I’ve been thinking about a statement I heard while at conferences this summer; I think I probably blogged the talk, but I’m too lazy to check right now. Anyway, the claim was that appropriate response to a good work in new media was “how clever.” I’m not sure now that I think about it whether that was supposed to be what the audience expects, or what the creator aims for, but in any case it was set in contrast to traditional art that aims for “how beautiful.” And certainly I can think of art that aims for beauty. But does this mean new media art should forget about all of those categories? I’m thinking about the sublime right now; I think it would be amazing if someone created something in new/digital media that struck me as sublime. But so often it does seem to only be about cleverness. Even when it claims to be political, it’s usually addressing politics in a clever parodic way. I can’t think if I’ve ever seen software art, or media art that was just using computers instead of brushes, that really moved me emotionally.
While visiting Rotterdam I went to the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum and saw a lot of art, from Medieval to contemporary. It was cool to see the Tower of Babel, for example. But one painting really struck me; a Madonna and Child–the type where Mary is cradling her dead son. This is the first time I’ve been confronted with one of these since having my own children, and it stopped me dead. I stood there tearing up not because of any Christian meaning, but because I was thinking of how agonizing it would be for a mother (or I suppose any parent) to experience such a thing–or worse, to lose you child without having the chance to be with her or him at the end. In fact, even now, it’s upsetting me to even type this in. Can software art or net.art or any other new media art ever create this kind of response? –not grief per se, but something this powerful?
If not, it may never get that far beyond a small academic or expert audience, because many people, in the face of their everyday tragedies and triumphs will simply find it irrelevant.
I’m now thinking of this whole experience–hearing the comment, weeks later seeing the painting, almost a month later having this thought–in terms of the emerging complexity Hayles defined. At the moment, the recursive paths my own thoughts took are very clear to me, as are the unpredictable interactions between different intellectual inputs.
But I also am struck again by how really central experiences aren’t addressed in a lot of the research. –For example, lots of people are writing about virtual communities and social networks, but most people seem to be studying rather groups/networks that are focused on rather shallow things (myself included, to some degree). What about online communities of people who have lost a child? Or who have aging parents for whom they must care? Or who escaped from a camp in whatever war-torn country (plenty to choose from right now)? Or have I just missed it somehow? Is it just not well-publicised? Not tagged as a Technorati fave? Not
In fact, this didn’t bother me a week ago, and maybe it won’t bother me next week either. Maybe this post is just the record of my overthinking. Or the news that my friend’s wife went to the hospital because she thought the baby had stopped moving.
Traditionally, art, music, poetry, etc have (among other things) helped people deal with the aspects of life that are difficult (sublime, maybe?). What is net.art or software art or whatever, for? I mean, really? (and I just know at least one friend who may be rolling his eyes at this question, and he is free to comment!) Oh well, it’s late and I’ll end this post before it gets even more rambly.