The raw and the cooked.

Based on some conversations I’ve had recently, I’ve been thinking about this idea of how being an “outsider” figures into SL art.

A little background: The term “outsider” sort of assumes there are two distinct groups of people who make art – those with formal training in the subject and those without. On the surface, this seems fair enough. But it gets a little tricky when you start to consider who has been dumped into that second category, which then breaks down into categories of its own. You have, among the leading lights of Outsider Art:

  • Martin Ramirez, who lived much of his life in a mental institution.
  • Ray Materson, a former inmate, who began creating obsessive works made from unraveled socks while incarcerated.
  • Rev. Howard Finster, who claimed to create his work with the intercession of God.

…and on and on and on. What they have in common is that the creator of the work – beyond just this very simple definition of being “untrained” – has some sort of, shall we say, slippery relationship to the traditional notion of mental health. As a result, while it certainly has its admirers (I’m one of them), “Outsider Art” is a rather dubious category to get dumped in. Even efforts to save it, which seem to inevitably involve the argument that the work of “Outsiders” is somehow “more pure” than those of us who went to school for art and take our medication, because (as the argument goes) the Outsider is creating art which ignores the marketplace and influence of art history and instead privileges that which expresses an inner, emotional, private world.

I’m an eternal optimist, so I generally think that the invention of the category of “Outsider” was well-intentioned; it sought to bring to the fore the work of people who might otherwise be dismissed because of their lack of training. Unfortunately – and this is just the way things go, I suppose – the term is now almost fetishized by collectors and dealers who rally to the cause of this “pure” art and use the term as a marketing tool. And as someone who has an MFA, I find it sort of disheartening to think that my work is considered somehow “less pure” because I chose to take that route.

All of this – the popularity of the term “Outsider,” the reconsideration of “Outsider Art,” and the underlying current of distrust towards “Insider Art” – feeds into these conversations I’ve been having with SL artists about their work. And while SL artists (and their supporters) may feel a well-intentioned affinity to the work of Outsiders, that connection is extremely limited at best.

SL seems to draw to it its own two, distinct categories of artists – those who are artists/academics/MFAs in real life and those who are not. For a couple of years now, the two groups have more or less peacefully coexisted but more and more I see them bumping up against each other. In private conversations, the MFAs are branded (by those who don’t have that background) as condescending, patronizing, and arrogant, whereas the un-MFAs are considered anti-intellectual and a detriment to the wide-scale acceptance of SL art by the RL artworld.

Neither of these charges is really all that untrue, but they’re unfortunate. And I see what’s being proposed as a kind of middle ground (and I’ve done this in conversations as well as I’ve heard others do it) is to recast the unMFAs as Outsiders – totally outside of some sort of mainstream conversation about art, immune to the marketplace, and somehow therefore more pure. While I see this sort of compromise as being well-meaning, it also conjures up some of the worst stereotypes of people who spend a lot of time in SL (mainly, that we’re all a bunch of weird and mentally unstable types) and despite its best intentions, it comes across as both demeaning to the artists it attempts to describe as well as to those that it excludes (the idea that AM Radio’s work is “less pure” because he went to art school is silly, at best).

So maybe the best comparison to draw is not to compare SL artists to Outsider Artists, but to think instead of an example of (for instance) the Quilters of Gee’s Bend. The story of the quilters is legendary to anyone who likes to root for an underdog: A group of women in the deep South, without any knowledge or exposure to Modernist art, created a vast collection of beautifully designed quilts which – and this is the fun part – engage color, shape and abstraction in exactly the same way those Modernist artists would… only they did it with cloth and thread and either did it before their contemporaries in the artworld did it in oil paint on canvas, or concurrent to that work. You’d have to be pretty heartless to look at their work and consider it to be anything but a legitimate work of art, even if it’s taken a little while for the canon to catch up with them.

I think that coming up with this entirely separate category – like “craft” or “design” just as examples – could really be the answer to all of this. I doubt anyone thinks of an Eames chair as being more or less “pure” than the work of Damien Hirst – the two are simply in completely different categories. And while you might go to the American Museum of Art and Design and see an embroidery that specifically refers to a work of contemporary art (this is not rare: more and more MFA/classically trained artists are embracing these sorts of techniques while also not abandoning their training), it may easily be hanging next to a similar piece that has no such connection to “high art” but instead references the history of craft (or something else entirely). Each piece has to be taken individually; in interpreting it, bringing in and referencing outside trends in fine art, design, popular culture, and the like is not frowned upon. Which is to say that the conversation about this kind of work generally isn’t only about other works of art, but the culture in which it exists as a whole – which frankly seems to me to be a better, more reasonable way of discussing just about any kind of art.

Taking this strategy will be most threatening to the SL MFAs, as it suddenly makes them not the prevailing experts on the topic. I’m personally ok with that; others won’t be. But I like it as an acknowledgment that in this field, none of the rules are set and it’s impossible to be an expert on the topic. It’s what makes SL art criticism tough, but also what makes it fun.


~ by amyfreelunch on December 21, 2008.

47 Responses to “The raw and the cooked.”

  1. Excellent topic for discussion Amy, we’ve been touching on this over on the BiW blog too, it seems something is in the air.

    I have varied views, on the one hand I think it is essential to be able to discuss art intelligently and understand references and art history, but perhaps it is the quality of an individual’s work and how sincere they are that matters most. The problem with being untrained is that if you don’t know what you are doing technically, the results can be disastrous, worse still you may not be equipped to mould the work into a coherent conclusion and it will always fall short of its potential. I have had little formal training apart from a visual studies module on my BA film course, and my knowledge gained working as assistant for portrait painter Howard Morgan, does this void my work inside and outside of SL? Undoubtedly it does in the eyes of some and that bothers me, but I hope my work is strong enough to stand up to analysis and be taken seriously. I am not, what Patrick Lichty would call a “hobbyist”.

    The SL art scene is a mess and the reasons why are complex, you have definitely highlighted some of the core problems that exist. Brooklyn is Watching and your own project are fascinating experiments, they reflect a microcosm of what is on offer in SL art and their importance cannot be underestimated. I would accuse many artists working in Second Life of living in a bubble, and that includes people on both sides of the fence, the “outsider” artists and formally trained. Each party is guilty of ridiculing or dismissing the other based on instinctive prejudices, snobbery and inverted snobbery. If we are to move forward then there needs to be a meeting of the minds and fortunately there is evidence of that happening, but it is slow and in a state of flux.

    There is a whole other area that is also damaging progression, including all the bloggers and “hobbyists” that create crap, speak in superlatives and surround themselves with sycophants who never criticize or complain and only want an easy life and a massaged ego. Then we have the obsession with fashion and photography that is dominating the landscape, fueled by Flickr, Deviant Art etc and their hermetically sealed realities.

    Personally, I am all for revolution, “a chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure”, or maybe some other film quote…

  2. This is a lot to ponder and it will take me awhile to reply, but it’s simmering in my brain.

  3. I am very pleased to see you give credit to the Women of Gee’s Bend for creating a unique field of art before the trained art world arrived at the very same place. It speaks volumes about the field of Outsider Art. We really need to focus on the art and not just the stories. If the art is powerful enough it will last the test of time, while the stories might fade. These quilts are astonishing, and seeing the textiles in person is quite a gift. They will be cherished for generations to come.

