I promised myself I wouldn’t, but here we go…

There’s a new post by a new author up on BiW, but that’s not what caught my attention. I’ll admit, I was zooming through posts there, eager to get to the latest comments on another post entirely, when words like referent and antecendent jumped out at me. And then – perhaps the ultimately leap-off-the- computer-screen-and-straight-into-my-brain moment – there was the first comment posted by Dekka Raymaker, which quoted the very first song I played on the very first Arthole broadcast. It caught my eye and freaked me out a bit. You can read it all here (it now has two additional comments).

I don’t know Dekka, nor do I really know why he posted what he did. But it did bring my attention back to the original post. And I really don’t want to give poor Fitz a hard time (I know even less about Fitz than I do about Dekka, so I have no idea whatsoever where Fitz is coming from), but the post was… well, it rubbed me the wrong way.

A few things in particular:

Things can happen that are not only “not possible in the real world,” but also not thinkable.

(Ok, not to be all Sarah Palin-like, but the phrase is “not possible in real life”… whatever.) I sort of touched on all this on my last broadcast but just to make my opinion absolutely clear: I consider the human mind (the imagination, consciousness, the spirit – however you want to define it) to be the most beautiful and profound thing in existence, and any sort of technology/drug/meditation technique/whathaveyou only allows us to express those wonders in a way that is more clear and understandable to us given our present condition.

I’m italicizing “express” because I want to drive home the point that it is my belief that the materials behind that expression (the feelings, the ideas) are all there already. The notion that anything would be literally “unthinkable” without the aid for some sort of enhancement, technological or otherwise, is utterly absurd to me. It’s our culture and/or our physical reality that we bump up against, but our minds are always there, churning away and coming up with great things.

Ok, why the hell am I making a big deal about this? Because I think it’s important that critiques of Second Life art privilege the mind of the artist over the world of Second Life. As soon as Second Life art becomes reduced to an advertisement for Second Life, a “look what I can do with this neat program!” kind of gimmick, I really lose interest. But as long as it connects me to another to the thoughts/theories/ideas/feelings/etc of another human being, allowing me into their world for a moment to see how they see the world, then that’s really interesting.

Which kind of leads me to the rest of the article…

Second Life art has been like this magnet for critical theorist types, giving them a place to really put all that simulacrum stuff to use. That’s fine – I love and adore art theory as well – but it should be noted that I have yet to meet a group of artists engaged in this kind of dialog in their work (or for that matter, even one SL artist engaged in it in a really deep way). The idea of “art theory” or “art speak” – this opaque, difficult to pull apart language spoken by the critical community – holds a lot of traction in the RL art world because there are artists who are engaged with it as part of their practice.

One can assume that Joseph Kosuth learned about the work of Saussure while he was a student in art school, surrounded by other artists who were also reading Saussure who then knew how to talk about the work in relation to the linguist’s work. In this case, the artist and the people who seek to critique the artist’s work are all on the same page – which is a very different place from where Fitz is operating.

Fitz is well within his rights to discuss work in SL on whatever terms he/she wants. But in order to actually engage the creative community that exists in SL, you really have to at least pay attention to where the artists making the work are coming from. Plugging discussions about signs and referents into the context of SL art is certainly nice, but I tend to think it’s about as helpful as comparing a Tibetan sand mandala to the work of Peter Halley; which is to say it can be a cool intellectual exercise for the person making the argument and those listening in, but it doesn’t really help you to get any closer to what the hell the mandala is all about (nor would it really tell you anything about Halley’s work).

