Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Wither Goest the Avant-Garde?

Reading recently a book about the history of avant-garde art, it was posited that the future of art lies in the networked computer - the so-called "internet". Here, futurists declare, is the perfect medium for the convergence of all past forms of creative expression, and a near-perfect form of transnational, cross-border communication, able to break down all past barriers to human understanding.

The problem is, at best the Internet is a mere virtual visual medium. Implying that it can only reasonably replace some of the visual arts. What the monitor screen lacks is the ability to represent the tangible: the texture of oil paint on canvas; the luminous, nuanced surfaces of a sculpture; the smell and texture under foot of dry autumn leaves on a sidewalk.

The computer monitor screen lacks the tactile experience of holding - and smelling the ink-laden pages of - a real book, with the paper's peculiar roughness and pliability, the particular cut of the pages' edges, the quality of the binding and cover. The manner in which books tend to age, their pages yellowed and dog-eared through much use, their bindings cracked and worn, much like people, wrinkled and crazened through the things that life presents to us. Sure, we can download reams of text via the Internet; but it's no substitute for real books.

Which brings us to the supposition, by some, that the Internet will be the medium that brings mankind together, capable of erasing millennia of carnage, slaughter and hatred. This assumption is, at best, naive, and at worst, deceptive. The Internet was created by the United States Department of Defense as a system to interlink various research and development sites. It's original purpose was to facilitate the creation of ever more powerful weapons of destruction. Then, it was transferred to the so-called 'private sector', where today we find it the primary media for popular culture and consumerism. The Internet is decidedly western. It is an invention of western culture at its apex. Which begs the question, given the carnage, mass-starvation and slaughter in the rest of the world, how this peculiarly western, American media will rid the world of all that divides it, and usher in perpetual mass peace?

The preposterous nature of the Internet utopia model is laid bare by considering the possibility that television, an invention of the deceptively naive 1950s, could have been seriously thought of as a media to link all of mankind together in some Edenic ideal. Of course, looking back on the history of the television media, we know it for what it is: a vast wasteland.

The Internet is supra-television. It offers the deception of interactivity as a replacement for what many of us have been missing for so long: real life experience. As such, it can no more bear the standard for what the future of art may be than can television, its predecessor. It, like TV, is a mere huckster's medium, shilling patent medicines and cure-alls. It has more in common with the carnival barker of the 19th century than it does the future.

The Internet, like TV, is dead. What is apparent now is that what western culture needs most is a heavy, hearty dose of getting back to reality, for its roots, its foundations, they are a crumbling. ~


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