Duncan Alexander
Works in Minneapolis United States of America

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DISCUSSION

Required Reading


Hi Rhizome! I've been trying to publish a comment, but nothing is showing up. I'm going to try posting this in chunks, so forgive me if in 8 hours my commentary is duplicate-splattered all over the board. Here goes:

et me start off by saying hello and I can't believe I'm registering specifically for this discussion!

I think it might be most helpful at this point for a recap. The most problematic component of the essay by Davis seems to lie in his definitions, and I think everybody here would agree with that. Here's the quote again from Nick:

[quote="Ben Davis"]
By "art," let’s say we mean the products of the traditional, professionalized art world, a privileged class of esthetic objects set apart from ordinary communicative acts, authored by a special person called an artist.

For "social media," let’s say we mean all these new-fangled media platforms which are highly accessible, and based around enabling open-ended conversations between networks of participants.
[/quote]

So according to Davis, we can eliminate anything immaterial from our definition of art, and it looks like everyone caught this one. Now, it seems to me that we have several different definitions of social media flying around in the comments, and Davis doesn't help with his hand-waving about "new-fangled media platforms" coupled with his awkward attempts to fit artwork he likes into that definition. Some people here are taking the term at face value - media that is social - and tying it to unrelated, non-derivative 20th century art. If I were unfamiliar with the term "social media," that is exactly what I'd do. Honestly, it's hard to quantify how much participatory art from the 60s has shaped art online. In fact, I'd argue most new art online comes from interesting combinations and hacks of new technological services as they become popular, in a constant state of "rediscovery."

But anyway, I am familiar with the term, and I'm saying that "social media" is a really crappy term for a number of reasons. This makes it even crappier for people such as Davis who want social media art to be a thing - [b]SOCIAL MEDIA ART[/b], like [b]CUBISM[/b], like [b]IMPRESSIONISM[/b]. Before we continue, I think that we can agree that when Davis talks about "social media," he means at the very least (or wants to mean) media that is occurring online. Now for the reasons that "social media" is a crappy term:

1. The internet has always had a social component. It has gone through several phases of social-ness, not limited to but including (a) Usenet-centric communities (b) IRC-centric communities (c) localized forum-centric communities (d) blog/journal communities (e) Facebook/MySpace/YouTube/etc. communities. People spend their time online across most of these platforms. It's hard to say where social media starts, unless you count the whole thing.

2. When people use "social media" these days, they usually use it in a sense like "we want to use social media to market our X" which translates to "we want to advertise on Facebook, Twitter, and have a viral campaign on Youtube." This boils down further: "we want to advertise where the masses are active online." So the phrase "social media" can refer to virtually any service, commercial, indie or otherwise, where people are currently present and communicating. We just didn't have a term for it until recently.

3. Because we now have a phrase that means "where the masses are active online," we of course want social media to be a solid [b]THING[/b]. Like [b]RADIO[/b]. Like [b]TELEVISION[/b]. But social media is more slippery than that.

On to part 2...

DISCUSSION

Required Reading


Ok, let me start off by saying hello and I can't believe I'm registering specifically for this discussion!

I think it might be most helpful at this point for a recap. The most problematic component of the essay by Davis seems to lie in his definitions, and I think everybody here would agree with that. Here's the quote again:

By "art," let’s say we mean the products of the traditional, professionalized art world, a privileged class of esthetic objects set apart from ordinary communicative acts, authored by a special person called an artist.

For "social media," let’s say we mean all these new-fangled media platforms which are highly accessible, and based around enabling open-ended conversations between networks of participants.


So according to Davis, we can eliminate anything immaterial from our definition of art, and it looks like everyone caught this one. Now, it seems to me that we have several different definitions of social media flying around in the comments, and Davis doesn't help with his hand-waving about "new-fangled media platforms" coupled with his awkward attempts to fit artwork he likes into that definition. Some people here are taking the term at face value - media that is social - and tying it to unrelated, non-derivative 20th century art. If I were unfamiliar with the term "social media," that is exactly what I'd do. Honestly, it's hard to quantify how much participatory art from the 60s has shaped art online. In fact, I'd argue most new art online comes from interesting combinations and hacks of new technological services as they become popular, in a constant state of "rediscovery."

But anyway, I am familiar with the term, and I'm saying that "social media" is a really crappy term for a number of reasons. This makes it even crappier for people such as Davis who want social media art to be a thing - SOCIAL MEDIA ART, like CUBISM, like IMPRESSIONISM. Before we continue, I think that we can agree that when Davis talks about "social media," he means at the very least (or wants to mean) media that is occurring online. Now for the reasons that "social media" is a crappy term:

1. The internet has always had a social component. It has gone through several phases of social-ness, not limited to but including (a) Usenet-centric communities (b) IRC-centric communities (c) localized forum-centric communities (d) blog/journal communities (e) Facebook/MySpace/YouTube/etc. communities. People live online across most of these platforms. It's hard to say where social media starts, unless you count the whole thing.

2. When people use "social media" these days, they usually use it in a sense like "we want to use social media to market our X" which translates to "we want to advertise on Facebook, Twitter, and have a viral campaign on Youtube." This boils down further: "we want to advertise where the masses are active online." So the phrase "social media" can refer to virtually any service, commercial, indie or otherwise, where people are currently present and communicating. We just didn't have a term for it until recently.

3. Because we now have a phrase that means "where the masses are active online," we of course want social media to be a solid THING. Like RADIO. Like TELEVISION. But social media is more slippery than that.

As we've discovered in the most recent comments, websites have degrees of interactivity. I run a blog (shameless plug 1) and also a website (shameless plug 2). The blog allows for anyone to comment - even anonymous individuals. The website is static html - it's just a place for me to put some of my pretty stuff and hope people read my CV. Which one is "more social?" You'd probably choose the blog. OK, now let's say we throw my Facebook profile, my Youtube page, and some Livejournal I started when I was 13 into the mix. What's more social? Well, again you'd probably choose Facebook or Youtube. But let's consider: what if Kanye started marketing his "paintings" on his blog instead of Youtube? That might be considered even more of a social media marketing technique, even though he would be harnessing word-of-mouth (old school!)over Facebook ads. The problem is that the internet is dynamic, and people are constantly intrigued by new ways to communicate, and so when something is online and has any interactive component, it's impossible to say what is or isn't social media.

Now that I've stated my case, let's return to the problem at hand: Social Media Art. Based on my previous arguments, it should be obvious that I am against any sort of timeline construction or "start dates" for social media - even more so for social media art. Anyone with any art history knowledge should know the Alfred Barr Chart of Everything . Belief in this sort of comfortable linearity in human thought is what has kept people digging up the rotting corpse of Postmodernism and parading it around for the past 10 years. Timelines in art encourage bad art historical jokes that are unintelligible to people without BFAs, notions of purity and essentialism, and worst of all, retconning. Art - especially social media art - must take into account the identity of the audience. That said, the internet has allowed for a lot of different audiences to develop and amplify and isolate, and so we get major divisions IRL in perceived timelines! (Ask anyone off the street to name a living contemporary artist, it's fun.) So what I'm trying so say is, it's more important when a work entered a particular social sphere than when it was made, and it's more important online that we look at who we're talking to with our art, and who can talk/is talking back. Any work that exists specifically online can be commented on and riffed on and mutilated and sent to printers in Taiwan to make rugs out of. I'd say that any artwork that exists in the presence of the masses - so accessibility first! - can be labeled as "social media art," and because of the transience of social media, that definition is useless.

I hope you made it through that! Here's my cartoon. Good night!

Duncan