Just to give you a really quick sense of what I mean, here is an excerpt from Nebulosus Severine’s artist’s statement:

I paint/draw/sculpt/create what I FEEL. The subject of my work is generally about or influenced by:

Color. Emotion. Intellect. The Four Seasons. The Six Senses… Auras. Mist. Fog. Shadows. Blood. Pain. Fire. Grief. Tears. Rage. Red and blue. Indigo. Lightning. Owls. Birds. Wings. Flight. Crystals. Glass. Silver. Metallic. Neon. Eyes. The soul. Sharp objects. Glowing. Light passing through glass, liquid. Facial expressions. Crumbling buildings. Skulls. Sex. Death. Evil. Cold. Ice. Winter. Snow. Fall. Autumn. Smoke. The sea. Water. Deep pools. Parallel universes. Dreams. Psychic abilities. Stars. Nebulae. Magic. Synchronicity. The moon. The wisdom of trees. The third eye. The higher plane of consciousness. Suffering. Isolation. Swords and knives. Angels. Vampires. Feeling inhuman/unhuman.

Her writing is reminiscent of the artist’s statements of people like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, just off the top of my head. Compare this to Fitz’s writing about SL art, which is rooted in another era entirely:

The art is visual, two-dimensional in a way that not even painting can be–it is projected to its audience through pixels, which are smaller than any paper or canvas. It has no existence outside of this flat reality, so that the image of the art becomes the self-conscious focus. Jay lamented the lack of context, but what is context in a world without antecedents?

So what is Brooklyn watching? It is watching the emergence of the virtual, the sign, the referent, and it is watching the disappearance for the physical real, the thing, the antecedent.

There is a shocking disconnect between what Fitz proposes as the overarching definition of art in SL, and what we see from an artist actually engaged in making work in SL (note that Nebs didn’t mention “pixels” or “the virtual” on her long list of inspirations).

This isn’t good. The role of the critic in SL should not be to lecture SL artists about what they are doing using criteria completely removed from the very discourse they use to talk about the work to one another. Raising the bar, introducing new methods of interpretation, and incorporating ideas from different sectors of criticism and history are all admirable and important – but successfully doing this starts with meeting the art where it actually is. Anything else, I fear, is just intellectual posturing.


~ by amyfreelunch on October 11, 2008.

6 Responses to “I promised myself I wouldn’t, but here we go…”

  1. Hello Amy,
    My post at BIW about “not having the correct manual to talk about art”,was in response to what you have written here. I too believe that the art made in SL is the same made in RL, just different mediums, if you will. Being an artist in SL and RL, I also welcome the philosophical discussions and or masturbation (don’t knock my hobby:)). I have been with artists who chit chat about “antecedents” as well as not.
    Also,I don’t think that NPIRL has ever meant to slight art here, but, that is my opinion. I have seen some amazing things through Bettina’s suggestions: a gathering of Avatars within the body of a chrysanthemum , a Bosch like hell where I could run with the masses, and an installation about how loving someone could mean a death sentence.

    Look forward to the art and the discussions within our new frontier.

    Rave on:)
    Sincerely Yours,
    Penumbra Carter

  2. I was halfway through reading Fritz’s comment on the BiW blog for the second time and I thought hang on a minute, I sometimes sketch ideas at home on paper and then construct my art pieces here in SL, so does that mean whilst I have the paper (in RL) that makes my work in SL more valid because I have a tangible ‘object’ to reference it and if I throw away that piece of paper, does it then mean my SL art has less worth? (I like to think simply). At that point “It’s all in my head” appeared above me in a speech bubble and so I thought Fiona’s lyric was the perfect response, I really didn’t think it needed further explanation. Maybe I misunderstood the question, I don’t know.

    I have heard one of your radio arthole sessions, but I don’t recall it was the one with Paper Bag, it was the one you discussed NPIRL and although the points you made where somewhat valid, I always just thought it was a damn good title to call a group. If MOMA showed a Rubens would that be wrong?

  3. Perhaps it’s not necessary to throw the baby out with the bath water? Isn’t it be possible that some art criticism / art theory hits the nail on the head more than others? (Not sure if you read my post at BiW….). But the bottom line for me is that we are all trying to understand the art in SL together, and taking stabs at it as a community is a helpful way to come closer and closer to the art and its meaning for our culture. Also, I am not sure that an artist needs to be actively involved in theory in order for us to look at their work through that lens. The theory is there as a tool for us to understand our cultural moment.