  4. Really interesting post Amy! I used to work in a gallery that exhibited outsider art and even had to work a few years at the Outsider Art Fair. I have always found it to be a VERY problematic category. In some ways, looking to those “outside” of the accepted canon of art and outside of official art training began with the 19th century artist Courbet, who looked to what was essentially folk art for inspiration– partly because of his left-wind politics. Then, of course, Gauguin went to Tahiti to escape the Western urban industrial culture (he said “Civilization is what makes you sick”) and to find values that he believed were lost — values that were more true, more sincere, more spiritual, closer to some instinctive part of human nature that had been lost to educated westerners. And of course, Picasso looked to African and Ancient Iberian art for the similar reasons, and so did Pollock etc. (the search for a universal Jungian unconscious) This is so clearly the West IMAGINING these cultures (or outsiders) in a particular way for its own needs, and not a true understanding of the cultures on their own terms and merits. It’s offensive, really…

    (And I agree – those Gee’s Bend quilts are amazingly beautiful…)

    I am interested to hear more about the friction between these two groups — the MFAs and the non-trained artists in SL. I am assuming it has to do with how SL makes “creating” such an integral part of the interface, and therefore something available to many? It’s clear too that part of this is about the need to create a critical scaffolding that will help us all to talk about art in SL.

  5. This is a tremendously interesting conversation, as I’m actually in a unique position to address it. For example, although I’ve been a New Media artist for nearly two decades, (most visible after about 96, though), and started publishing academically around then, I got my MFA in 2006, going into my degree with multiple biennials under my belt. I went in because I know that to teach academically, you really have to have the terminal degree to even look at tenure (you can sit at the right hand of God and not get tenure without that slip of paper). Also, I wanted to spend 30 months doing everything I would never have an opportunity to do at any other time. Therefore, I am less invested in the institution than a love of working with culture.

    An idea that I’m thinking of is that of Greenberg’s idea of Kitsch and Folk Art. I want to disclaim this first to emphasize the latter to focus on the rise of “enlightened” amateur culture by Web 2.0 as put forth by Andrew Keen’s “Cult of the Amateur” versus that of Outsider Art (see The Intuit Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Hawkins, naive Creole art, etc) that is focused on Naive and “otherness” based upon religious visions, mental illness, etc.

    The problem with Greenberg’s idea of Kitsch and Folk Art after the rise of the Internet is his linkage to commerce, like the empty romanticism/sentimentalism of artists like Maxfield Parrish, Rockwell, etc as purely for the sake of sentimentality and visual pleasure for the sake of commerce. On the other hand, I was part of the Compuserve GIF forum in the early 90’s and did a _lot_ of digital “Folk Art” (like the multimedia GIF piece, “Happy Happy Skulls” [about 1992]). It was fun, we “explored our creativity”, but did it add to the Contemporary dialogue? Absolutely not; but IT DID contribute to the conversation that MY community of the time was having. It did to the point where our forum where Compuserve Magazine highlighted our forum as the “up and coming Cyberartists”, and it actually formed the basis upon which my 90’s design studio was created. In many ways, I see so many analogues to myself in the 90’s in SL these days.

    I agree that there are a lot of cultures crashing into one another, and one of the first impulses is to frame a power differential in terms of “elitism”, which tends to go Kantian/Bushish/binary/us & them, which I think is a red herring. I like to frame it in terms of “conversations” and “cultures”. There is also the problem of pluralism, as well as the problems of the expert vs. expertise that Keen talks about in his book, and that Lawrence Lessig talked about on a recent Fresh Air (NPR interview program) Lessig talked about the fact that about 95% of blogs are horrid, but this is also analogous to the Pamphlet culture of Revolutionary times.

    Basically, you can give someone a tool, but does that mean they’ll be a master of it? Is everyone who writes Shakespeare? That’s a simplified argument, to say the least, and threatens to go back to the high/low argument, which I disagree with. I also disagree with the idea of the “ivory Tower vs. the People” discourse, as I’m merely an intellectual who learned that it’s possible to navigate expert territory if you show more than just expertise in a given thing. Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture) said it most eloquently that “the gates are there for a reason”, as they focus enthusiasts into experts.

    For me, it’s about respecting the larger set of conversations, and applying that respect to combat solipsism and anti-intellectualism that is part of the cry against “elitism” which is so harmful to world culture.

    From this, as I have gone on far too long, is to challenge the audience to consider what terms we are actually talking about. I don’t think we’re talking about MFA/non MFA (although the MFA inscribes a certain culture, for sure), Outsider/Insider, but a cultural schism. We’re thrown in together into this great mix, and the “illustrators” are placed next to the “enthustuiasts” who are placed next to “academics” who are placed next to “Contemporary artists’ who are…, and the friction comes from cultural discontinuity, differentials in intent, experts and expertise, context in regards to tradition and conversation. Consider that before the 20th Century, African art was largely relegated to Natural History Museums.

    As for a critical scaffolding, we can look to the New Media Art discourse (Manovich, Paul, Grau) for historical precedent, and to the Web 2.0 conversation being generated by Andrew Keen, Lawrence Lessig, and Chris Anderson. Consider that only SOME of these people are academics, not all.

    I think that this “crashing” of cultures in SL is a critical time, and as we try to converse across cultures and personal contexts, I hope we can understand that we ARE NOT the same, and that these differences can create the production of collective education, knowledge, and even a little wisdom.

  6. How many raw outsider artists,
    does it take to change a lightbulb.
    Some to hold the never still,
    and some to be the height lulled.

    Earl Dinkin

  7. “How many Performance Artists does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

    A: I don’t know – I left after three hours.
    (Marina Abramovic as told to Guillermo Gomez Pena as related to Scott Kildall)

    B: Two. and a very LARGE lightbulb.
    (Second Front)

  8. For example, I did this commission for the Smithsonian without a degree…

    Lichtenstein – only undergrad…

  9. ok, wait, wait… I assume you’re referring to Greenberg’s “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” in which case what Greenberg refers to as “folk art” is very, VERY different than what I’m referring to. Greenberg is referring to a kind of Soviet realism that was the official state-sanctioned way of making art at the time in the USSR – this is hugely different than, say, the quilts of Gee’s Bend and is way off the beaten track from The Cult of the Amateur. (I’ve written about this before: Kitsch plays a huge role in the creation and interpretation of SL art, but it is secondary to the role which Camp plays. But I’m getting off the topic here.)

    I keep coming back to the thought that there is art in SL being created by two camps – those who are in dialog with the contemporary (RL) art scene and those who are in dialog with a whole other set of references… it makes sense to crit the work of SL artists sensitive to these differences and not try to cram their work into a one-size-fits-all solution.

  10. “…and those who are in dialog with a whole other set of references… ”
    This is the crux of the problem of the term ‘outsider’ as it uses capital ‘A’ contemporary art as a reference point – the thing people are ‘outside’ of. One of the problems as I see it is the notion that we have to be careful how we define ‘intellectual.’ I tend to find that many people who are called anti-intellectual are actually against a very specific type of intellectual activity, or are interested in other forms of intellect. Because many academics tend to believe that only their particular brand of intellectual behavior (discursive, critical, etc.) counts, they get defensive about folks who think that emotional, social, and/or visual intelligence have a place at the intellectual table.

  11. “Because many academics tend to believe that only their particular brand of intellectual behavior (discursive, critical, etc.) counts, they get defensive about folks who think that emotional, social, and/or visual intelligence have a place at the intellectual table.”

    Very well said.

  12. Amy, Steven and I are reading this on-going conversation — and I think we’re all on the same page here — with Patrick too (we had just listened to Lessig on Fresh Air, and were also discussing Kitsch and Greenberg before we read these most recent posts.

