Monday, May 23, 2011

can't sleep... the machines will get me!

Things that whirr and click make me nervous, and not just because it seems likely that at some point they're going to take over, submerge us in vats of gelatinous goo, and plug us into a power grid - forcing us to live in a grotesque, computer-generated parody of reality. That's the future. Today, I am afraid of the machines because they operate at a pace that is, in every sense of the word, impersonal. Things are changing faster than any human can process, and questions of "is this right?" often take a back seat to that ever-pounding humanist mantra, "is this possible?"

Still, the machines do some pretty dang nifty stuff. So I love them, even as I hate and fear them.

Take, for example, photography. When photography was invented in the early 1800's, it rocked the art world. Early inventors of photography such as Daguerre were not chumps who couldn't draw and wanted an easier way to make pictures, they were accomplished artists who were looking both for source material for their paintings and for a new art form that would reflect the concerns of a rapidly industrializing world. There was something cold and heartless about this, but it also brought about a wild explosion of creativity and a fundamental shift in the way humans viewed the world.

Chapel Ruins, painted by Louis Daguerre















First, as photography took over the role of "record-keeper" from painting, painters were forced to explore ever-widening creative vistas in an effort to remain relevant. While this inevitably resulted in a lot of crazy-monkey-nonsense, it also brought us explosions of color and creative visual insight we would otherwise never have had. At the same time, photography was changing humanity's perceptions of reality. For example, the speed and relative ease and cheapness with which a person's portrait could be made meant that almost anyone could have their image memorialized. This, coupled with the intellectual climate propelled to the forefront by the French and American Revolutions, meant that people began to see themselves as individuals who mattered. This was, of course, fabulously empowering, while at the same time creating an ever-broadening sense of alienation as each person became an island unto him or herself.

Over time, cameras became smaller and easier to use, so the actual act of creating photography became more widely available. And now, with digital photography, an extremely high percentage of the world's population has access to a camera. With the way even the simplest digital camera now does much of the work of getting a decent shot, and with the cost of developing and printing film taken out of the equation, it is far easier and cheaper to become a competent photographer than ever before. Granted, the best, most creative users of new photographic technologies will still tend to rise to the top, but the steep learning curve and manipulability of digital photography has evened the playing field immensely. It has also meant that, in a very real sense, people have often stopped actually living in their reality and instead have spent  a lot of their time worrying about recording it. Yin and yang. Awesome and suck. It's all there.

I am, myself, an amateurish photographer. Although I teach a class in photography, I actually have only a rudimentary understanding of the mechanics of the process. Still, my experience as a visual artist and access to a good Digital Single Lens Reflex camera (and a photo-manipulating program such as Photoshop) means I can produce photographs at a level that years ago would have been impossible for anyone, let alone a master of photographic machines. What's more, the internet allows me to distribute these pictures to a wide viewing audience, echoing a democratizing effect that is currently affecting all forms of visual and audio art.

Spidey Shot: taken by moi this morning.


This democratizing effect of the internet on visual and audio art is widely understood, accepted and discussed, but what I find interesting is that some of the same effect is being felt in writing, as well. The internet (and, more specifically, blogging) allows any old schmo instant access to a potential readership of millions. This fact creates a sort of hitherto unknown feedback loop, in which the dedicated writer - aware of his or her potential audience - is pushed to refine the writing and shape it in a way that more effectively connects and communicates with a very immediate readership. I, personally, have used this as a sort of nagging imp on my shoulder, demanding that I write regularly and edit ruthlessly. As a result, I have written, re-written and posted about three hundred thousand words on this blog alone in the past two years, a feat I would never have begun if not for that pre-made audience. I'm just too lazy.

In a world where someone can take a twenty-second video clip of their cat sneezing and have that clip viewed by millions and millions of people, a lot of lazy artists like me find it easy to believe that their art/photography/writing ought to have a pretty good shot at adulation. Still, the internet follows its own, self-written rules. You cannot predict which cat-sneezing-video the masses will choose to clickvalidate, and the internet is a manipulable technology all its own, one that likewise must be studied and mastered if it is to be well-used.

There is a lot of terrible writing, photography, painting and video on the internet, but one of the same core principles of art still applies: better work will, eventually, attract more attention. If you show up and do your creative job, something's gotta give. This is my hope. I have put my faith in it as I attempt to work hard and make myself available to whatever muse happens to have been assigned to my case.  I could, like millions of others, be deluding myself... and therein lies the fear.

We shall see...

Oak Stump: photographed last week by my three-year-old.


2 comments:

  1. That's the future. Today, I am afraid of the machines because they operate at a pace that is, in every sense of the word, impersonal. Things are changing faster than any human can process, and questions of "is this right?" often take a back seat to that ever-pounding humanist mantra, "is this possible?" Vancouver Heating Contractor

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  2. Things are changing faster than any human can process, and questions of "is this right?" often take a back seat to that ever-pounding humanist mantra, "is this possible?"washing machine parts

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