  4. I’m not suggesting for the slightest moment that critics completely abandon art theory. What I’m suggesting is that it is incredibly arrogant for a critic to declare what a group of artists are doing without the slightest attention paid to those artist’s intentions, ideas, writings, spoken explanations, previous body of work, what their peers are up to, etc. In short, I found Fitz’s article to be completely limiting and dismissive of art that I really care about.

    It’s not that I think that the artist gets to dictate the discussion of their work, but it has to be some sort of starting point or grounding (or however you want to look at it), just so that the criticism makes sense in relation to the piece. Otherwise the critic and the artist are just talking around each other and the conversation doesn’t advance anywhere.

  5. Just a reminder about what Amy actually said on her radio show about NPIRL, she said Bettina was a very nice lady that has done a lot for SL art, and then went on to comment on what it was specifically she objected to about the concept of what is Not Possible in Real Life. I actually thought it was a very valid point of view and not one I’d previously considered, I can even understand how NPIRL could be deemed as naive or even offensive to some.

    What I do like about the group is that it highlights how important it can be for artists to use the tools in SL to create really innovative art that takes advantage of the medium, as opposed to e.g. flat photography, which is often lazy and uninspired. So, that is the positive side I think and how I see the original intention of the group. But as I said over at BiW, it is not the definitive source of great SL artists by an means and if it is the only one someone refers to then they will miss a lot.

    With regards to Fitz’s post, I don’t think there was much leeway for people to respond, I didn’t feel like he was encouraging a dialogue, maybe he just wanted to introduce himself before he starts writing regularly. I think we all welcome intelligent discussion of SL art, there is nothing worse than the empty sycophantic “w00ting” that goes on in places like Flickr, it is that kind of nonsense that will hold back the progression of this medium more than anything else. Of course our work has to stand up to examination by knowledgeable real-world academics, but it is also essential that they understand the people behind it and what motivates them, which I think is what Amy says was lacking from Fitz’s seeming disconnect.

  6. (copy of comment from BIW blog): A quick response to this dialogue, which I think has been fantastic (I will write another post in the next few days that looks at some work specifically… perhaps this will be more productive). My effort in the first post was towards initiating just such a dialogue, and not at dogmatically imposing my opinions upon others. As Frederick Schauer, a leading expert on the First Amendment, has said, “painting with a broad brush” is “an often inevitable and frequently desirable dimension of decision-making in our lives.” Unfortunately, in about 800 words any stroke I make is going to be a broad one.

    I’ll take the hit for the mistake on “not possible in real life” – as I said in my original post, I am a new voice here and a lot of these terms and abbreviations are new to me.

    To address Amy’s critique: She argues (allow me to paraphrase) that I am standing in my world of theory as I look at and address the art of Second Life. This theory has no intrinsic relation to the art or the artist, and so is irrelevant. She is interested in the artist behind the art, while my comment focused on the art as standing alone. She is interested in content and what is behind the content, while I focused too heavily on form. She quoted a bio from one of the artists as proof of her argument. She also said:

    “As soon as Second Life art becomes reduced to an advertisement for Second Life, a “look what I can do with this neat program!” kind of gimmick, I really lose interest. But as long as it connects me to another to the thoughts/theories/ideas/feelings/etc of another human being, allowing me into their world for a moment to see how they see the world, then that’s really interesting.”

    This is a valid opinion, and a valid way to approach art as an individual. The only problem is that this doesn’t hold up to historical precedent to say that such is the way that art is meant to be understood. To argue that medium is not as meaningful as the art produced, that it is secondary, is to discount such phenomena as (for example) the effect of cubism on collage and then collage back onto cubism. Content is one thing, but it is not the only thing, and to argue that form is permanently secondary to it is unfair.

    Another point: deciding the preference of either form over content or content over form is not the point of BIW. Understanding the art and the project is. I come from the standpoint of a writer, where I deal in antecedents, referents, signs and meanings. This is how I tried to understand the project.

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