Friday, 10 April 2015

What Is Art In Today's Digital Age?

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

In effect, I was prone to an alternative rendering of the workaholic’s dilemma; you do more and more, because in the back of the mind you think you’re not doing enough, and so you constantly stockpile finished ( and unfinished) ideas for some randomly chosen ‘rainy day’ in the future. In the process, work seems to increasingly become your world, and you start to become progressively detached from other things in your life at a level that can leave you more encumbered in work, and not much else. It’s not healthy in my opinion, but that was then, and time moves on.

In all honesty, you never really do take a complete break; there’s always some little creative “twiddling and fiddling” that you’re engaged in, just for fun. And that’s good because it can be filed away as fodder for future use (a more economical form of stockpiling).  More importantly, it can also validate that you haven’t burned yourself out to the point of hating what you’re doing. It’s all about finding some balance within, and knowing when to say yes or no, and so on.

During this period, a multi-media artist friend told me very enthusiastically about an opportunity to submit photographs for  inclusion in an artistic concept, as part of a big art installation project. All in all, he was very positive sounding about the whole thing. 

Then coincidentally, a short while later I ended up in a professional photographic studio to catch up with another friend, who was snapping a four piece band; this eventually took up most of his working day. But during a break, he showed me his workstation area and I noticed that the entire start-to-end workflow process was digital. And yet there was still a warmth and natural quality to all the work. That got my spare thinking cap out of the pocket, and onto my head.

Now more than ever, the once sacred tools of creative alchemy and fusion are available in immeasurable 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 and hence an abundance of new imagery, which you want to remember as much of after you´ve gone back home. 

We can now take thousands of pictures and not have to worry about rolls of film, or even 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 tech-enhancing art outlets such as music, video and film too. You can literally "fix it in the mix" now, and even start to work on things whilst recording them live. The ready availability of previously unimaginable memory sizes and processing speeds have allowed buffer sizes and the rectification functionality in software ( i.e. the undo function), to go far beyond our everyday usage levels. 

So if the tools
now available allow us to create hundreds and even thousands of takes of something to attain newer levels of perfection, then what has this meant for works of art? Perhaps now that we are closer to reaching an absolute apex in terms of auto corrective procedures when using technology, is there a growing (and ironic) hankering for a bit of imperfection here and there? This is not to be confused with malfunction, but is the recognisable flavour of reality, which also hints at an analogue-like 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 song or melodic composition. 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 warmth and enjoyment of the whole 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 not-always one hundred percent accurate selves. By nature, there is always something not quite perfect with our mode of expression, which we as human beings can perhaps relate to on a subconscious level. 

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 process. It´s more about leaving in enough of an emotive moment or set of emotive moments, which are akin to a letting go of yourself somewhere.  That´s the connection to the work, which allows the artist to reach out because he or she has allowed a part of themselves to be expressed that way, without  total eradication in the polishing and post production processes that are now de rigeur.

To exemplify from a sonic perspective, this sort of thing is more obviously noticeable in recorded music ( more so up until the millennium), with count-in's left in ( the ‘1, 2,3,4’ often heard at the beginning of a song) and coughing ( eg:- Led Zeppelin’s ‘whole lotta love’) also left in the mix. There are also ad-libbed remarks and much more besides on so many songs and albums, but as a fan of the artists and the process, I find a lot of it enjoyable and fun. All in all,  it’s not there to mess up the final product and it’s been left there out of an artistic choice. 

So in today´s digital age, art can be thought about as leaving much of the original feelings and intentions, into the finished work.  This is the humanity aspect we can relate to, and involves the aforementioned imperfections. And technology has made it far easier for all of us to create and put our work out in the world; there are more storage and showcasing spaces and websites available online for next to nothing,  than there has ever been, since the internet became commercially viable. 

Yet the individuals who shine, or at the very least stand out, are those who allow their personality to come through without excessive removal of their own special human elements of uniqueness and originality. In effect it's what I call the leaving in of our ‘sweet, smart and sly little idiosyncrasies ’to the end product. And this is all part of the charm. Leaving something of ourselves in the process of creating the work, is part of the art. This is what essentially draws you in, even if it's at a level you may not consciously recognise. 

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

 Of course, I’ve chosen to leave this bit of information in at the end, and the irony isn’t lost on me. For like many people, I’m always striving to improve my work. But I’ll never be an anodyne, and soullessly efficient automaton. I’m happy having a heart and soul, even if it means I’m imperfect here and there. For ultimately, our emotions are the bedrock of our creativity. They're like snapshots of so many moments in our souls, which can create anything from simple jigsaws to complex mosaics and masterpieces. 

In effect, we’re all works of art; constantly changing, reshaping and trying to improve. And like all works of art, we’re also unfinished works in progress, with countless real-world interactive 'downloads' and updates to constantly process, analyse, accept and/or reject. 

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

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

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

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