Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Future of Ideas

Jörg Colberg's recent post on his blog - The Future of Ideas is Now Free - got me thinking about the value of the artist in society. See below for my comment:
I firmly believe access to the arts - esp. arts education - is critical to the well-being of the collective 'we'.

There seems a number of 'problems' that arise with this 'utopian' open source world. Not least of which distraction, apathy, LOTS of bad work and - paradoxically - elitism.

I heard an old interview with Ben Elton on the radio and he addressed the lack of imagination in a partially 'over-feed' world.

The particular example he used was a child in a classroom who previously would have looked out the window and dreamt. Now they instead send TXT messages or watch TV on their mobiles. This applies across the board - we plug-in and turn-off.

Living in a country like Australia - as many other countries I'd imagine - apathy is a HUGE issue. You can't drag people kicking and screaming to anything other than sport or shopping.

The classical engagements have shifted which obviously has it's virtues but also issues.

I'm not advocating that the web be some members-only club but I do find the quantity of work very overwhelming and the time between clicks is becoming shorter and shorter.

What of work that 'requires' contemplation and thought? Is it overwhelmed by that which pops? The instant (and fizzy!) art?

I guess the key issue from an artist's standpoint is survival... how do you make it to the next day with all limbs intact?

We live in a society where we are now constantly told that 'You too can make a ... insert noun ... for $15 and an hour of your own time.'

That is not a bad thing but consider the following two points/thoughts.

1. An artist's role in society should be to provide unique access to the world through their eyes/thoughts. To help people understand, challenge, appreciate and value that which surrounds them. They are commentators and inherently have a value.

2. The average income of a 'full-time' artist is extremely low - even below minimum wage in quite a few cases. I have heard stories of artists who might sell $200,000+ worth of work in a year - ie. did VERY well - but after gallery commissions, material costs, taxes they only 'earn' AUD$30,000. Even that is well above what 50% of artists in Australia earn - on average AUD$7,300.

With those two points in mind are we not in danger of devaluing an essential socialogical process? If all should be sound bites, is it he/she who has the 'biggest voice' that which prevails?

I personally gave up on trying to 'do' sales quite a while ago as I realised how much emotional space that effort took up - ie. lack thereof dramatically drains your energy.

Instead I've had to be a self-enforced split personality - a certain number of days/hours a week are purely and utterly for the financing of what I 'really' want to do.

Jörg: What I'd like to point out is that the "free" here involves two aspects, namely the "free" as in "free lunch" and the "free" as in "free speech". Money of course is an issue, but I think the other aspect might even be more important: How do we create an atmosphere where the exchange of ideas is most productive, for the benefit of everybody?

The freedom of ideas would have to be one of the key virtues I mentioned before.

The universal access that relative high-speed internet provides in seeing exhibitions, openings, etc in video form is refreshing in itself.

At the other end of the world we got a relatively thorough insight into the Venice Biennale - alone the ability to see Bill Viola's new work in context and in motion on Tateshots.

That said, I know many who deliberately avoid looking at 'too much' for fear of either corrupting their own ideas or - much worse - discovering that their concepts have been 'done'.

It provides another level of stress to those who are taught to be 'original' above all else.

If you have the time and the US has access (not sure if IPs are shut out as often they are in the other direction) have a look at a quick series that ran here on Australian TV called Not Quite Art from Marcus Westbury. All three episodes are available to download for free.

This talks alot about the democratisation of ideas. Admittedly it has a heavy 'street' focus but some ideas/concepts are refreshing.

I especially like the one where a collection of ideas is published (book or web? can't remember) with the stipulation that they can be 'used'...

People then approach the creative process more freely without the normal restraints of what is possible for them financially and/or logistically to produce. Creativity without the bounds of 'realism'.

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