Instead of engaging the binary, what I find more interesting is to look at the matrix of success, failure, material, recognition, media, and a host of other attributes pertaining to the artistic milieu.
For museums and other art institutions to face Internet culture on its own terms rather than merely profiting from it indirectly, they're going to have to change the way they support artists. You can't reap the full advantages of an online gift economy and still walk in lock step with an art market largely defined by exchange.
That having been said, I don't see the use of saying, "it's all part of a matrix...." SFMOMA can justify its prize by claiming (rightly so) that "it's just part of the matrix," even though in my book the exclusive nature of a Webby is antithetical to a networked aesthetic. The winners-and-losers mentality--whether by itself or embedded in a more complex milieu--is usually destructive, both to the winners and the losers. Keith exaggerated his claim that artists who successfully profit from a capitalist system always become less experimental, but even if it's not a rule it is a tendency. Artists need understand the causes of this tendency if we are to avoid letting our own work go stale.
Patrick's remark above suggests it may shed light on these causes to compare the competition among artists in the current art world to other paradigms of competition. The useful comparison, however, is not to Social Darwinism, which is little more than a flimsy apology for economic and racial exploitation, but to Darwinism proper, which is a good deal more sophisticated. Of the structural differences between the ecosystems antelopes and artists inhabit, perhaps the most important is how success is rewarded. If a particular strain of antelope can run faster than its competitors, its population will grow. If this variety of antelope reproduces too much, however, the second generation will have outgrown its food supply, and much of the herd will starve or be weakened by hunger. The second generation of lions, on the other hand, will have a field day feasting on the weakened but plentiful antelopes. In the long run, the momentary ascendance of the antelopes will subside as a new ecological equilibrium is established.
Contrast the negative feedback loop of the Sahara ecosystem with the positive feedback loop of the Chelsea ecosystem. An artist gets a gallery show, it happens to be reviewed in the New York Times, cognoscenti drop the artist's name to impress each other, the artist's reputation snowballs...it's a familiar story. The problem here is not competition itself, but a system--whether trading on cash or "mindshare"--that amplifies the difference between winners and losers. Frank Duford wrote an incisive commentary on March Madness recently, in which he claimed that the most interesting day of the basketball season was the day before the games began. The Guggenheim's Hugo Boss exhibitions (which I was involved in only peripherally) were much more interesting before everyone found out who the winners were.
Drop winning and losing from the equation and competition becomes a much stronger stimulus for creativity. Perhaps instead of thinking up exclusive prizes with 5-figure pricetags, institutions that want to support the arts should find more inclusive alternatives to "make-it-take-it" competition.
Steve Dietz wrote:
> First, assumptions:
> 1. Agree 100% that net artists have right to equitable income
> 2. Agree 100% that institutions, especially in the U.S., have been poor at best in supporting net artists' work economically, and I include the Walker here.
I believe that there is a place for Internet art within exhibitions and especially engagement with online artists under their auspices. Institutions must be held accountable to accommodating the unique set of conditions that Internet artists and their projects present. So far, it is clear that these conditions are still being defined and only by an ongoing engagement with process, can any of these issues be dealt with.
I commend the Walker for being upfront, and not sweeping any of this under the rug.
The current models of online exhibition (the Net_Condition experience, and even AEN (Art Entertainment Network), among others) show a history of linking up an extraordinary number of projects per show that in itself creates the justification for the non-compensation of artists for their participation.
I acknowledge that artists generally receive no compensation for, say, when their gallery or a museum who owns one of their works loans a painting to MoMA for an exhibition. In these instances, the loan fee goes to the gallery as an act of capitalist exchange, or to the lending institution for upkeep, conservation, to pay for paperwork processing, etc.
Online artists, whose work is openly distributed free online have no recourse when it comes to compensation, no gallery sales, and in the US, no governmental or organizational support. Under the current models of online exhibition practice, even the service provision that offline, conceptual artists have occasionally been able to wrestle out of institutions as compensation for their labor seems to have skipped the online artists.