    Anyway, we’re interested to know where you have written about kitsch and camp in the context of Second Life — we think it’s a critical piece …

  13. oh FUCK – i thought I had published an article on the subject for this blog (i made the topic the center of a talk I gave in November)… but I see now that I simply started the article, saved it as a draft, and got caught up in other things… so I guess it didn’t officially appear anywhere. Ok, I feel totally lame – my apologies. I teach a class at SVA on the history of kitsch/art, so I’m constantly writing things on that subject, along with the subject of altered states of consciousness/art history… and then I often try and fold those interests into my interests in technology.

    Anyway, my apologies – I didn’t mean to refer to an article I hadn’t actually published here yet and I’m lame for having done so… I’m just multitasking on too many things at once.

  14. Well I know that feeling VERY well! No problem. We would still be interested in your thoughts about kitsch and art and Second Life — perhaps that’s another blog post? Is the talk you gave in any form that you would feel comfortable about posting here?

    Anyway, I enjoyed being on the BiW podcast with you tonight —

  15. Sure, I understand Greenberg’s idea on Soviet Realism, but I think his idea that Kitsch is work made entirely for the purpose for a sentimental/popular impulse to create commerce. This is based off of a couple sentences out of that essay, and my exegesis may be out of context, but I think it makes a good point. Places liek Rezzable remind me of 3D Parrish, that has this wonderful romantic sensibility, but for the most part, has no content, and inevitably leads you to the gift shop.

    One might argue that Koons may do the same thing, but they do it with a keen self-awareness of this, and the souvies are much more expensive.

    And about the Folk Art argument, I
    ‘m not usng Greenberg’s terms at all, but using his metaphor, that folk art reflects the senibilities and means of production of the mass media. To say that Greenberg’s definition applies to the 21st Century is a gross misnomer. the aforementioned aspects of culture have changed drastically. Therefore, i feel that Devianrt, Avatrait, and 90% of the Galleries of Second Life exhibit this.

  16. “My exegesis may be out of context, but I think it makes a good point.”

    PROBABLY NOT: IT IS OUT OF CONTEXT. And with exegesis, that’s sort of the whole ballgame.

    Do you teach somewhere? If so, I hope it has nothing to do with exegesis.

  17. There are a few fine points that need to be addressed in your (Lichty’s) last response. First of all, there’s the characterization of Greenberg as arguing “that Kitsch is work made entirely for the purpose for a sentimental/popular impulse to create commerce.” That’s fine, except for the last three words.* Greenberg’s understanding of the situation is a bit more subtle (and historically correct) than that. In his treatment, kitsch is initially a (probably inevitable) side effect of commerce and commodity capitalism, not a preexisting impetus toward it (just so we’re on the same page, I’m looking at pages 9-11 of “Avant Garde and Kitsch” in my Beacon Press edition of Art and Culture). When he addresses the commodification of culture (11), his real concern is with kitsch’s stultifying effects on higher forms of expression around the world (12). The reason this distinction is important is that he is not really concerned with critiquing popular culture in itself, but rather its threat to high culture and fine art. True, Greenberg separates art and kitsch into two distinct cultural spheres and pits them against each other, but for him the real battle takes place within the world of high art itself, and not in the world-at-large. Similarly, he is not against folk art per se; nor does he argue, as you say, that folk art “reflects the sensibilities and means of production of the mass media” (which is untrue; this is what kitsch does, not folk art). Rather, he’s concerned with the way that both folk art and high art get appropriated by commodity culture and become kitsch (10).

    This is closely tied to Greenberg’s arguments that high art withdrew from pop culture as a way of protecting absolute values in the face of widespread cultural decay (4-6). Greenberg’s stance was informed and strongly influenced by the ideas of Clive Bell and Roger Fry, his two great Formalist predecessors (you probably know this, but I’m repeating it for readers who don’t). All three argued in different ways that any appeal to sentimentality (which basically means any appeal to everyday emotions or events in any form) is a threat to the more ethereal and refined experience that the sensitive aesthete is supposed to feel before a genuine work of art. The so-called aesthetic experience is different from mundane emotion, and can only come from confronting works of art that convey a sense of the absolute. This idea owes a lot to the Idealist tradition, especially Plato’s criticism of imitation (mimesis) and the arguments that Immanuel Kant makes in The Critique of the Faculty of Judgment that beauty and mere pleasure are mutually exclusive.** Formalism’s support for abstract painting in its various forms is tied to this, since abstraction is an easy way to bleed all of the worldly references out of art and thus draw attention to the purely internal relationships of pictorial elements (this is Fry’s formulation) and “significant form” (this is Bell’s). Greenberg’s emphasis on modern painting as being concerned only with the elements unique to painting (7) is a further development of this reduction.

    The reason I’m spelling all of this out is to make a couple of points about art in SL. Under Greenberg’s terms, the debate between high art and kitsch could not occur in SL, because Greenberg would have dismissed the whole of SL as kitsch. For one thing, SL is entirely referential and sentimental; everything there refers to the physical world in some way, and therefore everything there is implicated in the sort of reminiscences and emotions that define kitsch under his terms. Even so-called high art in SL is definable as such only because of its obvious debt to RL art and art history; one can’t get more referential and mundane than that. This of course could change with the development of SL art that abandons RL art references and explores SL’s own unique capabilities and possibilities (thus adapting Formalist ideas to a creative environment that, as I will argue below, could not be more different from the RL art world). This is beginning to happen, but is still only part of the way there. The point is that such a development will have nothing to do with false distinctions between “high” and “low” art that have been ported over from the RL art world.

    This leads to another point. Formalism in Greenberg’s sense is impossible in SL because of the very different nature of artistic production in SL and RL. In the real world, everyday objects aren’t made of paint on canvas, so it’s possible to set aside an activity like painting as something special due to its material (rather than conceptual) features. The Modernist exploration of the specific possibilities of a chosen medium in complete isolation from real-world concerns only becomes possible under such circumstances. In SL, art is made of the same stuff as people, buildings, consumer products, and everything else. Therefore, the sort of exploration of SL’s possibilities that I discussed directly above is not strictly limited to art; it has implications for all creative acts. As a result, either everything in SL is open to becoming high art or nothing is—unless, of course, one injects completely arbitrary distinctions into the situation, which is what you seem to be trying to do. I’m not necessarily against this, but I don’t think it should be done too quickly or sloppily, or we run the risk of creating a boring replication of RL standards for judging art within SL, thereby losing the chance to forge something that is both unique and more suited to the environment. (One should also note that that in this case the artistic medium is the whole world, making SL art more like the conceptual art of the 70s than the precious Formalist objects of the prior decades.)

    Finally, since SL itself is a product of commerce, then by Greenberg’s standards everything within it is kitsch by default.

    This is the real reason that Greenberg’s ideas don’t apply here, and not your assertion that “the aforementioned aspects of culture have changed drastically.” They haven’t. Commodity culture is still firmly in place and operating as it always has, though much more efficiently than ever before. Only the various technologies that serve as delivery systems for commodities—of which SL is one—have changed. If you’re arguing that folk art itself has died out, this is also untrue within the sphere if commodity culture; in fact, it was never alive in that realm to begin with.

    *I also disagree with the assertion that kitsch is made entirely for this purpose. I think this is a drastic oversimplification. However, that’s another argument for another time.
    **Though he used Kant in his arguments, Greenberg didn’t really understand his arguments very well. Once again, though, that’s an axe to grind on another day.

