January 1, 2020

2020

A new year and not so much as a resolution but a resolve to pick up the slack of this weblog that has plagued it over the past year. The culprit? The name of this pain would be social media. For a prolonged time, I had resisted getting involved in Instagram and Twitter. After much debate with a few friends, I capitulated and delved into the two social sites. This, to the apparent detriment of weblogging. The early years of this blog were more global in scope. At its inception in 2003, when my wife and I traveled to Spain for an extended time and weblogging was an effort to stay in touch with friends back in the states. There was much to report then, topics posted spread past the studio to accounts of life in the Costa Brava. I posted about art and anything adjacent. I learned HTML and played with formats. Everything notable/noticeable was a clue as to why art was made.

Fast forward to recent years and social media seems to have displaced some of the function of the weblog. The early success of "social influencers" and some artists who could transmit their studio product to collectors stirred my friends in the art community to jump on board. Enough time has passed to show that the promise of social media doesn't evenly distribute itself into the world at large. Social influencers favored young (wealthy) attractive women who could steer the markets of the fashion industry. Markets crystallized onto a few and stubbornly stuck in place. As for the promise of a democratizing promotional art marketplace, let me suggest that Instagram favors only the top tier artists who had already garnered an enthusiastic audience before they entered the fray, amplifying an already successful market for them. The rich, getting richer. Sound familiar? This assessment isn't absolute, and there has certainly been some effect for aspirants in either sector... but the gains I believe have been only modest for most of those outside of this elite.

My initial beef with Instagram remains in place after a couple of years of surrendering to its charms. Similar to Facebook (which I had exited from a while ago already), it was admittedly nice to be in the place all my friends were. I never had monitored at my weblog stats, but my initial plunge into social media illustrated the end of the early halcyon days of the web log and a social communication platform. My critique is that the successor media was a diminishment of expression. The one-size-fits-all cookie cutter format of Facebook narrowed further and drastically with Instagram. How mistaken I was when I thought years ago that artists would reject this and out-do each other publishing their own website/weblog platforms, blowing minds and enlarging spheres of expression. How strange to see meek compliance and arrested development in the world that was birthed with the Salon de Refusés and the shot of Alfred Jarry's pistol.

The larger effect has been a spreading delta spectrum of communication modes that we all must keep tabs on. Emails, Instagram messages, Twitter monitoring for breaking news and direct messages, text messaging on multiple platforms (the standard cell phone messaging, WhatsApp and now Signal), and others that grow on the horizon... our Information Age has unfolded into a broad spectrum that challenges our limited capacity to spread attention. Meanwhile, the silos get larger and fewer. When we haven't stopped exchanging information for fear of social ostracism, we get exiled from the social media for wrong-think. And all the while, social media cashes in, monetizing personal data to sell to desperate advertisers/manufacturers, all chasing consumers freed from the traditional big three networks and handful of "authoritative" newspapers and magazines (dinosaurs, all). An irony that seems to be lost on all is that social media flaunts "Liberal" consumerism criticality while they build empires monetizing everything in sight. Governments we can't trust (I'm looking at you, CIA) ally with data+money hoarding companies (I'm looking at you Amazon, Google and Facebook) and transparency isn't given a second thought by either any of these players or the victim/public/sheep at large. This is all so grotesque and pathetic.

Depth is becoming elusive.

A hall of mirrors. A world of surfaces. Lost in a forest of signs.

The best response it to resist it.

Fight.

Here. In this little corner at least. So, I'll double down and re-prioritize this weblog and give social media like Instagram a demotion in status in my little circle of the world.

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UPDATE: A friend sent this in today: THE AGE OF INSTAGRAM FACE

Posted by Dennis at January 1, 2020 5:10 PM

9 Comments

Hi, Dennis,
Thanks for this great post. I'll have a longer response -- this is a preliminary "test comment."

When Facebook came along I already had an established blog presence and didn't see the need for a cruddier-looking page. So I never joined. I followed some new media friends onto Twitter in 2008 and tweeted prolifically for a few years until the platform started imitating Facebook and got bogged down with videos, ads, and "while you were away" messages. I also skipped Instagram because I didn't care for the focus on standardized photography, and watched in horror as all my art friends adopted it as "the" platform. Do people not care how ephemeral social media's "friends," "followers," and "likes" are? If an artist tries to subvert or change "social" they will be immediately shut down by management. Your point about the diminution of the spirit of the Salon des Refuses and Jarry is well taken. I've stayed loyal to my blog over the years because I can do anything I want there (although I've toned down the politics post Snowden and shaming).

