Monday 18 April 2022

What Is Art In Today's Digital Age?

A few years ago, I took a break from my creative endeavours, which included writing, programming & composing music, and spent the extra time on catching up with everything (and everyone) else. This involved a hefty amount of travel, which allowed me to reassess and re-evaluate many things in life. Especially my attitude to work, and the challenges that would present on a regular basis.

In essence, I was prone to a rendering of the workaholic’s dilemma; you do more & more, because in the back of the mind you're convinced that you're not doing enough. In effect, you're constantly stockpiling unfinished (and finished) ideas for a hypothetical ‘rainy day’ in the future. 

In the process, work seems to become everything in your life, and you're becoming increasingly detached from other important things and people;  family, friends and partners eventually become secondary to the workflow. It’s not healthy in my opinion, and I've learned to step back and take a balanced approach ever since.

Yet in all honesty, you don't actually take a complete break; there’s always some little creative “twiddling and fiddling” that you’re engaged in. But it's for fun, rather than the bottom line, which makes it the mental equivalent of a a palette cleanser. 

Toward the end of this much-needed sabbatical, an artist friend enthusiastically told me about an opportunity to submit photographs for inclusion in an art installation project. In effect, he was positive about the whole thing. 

Coincidentally, I went across town to catch up with another friend, and he owned a photographic studio. Before my arrival, he was snapping a four piece band, and he was rearranging things to clear the area. He took a break and showed me his workstation area, and I noticed that the entire rendering process was digital; all editing steps were done in software. Yet there was still a warmth and a natural quality to the finished pictures. The level of alteration available due to the plethora of  manipulation options, was remarkable. 

Now more than ever, the once sacred tools of creative alchemy and fusion are available in near infinitesimal abundance, and technology has spearheaded this development. Like most people, I´ve never hesitated to take pictures when feeling inspired, as technology allows you to do this at anytime and quite literally, anywhere. More importantly,   modern smartphones, with their built-in processing and photo sharing applications, as well as their higher quality picture resolution and rendering, allow instant feedback. Holidays are an obvious source of visual enlightenment, simply because you´re coming across a slew of new surroundings. You've got the potential to capture an abundance of new images, all to create happy memories and use in upcoming & current projects. 

We can now take thousands of pictures and not have to worry about rolls of film, or light conditions and aperture etc, because technology has made it much easier to literally point and click. This, to a degree, also extends to other technolgy-enhanced art outlets such as music, video and film too. You can literally "fix it in the mix" now, and start to work on things whilst recording. The easy availability of previously unimaginable memory sizes and lighting fast processing speeds, have allowed the rectification/corrective functionality in software ( i.e. the undo function), to go far beyond our everyday usage levels. 

So if the tools
available allow us to create hundreds and even thousands of takes of something to attain newer levels of near-perfection, then what does this mean for works of art? 

Perhaps now that we are closer to reaching an absolute apex in terms of A.I (artificial intelligence), and auto-assistive / corrective procedures when using technology, is there a growing hankering for a smidgeon of imperfection? This is not to be confused with malfunction, but is the recognisable flavour of a skew in the man-machine interface, which hints at an analogue or “real world” ad-hoc inconsistency. 

In terms of music, I can vouch for being more aurally pleased when I can hear some random warmth and movement here and there in a track or song. This can be anything from the slight but unavoidable drift of tuning in an electronic or organic instrument, to a voice that hasn't had the life and passion inherent in it, auto-corrected into a near-sterile facsimile of the original performance(s). I´m not alone in this and I've yet to see someone look mortified at a live concert where these little flecks of humanity in the performances, are part and parcel of the experience. 

In effect, art can be seen as human expression, with an emphasis on the qualities of being human. That is, the output is more organic and coming from our less than one hundred percent accurate selves. By nature, there is always something not quite perfect with our modes of expression; that's what gives us character and identity. More importantly, groups of us can relate to similar modes of expression, which feels natural and real.

As already mentioned, this isn't to be confused with a mistake, which is so off-track that it can be potentially ruinous to the end product. It's about leaving in enough of an emotive moment or set of emotive moments, which are akin to letting go of yourself somewhere. You're in control, whilst operating from a subconscious part of the thought process. 

Vocalists and guitarists are good examples of this; the warm-ups, the ad libs, the tricky guitar solos with daring note bends and the studio chat before, during and after a take, all encompass a swathe of humanity trying to go further and higher out of their comfort zones. Next time you're listening to an album, look out for things such as count-in's left on the tape (the ‘1, 2,3,4’ often heard at the beginning of a song) coughing , and the pre-roll snippets of conversion  , for evidence.

If you're a fan of the art, the artists and the processes, you'll find most of it to be enjoyable and fun. All things said, it’s not there to mess up the final product and has been left in out of an artistic choice; a human choice.

And it's that organic connection to the work which allows the artist to reach out further,  because he or she has allowed a part of themselves to be expressed that way, without eradicating those leaps into the unknown during the final edit.

So in today's digital age, good art can be thought of as leaving most of the original feeling and intention behind it (sometimes replete with a few warts and blemishes), into the final product. And technology has made it easier for everyone to create and put their work out in the world, leaving as much (or as little), of that human quality, as preferred.

And the individuals who shine (or at least stand out), are those who allow their personality to come through without removal of their unique blend of originality. Leaving in those sweet, smart and sly little idiosyncrasies, is all part of the charm. Leaving something of ourselves in the process of creating the work, is part of the art. As a consumer, this is what draws you in, even if it's at a level you may not consciously recognise. 

In the same vein, I edited this article myself. Not too much, but hopefully enough to make it a crisper and cleaner read. I pondered over some of the construction and syntax, but kept to most of my original intention and flavour in the final edit.  

Obviously, I’ve chosen to leave this bit of information at the end of the process; the irony isn’t lost on me. Like most people, I’m always striving to improve my work. But I’ll never be an anodyne and soullessly ultra-efficient automaton. I’m happier having the option of an opinion, which means I’ll be imperfect here and there. Our experiences are the bedrock of our creativity. They're like snapshots of so many moments in our lives and souls. This can spur us onto anything unique, from simple rhetorical jigsaws to complex sonic mosaics and visual masterpieces. 

In effect, we’re all works of art; constantly changing, reshaping and evolving, always trying to improve ourselves. Like unfinished works in progress, there are countless real-world interactive 'downloads' and updates to constantly process, analyse, accept and/or reject. We'll wash, rinse and repeat this, until we fade to grey. 

The important point, is that we can be paradoxically perfect in our imperfections And that's a fine and humanely wonderful thing to be.

(c), S R DHAIN, (revised & updated)

The original article was published on the American Chronicle website and publication.  

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