Conceptual works usually does not include a tangible product, but I don't think that institutions would disagree that they have an ethical obligation to compensate them in some way (pay for plane ticket, provide an artist fee, honoraria) for participation.
Online artists are subject to a myth (that current exhibition structures perpetuate) that Internet art is "fast, cheap, and out of control" and that there is no requirement to engage with artists directly in the creation of their work because, supposedly, it is already there for all to see. It can easily be linked to and there is therefore, so it seems, no reason to compensate for participation. It's free, after all, and presents none of the rarity (and therefore value, and eventually, the need for compensation) that presence within an art institution formerly indicated.
On the contrary, Internet art is often slow, expensive to produce, and very calculating in it's structure and execution. Why, therefore, do exhibitions need to have 40-60 projects when there is so much complexity that needs to be explored that currently isn't within 5-10 of them?
In other words, what we need to do is not pay for only links, but pay for practice, engagement, and dialogue between the artists and institutions in the form of artistic service, so that what comes out of the process can be forwarded.
Those creating online exhibitions need not, from a purely legal standpoint, even inform artists that they are linking up, including them in the "show". They, of course, have an ethical responsibility to do so. Is it not also an ethical responsibility to enter into meaningful and extended dialogue with the artists whose projects they feature? Not that institutions do not communicate with artists, but the current models remove any incentive to expand the terms of engagement. There is no need: everyone can just link up and call it a day.
And to try and keep this related somewhat
> to the competition theme, are there intangibles that an institution
> offers that are of actual value to the artist in a competitive
> marketplace, whether financial or mindshare, whether as part of a
> capitalist economy or a gift economy?
Creating a need for the intangible services that artists provide to the institutions featuring their work is the first step. Working with artists on individual project or small groups of projects eliminates the "fast, cheap, and out of control" model that dominates online exhibition practice and leaves artist compensation out of the equation.
Food for thought. EAT has been a very satisfying meal, indeed.
A micro-manifesto for the technological arts
It seems that in many cases, excellence in net.art is no longer defined by net artists themselves, but the perceptions put forth in popular media. Two exhibition examples, a personal conversation, and Dietz' recent article for my curatorial project come to mind. First of all, in the case of the Machida City "Art on the Net" 1999 and Ars 2000 festivals, in both cases the jurors have mentioned that, in their opinions, that the work did not live up to their expectations. In the case of the Machida exhibition, a first prize was denied anyone for this very reason.
Secondly, in discussion with Dan Tranberg, critic for several Cleveland/Ohio area publications, he mentioned that there was a prevailing attitude that net.art somehow did not compel the viewer. Somehow, he mentioned, there is an aspect to net.art that does not command the aesthetic space the same as more conventional forms.
Lastly, I will not go into Dietz' "Why there have been no great net.artists" into any great depth yet, as I'm still in digestion of the text, but there seems to be a kind of paradigmatic dissonance with net artists and their audience, and even the curators.
Personally, I find it rather distressing (and even more, but I won't digress) that festivals like Ars will decide to rescind their own parameters for the discourse of net.art in favor of what I feel is a relatively arbitrary ruling. I like Stephenson; his works are quite revolutionary.
But net.art? No.
Many factors are contributing to the cultural results which we see unfold before us. There is probably something of the technofetishist/fantasist/determinist ideology that is driving the Machida/Ars effect (as I'll call it). Much like the Star Trek syndrome, where humanity has seemingly gotten bored with the idea of space travel since it won't be like the Enterprise (and it won't be within our lifetimes), net art has fallen into the trap of the hype of its own culture. Only the future will do now; the present is no longer engaging enough to keep our attention. In fact, WIRED is consistently reporting on 'current [cool!] technology' that is barely in beta THREE months after it went into the journalistic pipeline.