  18. Jeff – great post and accessible summary of Greenberg. I’ve been pursuing this notion of Kitsch’s relationship to SL because when I first entered SL and looked at art there, I have to say, much of it seemed like kitsch to me and my natural inclination was therefore to dismiss it (for all the reasons you describe above, for right or wrong). But I am curious about a few things you mention:

    1) As you say, SL is entirely referential and sentimental and therefore in Greenbergian terms, kitsch. I think this is largely true — but perhaps — and this is something we’ve been thinking about a little — perhaps this is a strength, not a weakness (if we think outside of Greenberg’s terms) of art in SL. I also wonder if there is something inherently nostalgic about being in a virtual world and making art there — at least right now — after all nostalgia is something born in the modern world, and, culturally speaking, often relates to a longing for a pre-industrial past. Perhaps this also explains in part steam-punk’s special fascination in SL?

    There is some art in SL that is not sentimental though — so perhaps it’s not a good idea to apply this adjective to all art there…?

    You make a great point about art not being able to be entirely self-referential in SL, since everything there is made of the same thing and so art can’t be separated out from making/creating anything there …
    still, couldn’t art (things made as art) there be especially concerned with properties that are specific to the virtual world? Properties like the special ability it has or seems to have to evoke feelings of transcendence for example?

    In any case — I think we are talking out the the feeling that art in SL — much of which, it seems to me, is quite amazing, is not being taken seriously enough by the RL “art world” — and trying to understand why that’s the case. I think that this thread has touched on several reasons why this is the case (everyone can create in SL, since the interface enables and encourages that, and also the related kitsch issue). Steven Zucker and I have been giving this some thought in relation to Brooklyn is Watching.

    Anyway, some of these thoughts are not fully formed and it’s early in the morning, but I thought I might still throw them into the mix…

  19. Beth: Thanks for the response to my post. Your comments are dead-on. You’re right that there’s a lot of SL art that isn’t sentimental in the usual sense. I was using the term in the way that the Formalists did, which is both polemical and technical. For them, “sentimental” meant any reference to everyday reality intended to appeal to any of the emotions. By their definition, even the most viscerally disgusting Paul McCarthy performance is sentimental, even though it’s by no means cute or wistful (though I do find a certain perverse nostalgia in some of them). By the same token, the most strident political art is also sentimental, even if there’s a lot of violence and no kitsch involved. For the Formalists, the only really successful art is that which completely abandons references to the real world and aims at something more ideal and immaterial (though a material base such as paint on canvas is still necessary). Even Conceptual art (which I mentioned briefly) fails to pass their test, because although it often aims at perfectly immaterial concepts, these are generally presented in a way that makes one too aware of one’s own interaction with the work. (In other words, this is a version of what the later Formalist critic Michael Fried would call theatricality). A crucial element here is that for the Formalists, one should—for lack of a better word—“disappear” before the work of art, as if completely swallowed by its ideal perfection. It’s tricky to achieve this in SL, partly because in addition to its references to RL, there is an extra layer of mediation between the viewer and the artwork (i.e. the keyboard and the computer screen). I probably should have defined that a little more precisely when I referred to everything in SL as sentimental.

    You ask: “couldn’t art (things made as art) there be especially concerned with properties that are specific to the virtual world? Properties like the special ability it has or seems to have to evoke feelings of transcendence for example?” I’m glad you brought that up. I definitely believe it could, which is why I pointed out the crucial difference between the artistic medium in SL and RL, and why I talk about the need to forge an art that is uniquely suited to the SL environment, instead of trying to hold SL art to old critical standards that aren’t necessarily relevant. In a way, I was also pointing at one possible way to usefully apply Formalist thinking within SL: if Greenberg’s Formalism is about art that perfectly expresses the specific features of its medium, then a new Formalism could arise along the lines you’ve described. (Not that I think this is necessarily a good form for SL art criticism to take, but it’s an interesting thought exercise to engage in.)

    In response to your last comment, I think there are a lot of reasons why SL art isn’t taken seriously in the “real” art world, a lot of which come from the latter’s history. First, there is the vast divide between the RL art market (which includes big art museums) and the new media/new technology art scene. There’s a lot of amazing work being produced in the latter sphere, but since much of it is university-based, it’s not subject to the same sort of market pressures and critical vetting that happens in the NY gallery scene. As a result, new media art is virtually invisible to many people in the art world (as I’ve discovered by trying to discuss it with people there). Also, despite the fact that artistic practice is completely pluralistic within the fine art world right now (meaning that there is no predominant style or medium, so we’re in a sort of stylistic Wild West situation), technology-based art is still viewed with some discomfort by a lot of people there.

    Much of this comes from conservatism within both the market and academia. The tools for teaching and discussing art are both very old and rather inflexible (which is why we’ve found ourselves in a discussion of Formalism decades after its ideas stopped being relevant to much of the art that’s being made and exhibited today). There’s also an element of insecurity and nostalgia in the world of art criticism. There’s been an ongoing debate among critics for the last decade or so about a supposed “crisis of criticism” (for a good snapshot of this debate, I highly recommend the book Critical Mess, edited by Raphael Rubinstein). In my opinion, much of this debate is bogus and unnecessary, because it boils down to two critical blind spots: 1) the inability of old-school critics to develop critical methods flexible enough to handle artistic production in a radically pluralistic environment; and 2) continuing hero worship of Greenberg. Greenberg had a lot of cultural power in his day, and many critics lament the fact that things have changed in the art world in such a way that such power is now completely out of their grasp. Part of this is due to the pluralism I discussed above: since there are so many types of at being made, it’s no longer possible for a critic to single out one movement and argue convincingly—as Greenberg did with Abstract Expressionism—that it is the most important (or dominant) style of the day. People who try to do this today often end up looking silly (I’m thinking in particular of the curators of this year’s Unmonumental show at the New Museum in NY, a great exhibition with a ridiculous premise). There’s also the issue of decentralization of cultural power away from critics and toward curators, gallery directors, and even artists themselves, many of whom have been academically trained to speak for their own art. Underlying all of this is the fact that the art market is much larger now than it was in 1950, and the movement of art through its channels has a lot of influence on what gets taken seriously.

    The point is that in a situation so riddled with conservatism and limited thinking, it’s going to be hard for SL art to get any serious consideration from the side of art discourse. The only way that I can see for SL to get any attention within the academic and critical spheres is for it to find a way to pay its dues with the greatest arbiter of cultural importance in our society: the market. If SL artists can get collectors interested in their work, and SL art starts to sell in the RL art market on a significant scale, then serious discourse will follow. I’m not sure that that’s a good thing (and I know it sounds like a harsh and cynical verdict), but I think it’s necessary to acknowledge the huge role the market plays these days in what floats to the top and gets attention.

    Thanks again for your response. It got me thinking in a whole new direction.

  20. I want to thank Amy for hosting a great conversation. We all seem to be grappling with a unified constellation of issues and ideas trying to find a workable vocabulary and framework for art in Sl. I love how seriously this endeavor is being taken, as if there is a nagging suspicion that here is a path away from the history-bound critical apparatus that Jeff so appropriately points a wary finger toward.

    Isn’t it extraordinary that “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” is still very naturally our common starting point (talk about nostalgia!) though I also think Beth and Jeff are right on target to explore, cautiously, the slightly later positions Greenberg took, in for example, “Modernist Painting” to identify qualities inherent to SL. But I do worry that Greenberg’s writings were so historically specific that they can quickly lead the conversation astray. I guess I am asking if we can deal with issues like kitsch in SL without having to inoculate ourselves from formalisms’ abuses and the battles that raged in the 1970s.

    I do think that kitsch in the context of SL is a different animal then Barr or Greenberg confronted and I want to know what it is. It is clear to me that kitsch has some real and intrinsic value to artists and their audiences and this is not mere sentimentality nor simply its opposite, an ironic means of creating distance from the earnest postures of the avant-garde.