I have only recently found your blog, am glad I did.. I enjoy it very much. Thanks for your insight and look forward to continuing checking out your site on a routine basis.

I know a handful of people concerned enough about the diminution of possibilities to take steps. Get off social media; have encrypted conversations; switch to Linux; use a VPN; use a burner phone; de-DRM media. The net effect of these steps, however, is a loss of "the commons," or at least a changed notion of what that is. Good criticism depends on shared assumptions, which shift gradually based on argument and refereed discourse.

"Social" is a commons but it's arithmetically mediated. The person with the most likes or followers has the best ideas. It's not surprising that Raphael Rubenstein's MFA kids suffer a meager diet of Hyperallergic and the Brooklyn Rail for crit (a few years ago they might have mentioned Paddy Johnson or, ahem, me). But they could probably tell him in great detail about the Luke Turner-Deanna Havas online fight, or how Ryder Ripps is a "petty man" (he's not).

As for where I fit in, I'm torn between making a definitive statement and being as confusing as possible so as not to be buttonholed and shamed. I had a show in NYC two years ago that summed up 20 years of my explorations in the "digital art in the gallery" arena. I'm proud of it but it wasn't covered by Raphael Rubenstein and it's doubtful he (or any of the critics he cites favorably) would know how to talk about that body of work. (No brag, just fact, as Walter Brennan used to say.) The hashtag #tommoody was very active on Instagram while the show was up but it has since returned to pictures of the smiling face of an Australian cricket legend.

Most of my energy is going into music these days. I am using Bandcamp because it has a low "social" component; it's basically an archive which facilitates sales and streaming. On my blog I am gradually republishing my Artforum reviews from the '90s with new commentary. Whenever I have a visual art idea I post it. Such is my contribution to what's left of the commons!

No matter how diminished the commons are at the moment, and no matter the baleful direction the commons is taking seems to be, a total withdrawal seems too drastic to me. One alternative would be a double movement: the creation of a doubled life, a simultaneous involvement and a constructed independent one.

Good criticism does depend on shared assumptions and this is why perhaps we have seen its gradual disappearance over recent years. "Silos", the current nomenclature for this. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.” What I mean is that I locate the etiology in the triumph of the governing set of ideas at the end of the 20th century. Postmodernism. This is why I tend to insist on a focus on it and the consequent need to define it succinctly. This is generally discouraged by our peers, and therefore we will not be able to deal with the many problems that bedevil us today. Similarly, there is a resistance to address history frontally in our community. When I visit an artist studio, I usually ask: “Where do you think we are in art history and where are we going?” Blank stares if not consternation usually ensues. I don’t mean to irritate my friends, but I am genuinely curious if their work is grounded in more than intuition and personal narrative, not that these are problematic in and of themselves, but only if they are solely the only drivers of the art that they are making. The Postmodern problem is its fundamental drive to erase distinctions and blur categories. Everything is everything and nothing matters. Its very constitution prevents succession and so I say that the 20th century is cockblocking the 21st. I think art history is a generational succession of erasure of old and redraw of new distinctions. If making distinctions is an Essentialist Tyranny, then History is indeed over and so is Art. “To learn who rules you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” This is a lesson today’s critics should take to heart.

Artists can never give up. I am not suggesting that you are doing that, but I would implore you not to see your shift from visual art to music as a withdrawal but a change up of media. I’m keen to see or hear what you are doing in Bandcamp, and I’m sure that I will see echoes of your earlier work there.

Thanks John, I really appreciate it. Glad to know that there's an audience out there.

Postmodern pluralism was happening ahead of the internet; the latter has definitely accelerated the former. The art world isn't the only the arena where a narrative consensus is fragmenting -- look at our politics. There isn't much we can do about this as individuals except avoid for-profit silos as much as possible and find consensus on the vehicles we can control, such as blogging (independent self publishing). For artists building an audience is a daunting challenge in this environment because people are more distracted, or having their attention channeled into areas that don't matter. I'm not giving up; in music I'm probably more focused than I was in the visual arena, in terms of a recognizable style. I've lowered my expectations but not my standards.

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