Sunday, May 01, 2005

Post Media Anxiety

Lev Manovich offers some articles on his website, available as word docs. I've been reading them and came across one, Post Media Aesthetics, that talks about the outdated art structure and it's reliance on medium. Here are some excerpts so that you get the general idea:
In the last third of the twentieth century, various cultural and technological developments have together rendered meaningless one of the key concepts of modern art – that of a medium. However, no new topology of art practice came to replace media-based typology which divides art into painting, works on paper, sculpture, film, video, and so on. The assumption that artistic practice can be neatly organized into a small set of distinct mediums has continued to structure the organization of museums, art schools, funding agencies and other cultural institutions -- even though this assumption no longer reflected the actual functioning of culture.

...As artists begun to use the technologies of mass media to make art (be it photography, films, radio art, video art, or digital art), the economy of art system dictated that they use technologies designed for mass reproduction for the opposite purpose – to create limited editions. (Thus visiting a contemporary art museum we find such conceptually contradictory objects as “video tape, edition of 6” or “DVD, edition of 3.”) Gradually, this sociological difference in the distribution mechanisms, along with other sociological differences already mentioned (the size of an audience and the space of reception/exhibition), became more important criteria in distinguishing between mediums than the distinctions in material used or conditions of perception. In short, sociology and economics took over aesthetics.

...And if one can make radically different versions of the same art object (for instance, an interactive and non-interactive versions, or 35mm film version and Web version), the traditional strong link between the identity of an art object and its medium becomes broken. On the level of distribution, the Web has dissolved (at least in theory) the difference between mass distribution, previously associated with mass culture, and limited distribution previously reserved for small subcultures and the art system.

...despite the obvious inadequacy of the concept of medium to describe contemporary cultural and artistic reality, it persists. It persists through sheer inertia – and also because to put in place a better, more adequate conceptual system is easier said than done. So rather than getting rid of media typology altogether, we keep adding more and more categories: “new genres,” interactive installation, interactive art, net art. The problem with these new categories is that they follow the old tradition of identifying distinct art practices on the basis of the materials being used - only now we substitute different materials by different new technologies.

I think that there is a general blurring of boundaries in all areas of society and, one of the reasons that art has become (arguably) less relevant as a critique of contemporary society, is because it "no longer reflect(s) the actual functioning of culture".

Then again, during times of perceived crisis, societies become nostalgic for a "return to order" and, perhaps, the backlash against conceptualism and the subsequent nostalgia for a return to modernism's comforting assertions is a reflection of this societal angst. Did we ever get over our teenaged need for parental boundaries?


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