The paper wasps outside my window aren’t doing anything, because I Morteined them back to the Stone Age.¹ But is that art?
Well, it isn’t digital art, because it used Allethrin and Resmethrin instead of computer bits. In another sense, though, it is art, because it has occurred at a time and in a place. The school of art that appreciates this is called Fluxus. The notion is that everyone is creating art just by their actions. How far can we go with this?
It is my wont and habit to walk home from the supermarket along the north side of Sussex St. I do this for the reasonable reason that the footpath is more even on that side, and thus there is less chance of me tumbling painfully and expensively over some unexpected change in the path height. Suppose I decide to walk along the south side footpath one day? Is that art? The Fluxus school would say that it was.
So might Walter Benjamin. My australic stroll along Sussex St takes place at a time and in a place and is irreproducible, in that the exact time won’t come again. I can get arbitrarily close to the same walk, because Sussex St and south are both longeval constructs—they’ll outlive me, anyway—but can’t reproduce the walk. I might do this in the future as a form of art, but certainly the first time I did it, it was just for variety, with no intention of creating art.
If the Fluxus idea were true, every action would constitute art. How would we distinguish art from anything else? We’d be inundated with the stuff. I would separate art from the humdrum by the intent to create art. What about a pretty flower or a nice sunset? These can be delightful things, but there’s no intent behind them, so they wouldn’t be art in the sense that I mean it. I doubt even the Fluxus school would say they were.
Consider these two responses to Auschwitz (which may appear below. WordPress has a mind of its own, and we cross that mind at peril of our immortal souls):
Both are reproducible, or you wouldn’t be seeing them here, but are they art?
Production of Art
So much for the reproduction of art. What out the production of art? The advent and availability of tehnology to make artistic intentions into reality has seen an explosion in the production of artistic work, particularly if we consider writing and music as forms of art.² The ease of production has meant an increase in the amount of art out there, but there has also been an increase in population, so there are more people around to see the art, even if they have to visit it at its only place of exhibition.
Has the availability of the means of production increased the quality of art? Some would say yes, and others no. All discussion of quality should be made in the context of Sturgeon’s Law:
90% of everything is crap³
It doesn’t matter how much art is produced. It’s possible to say that, as soon as the first ten artworks were produced back in the prehistoric past, nine of them would’ve been crap. What has happened is that more people can make art, and thus the possibility of finding the ten percent that isn’t crap has increased. Further, the digital world at the moment, and maybe for the moment, allows more people to access these works of art. In particular, the advent of self-publishing has meant that successful books can be published without the imprimatur of a publisher. There may be no filter absolutely stopping any garbage from being produced and put out there for public consumption, but since the publishers are driven by what marketing ‘experts’ say they can sell, the publishers don’t even act as definers of quality. They are now gateways that stop stuff getting to the reading populace—and there are more of them around than ever before.
Some new art forms are transformations of existing forms into new media, with consequent changes of form. For example, at the 1999 Primetime Emmy Awrards, David Hyde Pierce and Jenna Elfman listed some of the nominees in the medium of interpretive dance. (If we lived in a true information age, I’d have a link here.) But, if we limit ourselves to sight and sound, there are still numerous possibilities for telling a narrative in forms other than the written word, and narrow-casting it to interested people over the Internet.
Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves.
The ease of making art and remediating art could therefore be seen as an outgrowth of Fascism, and may in the future prove to be the precursor of it. Much could be made of the new political climate but, since I’ve almost bored you as much as I’ve vored myself so far, I won’t delve into that hoary old chunk of clickbait. Yet
Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic.
as Benjamin further wrote.
So, maybe those wasps suffered for my art.
1. it is my avowed intent to shoehorn a referene to paper wasps into every one of these posts. if you think of it as a form of remediation, it should be less painful.
2. if you’ve read this far, you may be wondering about the former.
3. This is a paraphrase of the original quote from Venture Science Fiction no. 49, September 1957:
I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.