    I was in Beijing and Shanghai earlier this month and I was really struck by the uses and acceptance of what we in the West might too easily disregard as kitsch. Kitsch and avant-garde seem to occupy the same exhibition spaces and seem fully aware and at home with each other in both galleries and in museums. Our distinctions almost seemed beside the point and the effort we expend in the West to maintain separation, seemed, to me, well, a little parochial. Our construction between the holy—the avant-garde, the crass—kitsch, and the transgressive other—art brut, outsider, etc. felt to me overwhelmed by the issues that the Chinese were juggling. I saw pure pop (Western), commercial kitsch (both Chinese and Western), classical Chinese, Western avant-garde and Chinese avant-garde. But I also saw new traditional painting infused with contemporary issues and aesthetics, kitsch that stood with the avant-garde and of course an avant-garde that appropriated kitsch. All this is to say, an environment that was far more permissive than ours.

    Beth and I have been discussing for some time the issue of the amateur and I am hopeful that we are seeing a return to a pre-20th-Century arrangement (discussed here and on Fresh Air), where the expert or professional producer of culture is supported and not seen in opposition to the broad class of amateur producers. This seems very healthy to me for all parties save perhaps the critics. Could Greenberg have survived a large amateur class of culture-producers?

  21. Jeff — another really thoughtful post — thanks! (and do we know you?)

    I want to add a few more things to the discussion —

    You wrote “There’s also the issue of decentralization of cultural power away from critics and toward curators, gallery directors, and even artists themselves, many of whom have been academically trained to speak for their own art.” I think this is true — but on an even broader scale because of blogging (obvious point I know). I noticed in SL very quickly that I had some amount of power or “clout” because I blog about art (even one as little read as I am!). I guess this is because artists in SL are hungry, as we discussed above,for that “real life” attention. And I think this is one of the things that’s interesting about BiW — Jay Van Buren has created several interpenetrating contexts for art in SL to get the attention of “real life” — none of them moderated by any authority — the sim in SL (uncurated), the blog, the weekly podcasts, and the gallery in Williamsburg — and in each of these contexts, Jay has brought together artists, art historians, critics, interested observers, technology folks, etc. to have conversations about the art in SL, and to make apparent the power structures involved. And anyone can comment on the blog.

    I wonder if what we’re discussing is a conservative backlash in the art world to the new culture of amateurs Steven mentions?

    Kitsch is very much about its consumers, where what we are talking about here instead is not a culture of mass production and the consumers of that, but instead — it seems — we’re talking about the new mass producers of culture. And those producers create the potential for a greater variety and greater amount of pretty good art (the pluralism Jeff refers to).

    I am reading the essays in the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition now at SFMoMA “The Art of Participation.” In the last essay, Len Manovich asks “can professional art survive the extreme democratization of media production and access?”

    And I agree — the market may be the answer here (I can’t believe I am saying that) — as Jeff wrote — collectors becoming interested in art in SL on a larger scale. But what’s holding that back are these old categories of high and low, fine art and kitsch, amateur and professional that are so damn intractable, I suppose, because they protect existing power structures. Art in SL is so damn cheap — maybe that’s a problem!

  22. I’m mostly leaving this between you guys, but just a programming note: Jeff is my husband who has appeared on my show several times. He is finishing up his Masters in Art Criticism and Writing at SVA.
    He’s written on this blog before, namely:

    Anyway, clearly I think he’s awesome.

    And now I turn it back to you…. 🙂

  23. Thanks for the introduction, Amy. I’m always so eager to get right to the issues that I sometimes forget to introduce myself.

    Steven and Beth: you’ve each raised a couple of concerns that are (I think) very important for figuring out where SL art might go, what its particular strengths might be, and what its relationship to RL art is (or perhaps should be):

    1) First, there’s the high/low distinction that is so privileged in Western art and so seemingly unimportant in some other parts of the world. I can’t speak to the situation in China (other than to say that I find a lot of the more obvious ideas and influences only half-digested in much of the contemporary Chinese art I’ve seen), but something parallel seems to have traditionally existed in Japan. There, high and low art were not really distinguished until the Meiji era, when the widespread adoption of Western ideas led to the deliberate nomination of some traditional art forms for elevation to “classical” status on more consciously European terms. (There’s a great discussion of this history as it relates to Kabuki theater in section II, chapter 5 of the book Kurosawa by film scholar Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto.) To this day, the split between high and low culture in Japan often seems less clear than in the West, resulting in a nice blending of influences across a range of arts that we might ham-fistedly separate into distinct categories of “high” and “low”.

    To cite one example, Takashi Murakami’s work is all about the melding of high and popular culture, which is probably why so many American critics had no idea what to do with his recent traveling retrospective. This blindness isn’t new, however: in “Avant Garde and Kitsch” (I seem to keep coming back to that essay a lot, don’t I?), Greenberg mentions the prints of Hokusai to back up his assertion that the essential features of high art transcend national and temporal boundaries. Unfortunately, he was either unaware of or blatantly ignored the fact that those works were made for the mass market, and were true examples of popular art (and also Kitsch, by his own terms). These uneasy relations between the old critical edifice and art forms that deny a distinction between high and low point to the inadequacy of such criticism for dealing with SL art. (That is, of course, if we decide that the latter really is blind to such distinctions itself—which seems to be a point of contention for some people right now. I’m not yet sure which side of the debate I fall on, since I’m still thinking it through.)

    2) Then there’s the question of the amateur as a (possible) new producer of mass culture. It’s a fascinating idea, mainly because it implies a radically different notion of what culture is, in both its “high” and mass/commodity forms. I’ll have to go back to my favorite philosophers of culture (I’m thinking in particular of Georg Simmel and Herbert Marcuse, with a grudging nod to Theodor Adorno) to see if any of their perspectives can coexist with this notion. I suspect not. That in itself is pretty interesting for what it says about the possible inadequacy of old philosophies for grappling with life in SL.

    This also begs the question of how such amateur mass production will coexist with commodity capitalism (or be assimilated by it, if it manages to adapt to the digital world as elegantly and deviously as it has woven itself into the world of material culture). The question is already being worked out a little (though very clumsily and in a backward-looking fashion) within the ongoing debate on digital rights management and downloads. However, the question of art production as a populist phenomenon within SL puts a whole new spin on it. I haven’t read the Manovich essay Beth mentioned, but I generally like his work, and have found it really helpful in mulling over what the flood of new and nascent media are going to do to the way we interact with the world around us. (In this connection, I’m particularly interested in augmented reality and pervasive computing, though mainly in the limited manifestations we’re currently seeing occur in cell phone interfaces, operating systems and desktops, touchscreen technologies, GPS systems, and so on.)

    Finally, to address a point Beth makes: I think there may indeed be a conservative backlash against the culture of amateurs, at least within the small realm of SL art discourse. This comes from some (but certainly not all) of the SL-involved real-world “artists/academics/MFAs” that Amy mentioned in the post at the head of this thread. The wider art world is still unaware that such a debate exists, because it seems largely unaware that SL exists at all.

  24. Thanks for all this. Good points all.

  25. I really get the sense here that kitsch and sentimentality are sometimes being used in essentially the same pejorative sense that “high minded” types have used for decades. I urge people to pick up Robert Solomon’s ‘In Defense of Sentimentality.’

    And for, an amusing exhibition dealing with the amateur/professional problematic in art production see:

    I say amusing because the exhibition claims that it will “refuse to let the experts have the last word” while making sure that no amateurs are actually present except as guided (under the guise of collaboration) by experts (international art market stars).

  26. Wow, this is some great stuff. Thanks to Beth for telling me to come read this, and thanks to Amy for getting it started– i’m going to post something on the BIW blog pointing to it in case anyone else over there has missed it.

