Pam went to New York as an aspiring artist, and that is all she wanted to become (The Office geek alert!). But she failed her finals because they switched from Quark to Acrobat. In her words: “I hate computers.”
For anyone wondering who Pam is and why we are talking about her – Pam is a character in the US comedy show, The Office. She is great at drawing and painting, so she wants to make a career out of it. The next obvious move? She drives to New York to learn graphic design so she can become a professional artist.
But she fails, not as an artist, but as a designer.
It’s not that she didn’t try to learn the required skill to monetise her art; she did. But technology failed her.
We are a part of a fast-moving world and a faster-moving generation. And what lies at the core of this dynamic universe is technology – it has revolutionised the way we live. Our way of learning, expressing, interacting, enacting, inventing, teaching, and even perceiving has changed. Someone whose life is aided, nay, enabled by technology, I don’t stumble upon a lot of opportunities to find faults with them. Except when it comes to art. Here, I have a bone to pick.
How technology affects art
Well, technology’s relationship with art is like looking at a coin – there are two sides to it. Technology definitely has a positive impact on art.
Technology has made art more accessible; people sitting in different corners of the world can view or buy art from anywhere else.
It has also allowed budding artists to seek inspiration from artists of international acclaim.
A lot of artists are using technology to create exceptional art shows. Winnipeg Art Gallery of Canada, for instance, showcases a digital art installation called “Behaviours of Light”. Artists Kyle Yantsen and Chris Burke use digital projections to make their art stand out – it literally transcends the space of a canvas and comes to life in a room.
Thanks to technology, art isn’t limited to a visual experience anymore. The AltMuseum is an Instagram platform that enables visually impaired people to enjoy art.
A simple code helps describe the visuals in such excruciating detail that the listeners find themselves immersed in the object of art even without looking at it.
Technology helps modernise art. It brings art up to speed with the world. Whether it’s online auctions, virtual art classes, helping amateur artists find their niche, or using art as a form of therapy, there are more upsides to this marriage of art and technology than one can count. What is the flipside then?
How art is impaired by modernisation
The attempt to modernise art might bring it closer to the audience, but it takes it further away from the artist. Most of the attempts at modernising art are made by including it in popular culture.
Algorithms and art don’t always go hand in hand. Anyone who is well versed with social media algorithms and marketing techniques knows that better content does not always sell better.
Art becomes less about aesthetic expression and more about what would sail better in the wind that blows all over socials. Art and artists that are able to navigate their way into mass acceptance become a part of the modern tide, but the rest are washed away by it.
As a greater number of artists are turning to showcase their art on personalised websites and social media pages, art is becoming common. The fast consumption of their art is forcing artists to experiment with art forms that are easy to create and easier to consume. This process not only takes away the usual creative effort an artist would put into one piece, but it also prevents the said work from being unique.
Since artists are now trying to keep up with the pace of social media consumption, attention to detail is becoming a thing of the past. Not only is the artist getting alienated from his work, the art is losing its integrity too.
Additionally, this race towards being involved in pop culture is forcing artists to resort to the use of digital tools that they wouldn’t normally use. Take Rajasthan’s famous Ajrakh prints for instance. Each print is made by dipping a wooden block in a fresh coat of paint, and then pressing it down on the fabric. But as Ajrakh has started to take over the market, a lot of brands are resorting to machine printing or digital printing. This not only shatters the integrity of the art form, but also serves to undermine the labour of those still using the original technique.
How do we expect a 55-year-old Ajrakh artist and his wife to compete with the digital processes?
For others, using technology in the creation of art is the problem. A lot of great artists don’t possess the resources required to digitise production. Some might not have the financial flexibility, others might find themselves betraying the true essence of their art by resorting to technological means. Others still, who are open to the use of digital means, might not have the knowledge or tech savvy needed to incorporate a new skill.
Yet, there are artists who are able to cross over to the tech side of things. Their production process might get accelerated, but their art loses its soul.
How technology fails the artist
That a lot of artists are being left behind because they fail to modernise their art is a problem that pronounces itself in several ways. Many indigenous and local artists are brought out by resellers, who then monopolise these art forms in the big cities and make huge profits off the same.
Gond art – a predominant art form practised by the Gond tribes of Madhya Pradesh is a very intricate art form that involves colourful graphics, usually featuring animals or nature imagery, sustained by minute, repetitive patterns.
A single Gond painting can take days to finish. Since the original artists are inept at selling their work in the open market or online, city-dwellers make the most of the situation.
Not only does this further marginalise the artists of these communities, but it also devalues their craft and effort.
If we look at this issue through another lens, we’ll realise how attempts at modernisation of art threaten the security of said art. A lot of times, when an art piece goes up online, it is reproduced and replicated without any information to the artist. A lot of people sell fake art by simply plagiarising the artist’s work.
Artists who aren’t completely aware of copyright and ownership rights might have to relinquish their art because someone else claimed it as their own.
As per a study conducted by the Pew Research Center and American Life Project, nearly 35% of people believe that the internet is shifting the focus of artistic organisations from artistic creation to marketing and promotion. This is also limiting people’s attention span, making them more impatient about slower art techniques.
Liberating art from the modern needs
Every time I am worked up, my grandfather tells me that I don’t even have the patience to slow down and appreciate nature. Guilty of what he says, I find myself acting the same way when reading an extensively long poem, or watching a slow film, or even looking at an intricate painting a friend gifted me.
Art has started to lose its meaning at both ends – artists’ and audiences’.
The former is forgetting the point of creating art in the first place, the latter is ignoring it even more robustly. We’re all becoming part of the twisted knot that our ardent need for modernisation is tying us up in.
As artists, we can hardly shy away from adopting techniques that work better. What can be done though is, we try to retain the true value of art. Instead of participating in markets that sell art on a commercial basis, we must try to control the way our art is sold.
With the world opening up again, we can expect people to start visiting galleries, attending events and openings, and even making appearances at auctions.
As audiences, we can try to be a little appreciative of art and artists. Instead of buying from vendors who source art from multiple small artists, we can try to get it directly from said artists. One of the main things artists are prodded about is how expensive their work is. We appreciate local, handmade art when we spot it at our bosses’ homes but we rarely want to be the ones appreciating the artist when buying it. We try to bargain at all costs.
But, as a creative professional, I don’t lose hope. Like Pam found her way out of graphic design, there is a definitive way out. For her it was a mural for her office; ours might be lurking around the corner too.
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