…Social Media Art could be the way forward…
I wanted to write an article on how social media impacts art, starting with Fine Art, but Tom Jeffries of Apollo Magazine got there first and wrote this fantastic piece, which says pretty much all I wanted to on the subject! However, what I’d be circling around to eventually is exploring how writers can use social media, beyond its obvious promotional value.
The artists cited in Jeffries’s article use social media in various ways; informing their audience (events, shows etc.) or assuming roles (see Amalia Ulmann’s fascinating Instagram project), and so on. Easy public access to an artist’s constant dialogue can also serve to contextualise their work. Potentially- instead of deciphering influences, moods and manner purely from the pieces themselves- the audience has the luxury of a continually updating commentary. Some artists have used social media for gathering material or data (Jennifer Dalton’s What are We Not Shutting Up About (2010)).
Where ingredients for a project are gathered online, in some cases credit may be owed to the originator. Richard Prince, professional numbnuts, recently caught the public’s scathing eye by blatantly ripping off the creators of thousands of images gathered from Instagram. While in my opinion this is glaringly obnoxious, I suppose there’s a certain logic behind this thievery. Prince considers (or claims to consider) the act of collection as his work, rather than the images themselves. The fact that it’s other people’s photographs that he’s curating and selling for thousands is another matter.
These collecting strategies not only apply to visual artists. Writers can and do also employ and manipulate social media and the internet in similar ways. ‘Found’ poetry is something that existed way before social media, and seems as though it’s made for the medium.
Crowdsourcing is one of the more unusual ways in which a writer can use the internet to create something in a social way. David Lehman and Dan Simpson have both worked with crowdsourcing to create poetry. You can still contribute to Eric Mack’s crowdsourced science fiction novel. The effect is unusual. Crowdsourcing would appear to appeal to the maxim ‘two heads are better than one’ on a grand scale, but I’m not sure that really works with something as individual as writing. Surely a thousand or more strangers can’t guess the creator’s vision? How do a million different voices reach any kind of cohesive harmony? In all the examples I’ve found, the writer leading the project has the final executive decision on what makes the grade, and I suppose that final personal touch provides the necessary direction to stop the whole thing falling apart.
The idea of ‘Social Media As Art’ has been around since the blossoming of net culture, and some have made the argument that unless someone is actually making new net-based social application, it doesn’t exactly count. I’m not sure whether I’d agree with that; after all, a film maker doesn’t have to hand paint his celluloid to make valid movies. Nevertheless, programs exist which allow people to connect with each other for specific, artistic reasons.
As early as 1987, Olivier Auber opened up access to a project called ‘Poietic Generator’. A basic public space upon which strangers can collaborate to produce images, participants can choose to assist or hinder the ideas of their fellow users. Individual sessions have been recorded to be viewed on the website, and you can see from the ones the creators have selected that the results of these events are diverse. Some digital canvasses have been the work of nearly forty users. Others have been made by only two or three. Images can appear as chaotic wars of colour or harmonious attempts at teamwork. The final products in either case are less interesting than the concept itself, which was designed as a kind of microcosm of the way human beings interact and think about their world.
Social media certainly raises some interesting creative questions. ‘Social’ implies some sort of interaction with the audience for which the piece is intended. By this token, some of the creative control is immediately surrendered. Even if you are simply tweeting haikus, the method you’ve chosen to release your work in adds context and meaning that are different from poems in a physical book. Alternatively you can foist the entire process upon the people, almost completely relinquishing command of the final result.
While the idea of using social media as an art or literary form does court a lot of criticism- of being too clever for its own good, not being ‘proper art’, and generally being a kind of cheap trick played on the easily impressed- it really ought to be taken seriously. Art, in the end, is a form of communication. As time passes, it seems it becomes less and less one sided. The internet in its most accessible form seems the natural habitat for this expansion.