    I have a couple of three unrelated points to make in response to what other people have said here.


    I just wanted to chime in on something Amy said way up there

    Which is to say that the conversation about this kind of work generally isn’t only about other works of art, but the culture in which it exists as a whole – which frankly seems to me to be a better, more reasonable way of discussing just about any kind of art.

    I think what Amy said right there is the key to getting out of both the insider art / outsider art trap and the Avant-Guarde vs. Kitsch trap. (I see these dichotomies as traps). The contemporary fine art world is just one more subculture among many where a particular kind of intelligence is valued especially highly – an historically self-aware kind of intelligence that asks how, why when and by whom the meaning-making methods it employs were created. Mass culture is never going to care about that the same way that the intricate details of what make a world-class fly fishing lure maker world class are just never going to be of interest to non-fly-fishing-folks. I guess what I’m saying is that there is a distinction between what “we” (people posting on this thread) call “high” and “low” art but caring about that distinction probably means you are part of a small marginal subculture. I used to really think that art that participated in the on-going art-critical dialogue was “better” than art that didn’t but now I just think its more interesting to me, and more fun to talk about for me. And to really get me excited, part of that historical awareness needs to be a social awareness of how and why the art is question can come into existence including its place in the larger culture both socially and economically. Art that is made to exist entirely in a bubble and pretend that that bubble is the whole world is not as interesting as art that, when and if its made to be enjoyed by a tiny little bunch of weirdos (like people who’ve read, and still care about Clement Greenburg for example), seems to be aware that its made for that tiny little bunch of weirdos and is really ok with that and stands behind its need to exist in the face of the fact that the wider world also exists.

    2) This is a little less well formed thought, but bare with me: People keep talking about the intrinsic formal properties of SL as a medium as if what was most essential to SL were vectors, pixels and scripts when I really think that the core of SL is social. In this way SL is not sentimental or referential. DC Spenseley (why hasn’t he chimed in on this thread? i’d have thought it would have been right up his alley) talks about practically everything besides his abstract artworks in SL as being “re-mediated” – just a re-creation of something in the real world, but the relationships we have in SL are REAL relationships, the conversations are REAL conversations and the communities are REAL communities and the way I think about it, all the art or “commercial products” etc. kitschy and otherwise in SL are in service of those relationships, communities and conversations first and foremost.

    3) I’m not sure the contemporary gallery system is going to end up being the place where the cream-of-the-crop SL art gets sussed out and sold. Part of the reason for the current system for selling paintings, sculptures and installations is that you have to see them in person to really appreciate them, and for critics to write about them and debate which is really the best of the best and which is just ok, they need to actually go with their bodies to the gallery so if your work is shown in a gallery that is between 19th and 27th streets on the west side of manhattan you have a much better chance of being talked about and being part of the cannon of the future. When the art is digital and networked can be fully experienced from anywhere by anyone, I think that changes the economics of it. Money follows influence, and what is interesting is what is influential. I fully expect that the “survey of early virtual art 101” course of the future to include a great mixture of people with and without formal art training and I also think SL artists may invent their own economic model given time, its still one minute after tip off in this game.

    Lastly, Jeff you totally rock and I hope you’ll be a guest on an episode of BIW someday.

  27. Thanks, Jay. I really appreciate that, a lot.

  28. […] are two really interesting things over on Amy Wilson’s Blog, “See-Through” One is this whole discussion that got going about “insiders” people with MFA’s and “outsiders” […]

  29. I agree. Again as a contemporary artist who only got his MFA 3 years ago (like many New Media people, because the degrees for digital art and New Media DIDN’T EXIST a decade ago), I think that a wonderfully curious and articulate autodidact can hold their own against an MFA or sometimes PhD any day.

    You just have to be able to back up your work with knowledge and mastery of your genre. What’s lacking is having crystallized certain things by “the process”. And, I believe that those who have done this conflate that with ownership of the realm (I’m being overstated here), and I don’t think this is the case at all, speaking from the position of someone with “the membership card”.

    ON THE OTHER HAND, in the Wikipedia Age, there is a lot of conflation of expertise with expert knowledge, which is equally tricky. Just because your kid brother happens to know everything about Howl’s Moving Castle and is able to analyze everything Studio Ghibli has ever done does not make him a scholar of Asian Pop Culture, although when the time comes, he’ll probably sail through Cal State 😉

  30. Hey Jay – good points.
    1: “Specific” art – well yes, but I stand behind the power within community that Jay is hooking to Money (I think) in regards to the Art World. Again, I think it’s twofold – it;s that “Conversation” argument I make, of being able to sit down and be able to know the players, history, etc. On the other hand, the best work (I feel) also speaks well to the larger community. Warhol did it, Holzer does it, so does Murakami (to a large extent). It’s challenging work, but it’s really legible – low entryway with a high ceiling. Also REALLY HARD TO DO.

    I find this funny as to how this limits artists like Serrano

    2: I totally agree that one of the pillars of SL Formalism (bad term, but better to say Social media of which SL is a subset) is the SOCIAL. Not prims, not vectors, but Beuysian social structures and also Relational work. I offer up the article I did recently for the CIAC Montreal.

    3: “the “survey of early virtual art 101″ course of the future to include a great mixture of people with and without formal art training”

    This IS a good point, as the New Media Artists of the 90’s did not have art degrees, or at least many of them, or BFA’s at best, because the ACADEMY HAD NOT GOTTEN THERE YET.

    At thsi point, I have a lot of my bets on Eshi Otawara, Dekka, Ichi, Neb, to name a few (not an exclusive list)

  31. It was PURE accident that I found this blog and post. What I’m hearing is some ‘imagined’ wall between ‘learned’ artists, and those that did not get ‘learned’ in a formal fashion. What makes any of you that imagine this wall, think that this is in fact the issue?

    Perhaps it’s more like, “like kind associate with like kind”; this is primarily a fact in any facet in life. Perhaps it’s also the pompousness that exists in some people, especially those that ‘think’ they KNOW more than others do. This is the fundamental issue with intellectualism. It’s Intellectualism that makes them this way, plus their ego.

    What gives anyone the right to say, oh that’s ‘crap’ art or not art at all? Is it because you were taught a certain way that this is so?

    What I believe is the issue, is more or less of the “haves” and the have-nots. Meaning, we, those that have not, do not have the expensive TOOLS that some do to create art in SL. Furthermore, pure SL art would be, I suppose, only using the in-world tools. Art is not art unless it’s expressed. What makes “critical thinking” authoritative enough to say it’s NOT art? Does your critical ‘learned’ eye make it NOT art?

    There might be some art that does not seem pleasing to the eye, for one reason or another. But, that does not mean it’s not art. It could also be that the individual might be new to making art, and that lack of experience might show. But, does that make what they created NOT artful? You were new once too, your expressions were of similar kind as well, once. Why would you alienate, those, that for the first time in their entire life, been given, by some fateful grace, a way to express something that has been inside them for many..many years? Is it for the sake of monetary gain? Does it make you feel better to BE better?!!

    Amy if what you say is true about these two separate groups, I’ve not heard nor seen it. I assumed that artists being who they are tend to not socialize all that much, as it can be a distraction while in the process of creating something. I had NO idea about AM Radio’s background, nor did I care, when I was first exposed to his art. All I know is that it’s an experience to enter into his realm, many experiences that I will not soon nor want to forget.

    What really matters, in my view, is that “WE”, every single one of us, for the first time in the history of humanity have entered into a canvas. This canvas starts out looking like a piece of wood, cube, sphere, torus..and so on. Furthermore, WE, or many of us here have had this innate or sometimes maddening passion to express something so deep inside us, and now we can. Even if it seems that ‘it’ doesn’t follow conventional artistic “trends” or whatever.

