Art is better now than it’s ever been.
It’s better than the greats. It has impact and wow, and visual and political punch. It’s tenacious and wild, confrontational, angry and eloquent. Simultaneously it’s valueless and short-lived.
A deluge of painstaking, exquisitely executed works. You see heart-stopping, incredible pieces that speak to you, crack the hard frown-veneer into a smile, and yet you give them nothing back, like, nothing. At best a double-click ‘like’. Maybe an extra second before your thumb impulsively scrolls you on.
Is that why art is better now than it’s ever been? Everyone has a platform, everyone has a portfolio, a mini gallery, curated by yours truly, no middleman, no expense, no contract. The limitations are enormous, don’t get me wrong, tiny little squares, no bend to the format, viewed through hand-held bricks of glass. But limitations have always improved the arts. Limited by background, culture, prejudice, finance, whatever; limitations are unavoidable, so to have a universal format evens the playing field. You have your audience’s gaze for milliseconds, but so does the next artist. It might be easy to mistake social media for vanity, but it strips away the eccentricity and individualism of the ‘artist’ and leaves you with nothing but a little back-lit square.
When I’m faced with something which resonates, I find myself feeling generous for pulling the screen closer to my eyes, giving it a little longer contemplation, when it is the artist who is the generous one. It’s is a field of generous giving and sharing.
Of course I’m talking about Instagram. If not digital art made for the platform, then digitalised art. Of course some art photographs better than others, some render nicely into digital consumables, like mini foods. Other art forms demand immersion, so the need for photography/videography skills kick in. High production at low costs. Anything’s possible. There’s an app for that.
I guess it’s cheapness makes it tasty, like binge eating junk food, nothing lost except time; the most valuable thing a human has. Sometimes you feel gratified, inspired, like you’ve come away with energy to make your own incredible contribution, ‘if only I had the time’ or perhaps ‘another time’. Other times you come away feeling greasy, queasy. ‘What a waste of time, on my one day off.’
We’re more saturated in art than we’ve ever been, and the art is better than it’s ever been. It’s universal, socialist, leftist and fantastic. Netflix gives ‘nobodies’ grants, ‘the people’ are finding a digital voice, anyone can broadcast themselves. Teens can wail into a crowd of followers about their mistreatment in mental institutions and people are bearing witness, they’re responding with double-click hearts, with DMs, with Amazon purchases from shared suggestion lists, but there’s no action. There’s no outraged stampede to the doorstep of the institute, there’s no street exhibitions, marches, high-street art residency takeovers.
There are no physical communities.
There was a time when there might have been. Back in its infancy, when Instagram was chronological, it was fast heading that way. Back then you met people, you knew people through instagram. But then it got sold (everyone has their price), it got broken by algorithms, adverts, hidden content and click-bate. It got sold and eaten and shat out again; reconstituted into something that looks like Instagram but is capitalism, with art scattered, like wildflower seed on poisoned ground.
Even if the adverts poison the setting, at least the seeds are out there. The museum holds its handful of aspiring exhibitionists, who wish to pander to the elites; make a name for themselves. Instagram reduces the artist to their art, and it hinges on context which is the only space within which good art can act. Good art demands to be politicised, and to be political you need context, hence the ‘Insta’; this instant, this moment, a shared collective reality. You see me, and I see you, and we’re all here in ‘it’ together.
The sterility of the museum with its safe, decontextualising space is not the environment of rough, wild, active art, who’s audience is an ordinary wage earning, trade unionist, socialist humanity.
1767, “dispersed upon the ground by hand,” in reference to seed, from broad (adj.) + past participle of cast (v.). Figurative sense “widely spread” is recorded by 1785. As an adverb from 1832. Modern media use began with radio (1922, adjective and noun). As a verb, recorded from 1813 in an agricultural sense, 1829 in a figurative sense, 1921 in reference to radio.