Art is defined as “an aesthetic object or feature that implies the conscious use of skill and creative imagination.” These many forms of expression, visual art, music, dance, writings, serve to enlighten us, enrich our lives, and otherwise influence us in many ways. Art can soothe, irritate, and enable. The artist can express alternate methods of thought, create various levels of existence, and allow intimate levels of understanding.
It is in the latter that, perhaps, the artist could serve the most important role. Since the beginning of civilization, man has sought a single unifying force that would help us to attain a “one mind” existence. Many have strived for peace through shared understanding and coordinated action.
Information, as senior partner of art, has long been seen as the catalyst for such profound social change. Information has a more well-defined role in society. Information, when used to effect, can fuel revolution, can incite dischord, and can direct large groups of people to a single conclusion. Information is the oil in the intellectual machine. We can, with an acceptable lack of reasonable doubt, judge other individuals and other systems by their reactions to the knowledge and the accessibility of knowledge.
Ideally, reactions to the few distinct forms of information are also well-defined. An audience’s response to statistical information will be quite different to it’s reaction a less representational format, like a news report.
It could be said, then, that art is the subjective reinterpretation of information. The quality and quantity of information should (and does) have a direct impact on the colour and the shape of art. In a society where people do not actively seek information, art is likely to also be ignored. In a society where information is strictly controlled, art itself is either similarly restrained or it is banned altogether. Art and the artist are made to serve whatever force is in place to dispense the appropriate messages to the masses.
In a “open”, infosaturated society, art fails, too, in helping us toward that “oneness” that we crave. the most superficial of connections is enough to assure many of us that we understand the people and societies that are far removed from our own. We can import their music, food, clothing, and books. We can visit an approximation of their culture in a section of our cities. We can prepare meals that resemble theirs. Here, selective assymilation is a substitute for true understanding. Art is made to serve an insatiable need to consume, but no profound and lasting connections are made.
So, as art finds itself forcibly wed to massive consumer and entertainment industries, ambiguous and dubious images bombard us from every angle. we are enticed to purchase this well designed bottle of bleach or endorse this bank or watch that broadcast. musicians are prefabricated, designed with excruciating detail in order to illicit the best response from their target audience. painters and poets are fed to an eager (and sometimes unsuspecting) demographic. performers hire agencies to make sure they target the proper audience at the proper time. Art becomes the prostitute as well as the pack-mule.
Can art survive and remain faithful to itself in an infosaturated society? It is doubtful that the contemplative serenity of the aesthetic object can reach the fertile mind amid the endless high-volume-high-concept dronings of pop companies, shoe peddlers, and the like. It is doubtful that the imaginative engineerings of a creative mind can reach the disquisitive individual in an era of high-drama-high-profile political indescretions, entertainment bombshells, and social smokescreens ad nauseum.
Should art, then scream as loudly as information? Does it have the energy to raise its voice? Is the information-age artist willing to sacrifice credibility to gain an audience? Is the information-age audience worth such a sacrifice? In a 1957 lecture, Albert Camus said, “Any publication is an act, and that act exposes one to the passions of an age that forgives nothing.” The artist has awakened to find a new age. Gone are the days of frivolous expression. Every action can be a commitment. Every creation can be a slap in the face. Unfortunately, when the audience can see, feel, and hear no single, distinct statement, the artist then wrings his hands in desperation. What can the artist do to reach the audience in an infosaturated environment?
In this, the best and worst time to be an artist, we find ourselves empowered and impotent. Our freedom is permanent. Our minds fertile and unfettered. Our audience, unfortunately, is intoxicated by an unfulfillable promise. The artist wrings his hands. The answers won’t come easily.
Umberto Eco, Travels In Hyperreality (1990) – ISBN: 0156913216
David Shenk, Data Smog (1998) – ISBN: 076790012X
Esther Dyson, Release 2.1 (1998) – ISBN: 0062515519