    The beauty of all this, is in fact THIS. I found the most inspiring work in all of SL to be Robby Dingo’s “Starry Night”. Now, we all kno who the original artist was. We don’t criticize Robby for replicating this. But, what we do know or feel, is that we were able to “look around the corner”, so to speak, on a piece of art, that we could not possibly look around the corner in RL. This ONE main factor is the revolution you are seeing. Who masters the canvas, no one does. Who has the vision to KNOW what is “around that corner”? No one truly does. But, who ‘paints’ what’s around that corner, or more importantly what he/she paints, could be a telling factor on its popularity, I suppose. Nonetheless, the poetry of art is the words not used, or rather cannot be found to use. One’s intuition doesn’t make it an absolute truth, it makes it what that artist believes it to be. If he/she picks up on some collective unconscious vision, and is able to bring it forth for all to see…well that to me would be art. THIS is what I believe the likes or AM Radio and others in SL are doing.

    Btw, I’m not a ‘learned’ one. All I know about life is that true wisdom is not learning, necessarily, from my own mistakes, its learning from the mistakes of others. Intellectualism is just what it is. Don’t put a wall up where none exists. Embrace the passion you feel as you create, as the inspiration strikes you. Does it matter what “Joe Blow” from New York thinks? Let the ART land how it does, time will tell how well it’s accepted by the masses. But, that does not mean it isn’t art if it’s not accepted. Everyone I meet, that’s creating in here, I always encourage to keep plugging away at it; I support the passion.

    @ Amy, thanks for bringing out an issue that I had no idea existed. If its true, its an important topic to address.

    @ Patick, right on!! 🙂

  32. ooops. thats my post above this, forgot to put last name. Also, I meant @ Patrick, sorry for the sp error. 🙂

  33. Gary,
    Wow, what a passionate entry. Good one.

    I think a really good story is one that happened to me when I was just an undeclared, just taking the class for kicks student in Neon/Glass @ Kent State. I was studying with a really accomplished glass artist, (someone who could send people to work with Chihuly, etc – pretty amazing opportunity), etc.

    Anyway, when he was giving me a crit about a sculpture – note he saw me as a dilettante recent engineering grad who had come to be the volunteer manager of the Neon Shop after a couple semesters, etc.

    He looked at the work, and just started going at it like a NYC critic. I didn’t know what to do. I was pissed, angry, hurt. He looked at me and said, “Do you think anyone from Art in America’s going to pat you on the head,a nd say ‘Nice try’? No. better you learn criticsim here, and take it analytically.”

    IF, and ONLY IF, one is interested in going in that direction, that was gold. As another old artworld friend stated to me the other day, “No, it (the art world) is not fair. But it’s something we have to manage if you want to work in it…”

    And again, it really just comes down to something so simple.

    Intent and expectations. I think art’s a lot like acting. If you want to get into the movie business, that’s hard, and you have to become very savvy in very specific ways. Regional actors do well, and people who just want to express themselves through acting can probably get involved in community theatre.

    There’s a lot of conflation of elitism with professionalism. There are some pros out here, and some of the “younger” artists are just as good as some of the grizzled elders. That’s great.

    But putting the “first time expressives” in the mix with professional artists/academics can be dangerous. Not that any harm is intended; it’s just that there are different expectations, context and stakes for them. In the world of Web 2.0, you can have one person’s pet project set beside someone’s tenure or continued employment, although this is not too common. It’s a really chaotic mixing, and leads to conversations like these.

    Nor do I think we should have “professional” sims either, it’s just good to understand that all of us are not equal, not qualitatively, but probably contextually.

    And lastly, Gary, I’m not personal in my criticism, it’s more of an analysis than anything else. I usually try to take in consideration the stated intent of the artist as part of the context of the criticism. The higher they set their bar; the higher I set mine. Also, people know I’m a critic as part of my profession.

    Just let me know the context of the work if you want to talk about it, no problem. What is a very personal affirmation/condemnation of their work for some is a just part of an analysis based on certain histories, contexts, and assumptions for others.

    This is a challenge with the repeated flattening of culture in places like SL.
    But when I did my install at ProspectOne/Universal Furniture, i wanted to get Angelina Jolie to work with me to do a Madonna with child installation, feeding and all, for the rebuilding of New Orleans. It would have made millions, but sadly, i was turned down.

    I’m taking it pretty well. Elitist Angie. We really could have done some good with that.

  34. In other words, I don;t feel any better or worse for saying a work seems to work or not. It’s really just trying to work out how the pieces are fitting together out here on the edge of culture. it’s a pretty small person who degrades someone for their own aggrandizement.

  35. I understand what you’re saying, Patrick, about “critique”, an artist has to be open to that. But, it needs some sensitivity to the newness of that artist. And, it should be known where that “critic” is coming from. Chastisement does not help; perhaps in a “learning environment” this is ok. But, to hear it from “Joe Blow”, when Joe knows, most likely, that this artist isn’t well known, probably new, especially to the ‘art world’ a little sensitivity can help. Take Brooklyn is Watching as an example. We rez our works at their sim and much of its not even talked about. Perhaps time is an issue, perhaps it’s also some people just like to hear themselves talk (pompous). This doesn’t support or advance art. Nor does a bunch of people sitting around drinking beer, and sharing that to the world really have any meaningful affect on their purpose. It totally turns me off. But, overall I agree with your above comments.

    The ‘flattening’ you mention, is an interesting point. You have a large group of people interested or pursuing art in SL. What’s more obvious in all of this is the passion being expressed. This being a really new form or art makes it a ground breaking endeavor by all. One might compare it to the 3D forum sites out there, they are doing fantastic work, but is mostly stuff viewed in 2D, not “rezzed” anywhere for others to get a real ‘feel’ for the work. This was my main point. We as humans for the first time in our history are able to “step into the canvas” of completed works, or just a blank one..and mix/collage our creations, even though the collage is not an intention, its what’s happening. Just because someone creates something, and then rezzes it near yours isn’t really bad now, is it? It doesn’t take away from your work. In fact, it probably has the viewer learning a critical eye, albeit their own opinion.

    There have been times where I’ve intentionally sought opinions, straight talk..etc., most of the time I don’t get any comments from them (other artists). Its sort of like feeling ignored, and wondering is this really for me or what? Yet, friends tell you..hey that’s great stuff. So, what to do?

    I don’t mean to say you or anyone is intentionally being personal. What I’m saying is, and to quote you “out here on the edge of culture”; this being the edge, is it not NEW? What gauge can anyone put up against something that has no history? That is if the art that’s being created isn’t what I’ve only now come to know as “Kitsch”. So, I quickly read about it on the Wiki. It seems to me that the “wall” that Amy speaks of, is a group of artists that are hard interpreters of Kitsch. I would say, who are we to judge what is good and what is not good art, even if it traditionally falls into Kitsch?

    If I may, let’s look at AM Radio’s works in SL as an analogy. At the “Refuge”, he has wheat fields and a very wonderful background, evoking an experience that reminisces, even if we’ve never been to a place like that. That in itself is an experience, albeit romantic. But, below the surface, has anyone here, blog regulars, interacted with his work there? Try sitting on the train, see what happens. Click on the front of the train and see what happens. It’s what I see in SL as the evolution of art in a virtual world as “immersive”. Meaning there is an interaction of an avatar, what happens to it, accompanied by the owner of that avatar and his/her reaction/experience of that moment.