We are victims of vaporware. It's all we want, or at least the pundits want. Current technology fails to live up to the promises of the future, and by the time the future comes around the 'Next Big Thing in Beta' has been announced. Is there a reason why people are getting exited about Microsoft's X Box gaming system TWO YEARS before its release?
The future is now obsolete. Only the alpha versions can now compete, and soon it may be the endless propagation of concepts themselves that may be the only possibility for excitement. For this reason, it makes sense that Stephenson gets the Nica. Only science fiction fits the deterministic model for technological consumption, as modes of production seem to be falling further and further behind our expectations of the future.
Ironically, it seems that the art world is simultaneously operating in technological determinist and materialist paradigms, and the frission produced is made visible in the gap between object and expectation. For example, in numerous conversations critics and patrons have remarked that they have yet to find a net art piece that is as commanding as a conventional masterpiece. The contextual matrix behind such statements is quite complex; and begs a paper of its own. However, the issues relevant to this 'dis(s)appointment' with new media seems to be the youth of a medium and the requisite multidisciplinary mastery of technology and aesthetics, technological access [technical, socioeconomic, and cultural], the irrelevance of merely remapping the materialist/gallery paradigm of the object onto the screen, and the failure of expectations by the time a piece finally gets out of beta.
In the virtual, anticipation is far more titillating than the actual event.
However, the possibility for engagement exists. Perhaps there will be some sort of bridging work that will satisfy the expectations of the experts, but the opinion that such works that engage the public must somehow hold true to the frameworks laid down by Stephenson, Gibson, and Sterling must be held circumspect. Although science fiction visionaries hold deep insights into the possibilities for the emergent communications culture, somehow there seems to be a suggestion that these narratives are perhaps the blueprint for the future that the artists are not adhering to, or are perhaps not keeping up with the perceived necessary pace for progress.
Are artists possibly being punished for not keeping up with the development curve of science fiction while not maintaining a sufficiently material discursive strategy to satisfy the previously extant cultural base [command through the grandeur of the object]? Such a milieu problematizes the discourse of technological art, to say the least. If there is any solution, it is not likely to reside in any likely location, such as the simple advancement of technological virtuosity or visionary aesthetics, as it seems to be proven that artists are currently rarely able to meet perceptual expectations when viewed in the context of either science fiction or the gallery.
Sorry, the new isn't new enough anymore, and isn't as much like the old to suit our tastes.
Therefore, we as technological artists are in a formative territory, and must treat it as such. The net artist (or technological, for that matter) must hold circumspect the expectations of the cultural environment, as they have already defined the future for them, and in many cases, they don't seem to be in it. This leaves the artist in the rupture between the past and the future called the present. Fortunately, as the gallery muses over the materiality of the technological object as a past paradigm and the technological determinists place their expectations further into the future, the cutting-edge techno-artist is left to shape the present, while perhaps looking a few minutes (perhaps 15 or so) into the future.
Maybe they'll let us alone to do whatever it is we are supposed to do - create.
However, it would be nice to be recognized for it a little once in a while.
Same old same old!
Why aren't there any great women artists? (an old one but one that still lingers); why doesn't photography, video, installation, performance, sound art, etc. etc. ad nauseam command the aesthetic space the same as REAL art (painting & sculpture & gothic cathedrals).
Wrong questions ... different landscape
Are you really surprised?
Net.art demands time and deep immersion from the viewer/reader/participant. As with other so-called 'difficult' art forms, it's not seen as either (pop)ular or entertaining. If you can't guarantee whether you want to or not - a revelation - an epiphany - to make the earth move..., you' will never be seen as a 'great' artist assuming that's what you want. Possibly why Bill Viola's video installations emphasising some form of spiritual renaissance is somewhat of an exception to the 'rule'. A millennial shift? Only in the sense that rather than viewing art as an essential palliative for the failure of religious ideology, we seem to have art recreating various spiritually inspired experiences for the alienated communities of the third millennium.
What are we sacrificing?