Illustration by the author (click to enlarge)

We are living in our own reality shows. Those of us who are spending more and more time on social media, or on blogs, regularly updating our “friends” about our daily activities know the feeling. And, since these new media companies are owned and controlled by corporations, these reality shows of ours are ultimately as problematic as any on the Bravo TV network.

This is still a time of convergence cultures where old media and institutions collide with new, the very new, and the anticipated New. “‘Art Bloggers’ sent you a message on Facebook … ,” an email subject line reads. “In your opinion, how have art blogs expanded art criticism as far as public opinion goes?” I have no idea what the answer to this question is, and it already sounds old-fashioned to ask it. Yes, our old ideas about art, art making, “art appreciation,” and so forth, are being transformed, or deformed, by the “internets” and we are awaiting the arrival of something that may require a more fundamental change in society than new technology.

My old idea of art making involved going into the studio, which was usually the same room I slept in, and proceeding to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated Whatever that would have a similar effect or power or meaning that paintings I’d seen in Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery or on the pages of Arts, Artforum, and Art in America had, even if I found it impossible to put into words what that effect/power/meaning is, because the point was to put it into paint or graphite, canvas or paper, or some other material.

This idea of art making isn’t about isolation and “silence, exile, and cunning,” because there are exchanges involved, if you will, between me and the artists I admire, and me and the people I show my work to, or want to show my work to. Of course, I wanted to have something I made put up on the wall of the museum or on a page of the magazine, but even that wouldn’t be sufficient, although I still can’t put into words what would suffice. The work I admired belonged to the modern, at the tail end of the modern, and, like it or not, my condition is after the modern.

A few months ago I wrote hyperbolically in Hyperallergic that the old vanguards wished to destroy the old world, the given representation of the world — Miro painting to end all painting, for instance, or Picasso breaking up the conventions of European painting and stealing what he could from Africa, and elsewhere, to make something New. The old vanguards have passed on and their relics are displayed in museums of the modern where we post-mods can view them nostalgically, so we can make our own mutations and offer them to galleries or our own blogs. Many of these variations and mutations are very good, even masterful, in their mastery of the familiar. I will go out on a limb and predict that there will be nothing in the Chelsea galleries this season, or anywhere in the Capitalized Art World, that will really surprise us, nothing that will be the New Whatever in Art. I will go farther out on this limb and say that few expect or even hope to be surprised by something new.

What’s missing? Thirty years ago, Robert Hughes hosted a TV series called The Shock of the New, and maybe it was still possible then for art students to be shocked, not by what Hughes showed us, but by what we would soon see — new figurative painting, neo-expressionism, neo-geo, neo-conceptualism, and all kinds of neo-rehashing that wasn’t supposed to be what would happen next (as Arthur Danto plaintively put it). These neo-rehashes were often bigger, more outrageous, more desperate to shock, or more something.

That was a generation ago, and we still go to Chelsea, or read blogs or magazines, or attend panel discussions, but nobody knows what’s going on. Forget about a new avant garde. I have heard of secret venues, or nearly secret, behind unmarked doors on Kent Avenue, where a few young PBR swillers, dismissed as “hipsters” by the bitter geezers of Williamsburg, perform or exhibit their cultural products out of sight of the decrepit Art World, perhaps creating what Ted Mooney calls Art World 2.0. Or maybe I only imagine this. There is also a scene of some sort in a neighborhood several stops east of my stop on the L train, and other places that involve the dreaded G line. But even these activities can’t be a new frontline or underground, I brashly assert, because there is no front and back, under and over, inside and outside in this digital hypercontinuum we inhabit now, endlessly Googling and linking and clicking, and never knowing what’s going on … what’s going on … but driven obsessively by a permanent vacuum that sucks up more and more data bits that we hope will tell us something, even if it is bogus, because we can negate the false to find the true, and briefly quell the hunger for a New Whatever.

That’s why many people watched Work of Art: The Next Great Artist this summer.

Lawrence Swan is an uncapitalized artist/writer who lives in Brooklyn with his wife Lori Ellison. He is working on a documentary novel entitled Panic in Decade Zero.

6 replies on “Your Own Reality Show”

  1. Thanks for the read. Inspired writing. Without question, the social media phenomenon has given us all a glimpse at peoples individual lives. It has opened up access to information, participation, and increased opportunities, especially for artists. Corporations must leave the “net neutrality” issue alone so writing like this can continue to be disseminated on the web in an unfettered, unmitigated, and unedited fashion. In regard to your comments about the “New Whateva,” Social media outlets have shown us that there are many new “whatevas” and that web interactivity such as blogging, tumblring, and tweeting act as the thread which weave these different/diverse scenes together.

  2. The lives of the Bravo reality show artists (artists who played actors on TV) continue on social media. James Kalm recently encountered one of them at Half Gallery Kalm is making the whole NY Art World a reality YouTube show. James Franco is an actor who plays an artist, I guess, and another example of convergence culture confusion, especially if he ever gets framed by Kalm’s camera.

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