speaks to communicate with them. You can bypass cultural and historical complications by speaking more universally. Art has the ability to do that and good art should be able to do so. The best art should have no need of a title or explanation because you should, in your gut, know what the artist was feeling amidst creation.

It is important to note that art does not have to have a specific, definable message, but it should at least have an idea or emotion that is being conveyed from the creator to the viewer. It can be something as simple as “joy,” “loss,” or even “preservation.” These ideas are as important as any fully formed argument, and can be portrayed in a nearly infinite number of ways, but without meaning, art is lacking.

Now, I suppose one could argue that the message of some of the work downstairs is “hey, look at this cool thing I did,” but that thought should really be universal for all artwork. If you don’t have pride in your work, then you’ve already failed your audience. There is a certain level of confidence and ego in your artwork. You are, at the rudimentary level, selling yourself by creating art, even if your inevitable goal is not to sell the artwork. Your soul is in you creation and you’re trying to sell that idea, concept, construction to the viewer. If you don’t have the self assurance to believe in your own work, then you’re not going to be convincing anyone else. This is a tough hurdle to overcome because the process of artistry is such a personal and intimate process, that most of us are bound to be a bit shy and reserved when exposing themselves through their creation.

Making things worse, I’ve found that a lot of the artists I’ve met and dealt with are particularly introverted, finding that communicating through their medium is easier than communicating directly with people. That introversion is still going to come out in your work if you don’t free yourself to open up, creatively. If you have reservations in your expression, then your message is going to get muddled and muted by that lack of artistic enthusiasm.

But back to the topic at hand: why the New Media work downstairs doesn’t speak to me. As I said, art communicates without the use of language or dialect, but that’s not exactly true. There is a vast and robust history of visual art throughout the history of mankind, and through that history, even globally, there is a certain diction that has grown from our collective understanding of visual media. The work downstairs, however, tends to ignore than history, and if it’s trying to communicate with us, it’s doing so in a completely foreign and alien manner.

I can understand this issue because I, myself, suffered this problem when working on my graduate photo degree. Having started off as a film major with a photo minor, and then moving into graduate photo, I am actually very short on art history exposure. I simply am not familiar enough with our past to know how to join in the conversation. I was told outright, that my craft was exquisite, but that I was communicating in a different language in my work. My messages were lost in translation. So, much like an aspiring author should be a voracious reader, a self-proclaimed artist should immerse themselves in as much visual medium as possible. Exposure to the history of visual communication should be inexhaustible. There should be an unquenchable thirst for more visual input, and from that swarming mass of media, the dialect of communication should be born.

But, while the work downstairs lacks that connection to man’s visual archive, it also lacks a certain level of finesse. I’ve been told by a passing faculty member that the crudeness of their work is part of the message, that the inner workings of the media is a part of the experience, but I think that’s just a cop out for a lack of craft. Even if your idea is being communicated through a hazy, rear projection screen, your production should not be made up of some plastic sawhorses, a crudely painted cardboard box, and some Batman comics propping up your projector. Your message needs to be clear and concise, and having a raw or unfinished look to the overall design distracts from the result. If the viewer spends more time inspecting the craftwork, and less time engaged in the actual artwork, then there’s something wrong.

And, of course, if your artwork crashes during the exhibition, then you’ve really just shot yourself in the foot.

As I said, earlier, I’m a fairly open minded person, and I am willing to accept a broad spectrum of visual media. Every year, around this time, I go and view the New Media exhibition, prepared to be surprised by the results. I go down, hoping for the best and inspect each piece on it’s own merit, but every year I am again let down by sloppy craft, bad programming, and mumbled messages that simply do not speak to me, or anyone that I know of. After years of exposure to the product of our program, I’ve decided that “isn’t it cool” just isn’t enough.

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