What Are You Doing?

Posted by Rhizome | Fri Nov 29th 1996 1 a.m.

Replying to Peter Lunenfeld ["<a href="/cgi-local/query.cgi?action=grab_object&kt=kt0338">(Why) Are You Doing
What You're Doing?</a>" RHIZOME CONTENTBASE, 11.25.96], Simon Biggs wrote:

I doubt if there ever was an age where experimentation and the value of
the artistic voice were bound together through the formal nature of a
work. It is true that a film-maker like Eisenstein did develop new
stylistic and technical approaches to montage, but this in itself is not
where the value of his work lies. Too many film and art courses focus
alone on such developments, which then establish that this is in fact
where the value lies. But that is not the case. When you read histories
of film it often sounds as if they were written by camera people and
editors, given their obsession with technical form, rather than by
artists.

To use another example: it has often been argued that the value of
Kandinsky's painting was in the development of abstraction. Whilst it is
important to any understanding of Kandinsky's work to appreciate the
role of abstraction, it is not this which gives his work its value. The
value of his work is to be found in the nature of his vision (how he saw
the world, in his case its musicality and interconnectedness) and his
manner of expression.

[...]

If an artist chooses to use interactive media as her/his medium, then
the justification of this choice should be found not in any desire on
the artist's part to venture new formal strategies (after all, that
would reduce artistic activity to little more than a form of
engineering) but rather to know that choice relates to their fundamental
vision and raison d'etre as an artist. If the artist's vision is either
banal, common-place or simply "short-sighted" then the work will tend to
fail (although there have been numerous successes where work has had
these "qualities"). If the way the artist sees things, and the manner
and form of how they choose to express that vision, do not resolve into
some sort of completeness then the work will again fail.

If we were to follow the argument put forward by Peter Lunenfeld then we
would find ourselves in a situation where the only valid artistic
position would be one where every artist, in every work, creates a new
formal approach. Not only would this mean that we would all have to work
a lot harder than we do to meet these rather high expectations, but it
would also place all artworks produced using established form as second
rate.

[...]

It is funny to see that one of the sillier values of the Modernist
ethic, the idea of progress, and the absolute value placed on it (as
expressed in the constant requirement for formal invention) has survived
and taken root amongst some of those who see themselves on the
cutting-edge of contemporary culture (eg: new media artists). Then
again, perhaps that isn't such a strange development at all. Happily not
all new media practitioners see these things this way.

[...]

Donna Dolezal Zelzer also wrote:

A couple thoughts to add to this discussion:

[...]

I wonder how artistic expermentation fits in with this. Sometimes
you're not going to know if a form (esp. a new form or a form new to
you) is going to be right for your vision -- you need to try it out to
see if it works. And often the only way to find out if it works is to
invite scrutiny by various other people.

[...]

It's probably easier to talk about how (which can be explained
step-by-step, in a technical manual approach) than why (which requires
some in depth analysis of yourself before you can even begin to discuss
it).

But also, do you think that at least for some people who use visual
means to express their artistic vision (as opposed to poets, novelists
and the like), discussion is difficult because they naturally express
themselves visually and not with words? Even though they may know very
well why they're doing what they're doing, they may hold this
understanding in a wholistic, non-linear way that is difficult (if not
impossible) to express in linear speech and writing.
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