    Furthermore, it seems to me this argument of Kitsch is an age old one in the art world. So, we can live in the past, try living in the present (it happens too fast) or we can stand in a future, and later figure out how we got there/here. There does not have to be any rules or conventions or even limitations. To expand upon my comment “for the first time in our history we are stepping INTO a canvas”. We are painting or BEING a future. Whereas, before we mainly wished it or tried to predict it. The passion I believe that’s happening here is a “BOTH feet in” kind. Not one foot out (in the past) and one foot in.

    To avoid crowding this post with a huge long comment, which seems is what I’m doing. 🙂

    Look at Eshi’s work of the Flower Tower, aside from the social interaction that it evokes. No matter what viewpoint you look at her work, from near, afar, from above or from below, its ‘enlightenment’ evoking. Even if enlightenment has never been adequately defined, since there are no words to really describe it. (go back to AM Radio’s train, you’ll find a surprise related to this). 🙂

    I guess, the bottom line is, are we Avant-garde, kitsch, academic, postmodern or something that the art world has never seen before; I would say the latter. We are in a world we’ve never been in, and it’s quickly approaching a level of consciousness that only a few individuals in our human past have been. It’s also, in my view resembling, or rather ‘feels like/looks like” another dimension, perhaps the 4th and beyond. So, maybe it’s akin to Surrealism, if you want to put a label on it; is that kitsch?

    I think I might be getting off topic? 🙂

  36. hey? how about an RSS feed on this blog? 🙂

  37. Gary, there is an RSS feed –

  38. On SL’s Lack of History
    The “something no one has seen before” argument is something Dancoyote Antonelli has used a bit, and unfortunately, online worlds, and v irtual worlds have a history that can be traced back nearly two millennia, if you agree with Olvier Grau’s thought on immersive spaces.

    We _do_, most definitely, have a history – it’s the one of art, culture, society, and it’s just being remapped into SL. Jay and I have talked about this, and what might be new is the _mode_ of how all of this is being done, which I’ll agree with. Its’ easy to say that the rules don’t apply, because this is “new”. A bad metaphor would be that when rockets were invented they would not have to adhere tot he laws of physics because of their newness. SL may be a new container for humanity, but we aren’t.

    Maybe a better metaphor is surfng at the edge of a huge wave – out here, it’s frothy and turbulent, and we’re not sure where it’s going. But behind it is this mass of water, and this huge thing called the ocean that it comes out of. I’d liken that to SL art->technoculture->(largely)Western culture (where modern computation came from)->global history. Maybe that’s too hierarchical, but I liek Bakhtin’s ideas on Intertextuality, and that nothing exists in a vacuum.

    However, I find that the majority of people in SL are nto aware of things like art history, cultural history, and most importantly, the history of virtual worlds, and their culture. Therefore, I might think that SL is a highly “ahistorical” space – one that definitely has one, but within which the awareness of history is not evident, suspended, or whatnot. I think this is a result of the inhabitants, and also partially due to the escapist impulse.

    On Chiding, Chastisement
    Sure, not chastising is just polite behavior, but ont he other hand, SL have very strange sensitivities to what constitutes “griefing” (which has a history through “net.trolling” and cultural hacking through groups like the Merry Pranksters. New sensibilities/sensitivities (subtle German art pun) might be a good discussion point.

  39. I think you missed my point on “lack of history”, please tell me where in OUR history has an avatar/human being been able ‘create’ freely like SL? On the subject of escapism..any obessive behavior can be that. But, I don’t, fundamentally, think its an escape from anything. Its a frontier, an adventure into a place that is much deeper than mere images on a screen. The images only assist us in evolving into this consciousness.

    Call me ‘far-out’, but there is most certainly a revolution in human development happening here. The environment IS chaos, where we end up, is very difficult to say. But, it will be historical in its impact. I’m not real sure why you think its “ahistorical”? Most all of my SL friends have a very good grounding on history. Some perhaps not on Art history, but then we dwell back into which kind of art art are we actually making/creating here. You nor anyone cannot bottle virtual worlds, like SL, into the classically known Internet culture. It does have a community..and its oneness is far deeper felt than previous forms of communication. So, I guess we depart in our views, but that’s okay too. The collective is way more conscious in us here. This is why it will be revolutionary in scope and impact on human culture. I’m not sure what you mean by “SL may be a new container for humanity but we aren’t”? Its a vehicle to get to another dimension. Watch, you will see. Again, this is my view. 🙂

  40. Honestly, except for mode, the creativity argument was used on Compuserve for 2D tools in 1992. I also love my Atari 130XL’s box that asks what I’ll do with that extra 16k of Ram, and it unleashing my creativity in 1982.

    Not exactly the same, but I could say Adobe Atmosphere, Superscape, ActiveWorlds, WorldUP, and Onlive Traveller. The tools were not as robust, but allowed a lot of creativity, some more than others.

    The big thing with SL is the robustness of the platform and the critical mass of people. The tech certainly isn’t that “new”, but the depth is. I’ll buy that.

  41. Honestly, back at you!! 🙂 Creativity is integral to evolution. Therefore, you have this unique environment, even if rain, sunshine, snow, and wind are not felt by our physical bodies, its nonetheless felt.

  42. Well,that’s my argument about virtuality and affect that I wrote about this Fall.
    I just have specific problems with the words “creativity”, and “innovation” that tend to be pretty indistinct and empty. What I _love_ is the meat behind it.
    I often wonder if SL represents progress, though. I love to work in it, but I also wonder if it’s suggestign that we shoudl spend as much time onloine as walking, creating a privatized Disneyland that leaves so many thing hanging in the wind – important things.

    This is why I’m having a class that makes the students make interactive media without screens, more points if mobile, and even more points if outside. On another list, I’m also asking how soon we can start thinking abotu getting rid of desktop computers for the next evolutionary step – light, long lived, wearable, low-waste devices.

    I’m on a lot, but it’s break…

  43. Well, the final trick will be to take what WAS/IS NPIRL, and make it so. We won’t know until we found the key to the next virtual step. Then we need a key to come back.. to RL. So, good for you! 🙂

  44. Yes. My job is to think about what that next step is and try to develop the keys. The thing is, I wonder if SL and Virtual Worlds are a red herring while working in them all the while.

  45. red herring: something that draws attention from the central issue.

    This might be of interest to you..just posted on the NPIRL blog:

    I’m considering a comment on it, atm. But, the point is.. on ‘keys”. Your keys or rather the development will have to be beyond presently known methods or even traditional methods of approach. We has humans have been too mental, emothional and physically focused. It might even require a leap into the unknown, therefore becoming knowable inside that. It will, and is starting with our Soul, which is often downward in focus, dark, and in the shadows. The trick will be to balance that with Spirit, which is upward focused and lofty, in the light. So, I’d say graphically its going to be a mixture of light and shadow and how its applied. 🙂

  46. Thanks for that. It’s a big sign to me about something I’ve had a hunch about. We’re obviously (in the First World, at least) spending far too much time behind screens. Maybe AR will do the trick. In the long run, I think the increased use of Virtual worlds is a compounding of the problems of the Web in that they keep us in a seat, before a screen, and for me, that’s not evolution, that’s control.

    I’m really hoping for an augmented/embedded reality “killer app” soon that can overlay input from the physical into the digital in real time – closest metaphor I’ve seen yet is the system William Gibson describes in “Spook Country”, but he hasn’t gotten rid of the goggles yet.

    Also, the references to the artists in that post are the favorites of the SL community that have yet to make the jump to RL, or its mass consciousness.

    That is another discussion, the disconnect between the “SL” sensibility and the sensibility in larger society. These may merge, but currently, they are very different.

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