Art today, is redefined by its relationship to technological innovation, changes in both its meaning and its many functions in the all-pervasive communications culture of technology. Creative inspiration derives from many sources; we can no longer speak about imagery singly as art or design or communication. It is no longer a question of film versus video or painting versus photography. We can only conceive of the postmodern image as a child of multimedia that reflects the spirit of our time, without hierarchies and authoritative voices. This is a vision marking a new generation of artists sensitive to a multitude of possibilities for exploration in a media-conscious society. The best of them, inventive, politically and socially aware, will serve as creative interlocutors for our cultural exchanges. The following are some maxims one might think about when engaging with the imagery and art of the computer age.
1. We want to believe that art is the only output that consists of replaceable artifacts of the great evolution of image in the body of thought. But art is in essence process.
2. The digital world tells us unequivocally that not only is there a one-to-one correspondence between the image and the scene, but there is no original.
3. Originality resides with the receiver.
4. Creativity rests in exploring the potential and the consequences of this new geography of the imagination.
5. Imagery is the ectoplasm of our existence.
6. Cybernetics is the biosphere of the elastic mind.
7. The field of creativity resembles the collective metabolism of all human bodies.
8. We are now in an age of enlightenment, enabled image-handling.
9. By our intervention in the image, we are made aware of the plasticity of our universe.
10. We cannot accept that imagery only records. We must comprehend that the virtual world is valid circumstance.
11. Scrutiny will bear witness to new truths. Fiction is its counterpart.
12. All we can really know of truth is our own reality.
The language of the computer—including the Internet, interactive multimedia, and other new digital forms and spaces—is a shared language for all of those who choose to partake in the discussion. There really is no longer a single artist, but rather a web of connections being woven that continually redefines a kind of collective creative genius. Talent, innovation, the avant-garde, and the cutting edge no longer define an elite. The new vision is defined by the simple notion that all communication from all of the previously defined components of cultural interchange—sound, music, word, text, drawing, photograph, file, folder, icon, symbol, metaphor, or image —are all reduced to the same common denominator: the digit.
At present what we are receiving as the product of the computer artist is a kind of primary experimentation and exploration. We are still in the most elementary stages of a great revolution, not only in communication, but in thought and creativity. Our culture has yet to fully understand the references and icons that are being defined and redefined before our very eyes. They are both new and repetitive, reconfigured, relative, and emerging. As our collective memory embraces them instead of rejecting them, we will be able to reach into the great depth and potentiality of hyper-media, virtual reality, interconnectivity, and new meaning. But this can only be accomplished by being informed, and that means understanding the historical antecedents that form culture, language, and image.
The charge here is to those engaged in the arts and humanities to embrace the technology, not with skepticism, but with the desire to enlighten it. The past celebrated great minds who reached outside the boundaries of their given disciplines to invent and relate to a larger field of human endeavor. The recent age of specialization has produced an elite practitioner and an impenetrable jargon that seals informational content off from the rest of the world. Meaningful creative practice should help to open the dialogue to all inquirers. The technology itself must be a reflection of a creative culture constantly seeking to integrate knowledge.
Technology is not just a tool, though we must initially approach it as one in order to learn it and feel comfortable, even unthreatened, by it. It should be seen as something that allows us to fulfill certain creative tasks with efficiency and simplicity. It extends existing tools and makes some obsolete. As with any apparatus, there is a craft and technique to be learned. However, once several generations have grown up with the now-ubiquitous computer technology, its
utility will change. It is likely that life in tomorrow's virtual worlds will be such that what was formerly perceived as a tool or a skill will have become an extension of our own humanness. In the past, we have described virtual worlds as if they were a form of practice for existence in the real world. At present it seems that we are practicing in the real world in order to exist in the virtual world. In the future there will be no demarcation at all. In other words, the way we think about our life with technology defines it.
Observation is at the core of understanding. The camera—indeed, any optically generated image—is a model of the extension of our senses through technology. Photography (and its related practices, film and video) is a kind of matrix for that which feeds into the computer from the outside world. Photographic media allow us to sample our outer environment, which constantly changes and must be organized by the creative information handler into meaningful hierarchies of ever-evolving experience. Through collecting, recording, sorting, connecting, transforming and framing data, we maintain the keenness we need to serve as real-world witnesses.
Education in and with the new imaging technologies is a challenge that affects us all. There are issues that separate generations and classes, especially the estrangement that technology represents from older modalities of research and organization. There is a loss of object and a loss of tactility. The older generation has a steep learning curve to negotiate that the younger generation levels. This is the first moment in civilization when it might be said that the child has more to teach the parent than the parent the child. The child is enabled as the parent becomes crippled.
At this juncture in history, older forms of education must and will change. We can no longer function as artists through the propagation of single forms or movements, nor can we afford to keep art cut off from other areas of exploration and discovery. Contemporary painting could not speak to us as it does without the invention of the camera, so too, the lens arts are translated and transformed by its relationship to the computer. Inevitably, this logic extends in the computer to a deeper connectivity between all disciplines of thought, communication, and creativity. The new artist is being born from the multiplicity of disciplines in which he or she is engaged.
This new artist, this creative interlocutor, helps to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information between one need and another. A creative interlocutor--the twenty-first-century-artist—is the product and producer of an enlightened engagement within the realm of the circuit, fostered by an educational system that is transdisciplinary in nature and values the management of ideas as much as the nurturing of them. This person is a navigator, helmsman, producer, director, and organizer of the infinite digital library. More specifically, the creative interlocutor is an editor, collector, and curator who makes, weaves, welds, builds, and finally, is a distributor of inspiration. The creative interlocutor is also a programmer, inventor, and researcher who negotiates the revolutionary associations of the digital file with us and for us.
The best artists are those who can best help the users to find their own creative meaning in the interrelationship of ideas and forms. When we can cross disciplines with the facility of technology, when we can form our own opinions from a fuller spectrum of options, we will no longer need the mass media, the hype of the entertainment world, or the oppression of self-perpetuating institutions.
Learning should and can occur wherever there is a terminal. The artist, the receiver, and the user don't need a curator to be creative. Communication output is as mobile, transformable, and elastic as our willingness to engage our own creative force. What you are seeing, from today's creative people working with the new technology, is a sketch of the elaborate labyrinth of possibilities that still lies before us.
Charles H. Traub Chair, Graduate Photography, Video & Related Media, School of Visual Arts, New York
LEONARDO, MIT Press, Vol. 30, No. 5, pp. 389-390, 1997