Art, Artifacts, and the State of Creation

A poetry professor and conceptual artist at the University of Pennsylvania was interviewed recently by the New York Times in regards to his class, "Wasting Time on the Internet," that includes social media in the curriculum. The article shows how the online presence actually put students in touch with each other, and facilitated collaboration and communication, not isolation, as some people had thought. The premise is interesting, but as I read further into the article, I realized this was part of a host of fads and renewed theories that I will say are currently plaguing the art community.
  • Deskilling: simplified, that anyone can do anything and you don't need training. This is a subject my friend and colleague Celeste Connor wrote about in Art Practical
  • Curators/Curating/Curation: that curating is an art form.
  • Top-Ten Syndrome: the notion that only the top ten people in any field get to be the creators of anything new, that they are the only valid creators. They are the only ones recognized, either monetarily or societally. 

In art schools, new deans are being installed that have little or no practice over the field in which they are to preside. Gradually, the deans who were prominent in their fields are replaced by administrators who don't actually make anything. Sometimes these deans are curators. As a colleague explained it, the curatorial class is "those who use makers as their raw materials," who move around the people who have made things that already exist. In relation to this, the NYT article asks Professor Goldsmith, "if we're just remixing, are we creating?" He responds that people become masters of their own collections, and in a following question that "an educated person in the future will be a curious person who collects better artifacts."

The question then is: from whom are we to collect these "better artifacts?" If they are only from the past, what does that mean? If they are from what is being generated presently, who is generating them, why aren't we, and why shouldn't we?

This brings us to another issue: online courses with "famous" people. Through an SF startup called MasterClass you can learn about acting from Dustin Hoffman, screenwriting from Aaron Sorkin, writing from James Patterson, for example. They are all successful at their careers, but are they good teachers, too? Maybe yes, maybe no. Art schools are looking at the famous teacher model and looking for high-profile makers to teach at their schools. Are they good teachers, too? Teaching is a skill, and not everyone is good at it. In fact, it takes years to get good. Imagine if all we have left are courses, online and classroom, taught by celebrities who are not really teachers at all. Is this deskilling or marketing? Is this education? In this scenario, those who already have, get more.

Back to collecting and curating. Arranging and rearranging, appropriating and who has the "better artifacts." This, to me, seems to be a form of shopping. Nothing wrong with shopping, but let's not call it art. All the pieces already exist in the world. The only thing the curator/shopper is doing is putting them side-by-side. Found poetry, for instance, is a thing. But it must be transformed. You can't just pick out the phrases you like and put them together, summarizing the author's original intent. You have to make the words mean something entirely new. Transformation, which is the key element in making art, is barely there, and if it is it's on the surface. Our cultural soul needs depth, not surface. 

Let's focus on the other words Goldsmith used in referring to an educated person: "a curious person." Artists, makers, curious people can make things happen. David Brooks writes in the recent article, "How Artists Change the World," that artists can "retrain the imagination" and change how our society sees the world, really make the world better by giving us new images to enlighten us. He believes this creative vision is important. Work that has meaning comes from inside, from dreams, visions, experiments, and curiosity. We have to continue to be curious and to get our hands dirty to grow, learn, and make new discoveries and new art. It's called work. That's what it takes. Can everyone make art, write poetry? Maybe not. But anyone can put in the work, practice, dream, and try. In this way, we don't have to settle for what's already out there and rearrange it. We can work toward creating new art that is even better. You decide.



Velma Bolyard said…
alisa, you have brought up a really meaty topic, and i am going to, like a dog, take this bone away and chew on it a while. really good and thanks.
Alisa said…
Thanks, Velma! The world keeps getting weirder, but we can still make our mark!