Tuesday, January 3, 2017

[Yasmin_discussions] serious discussion of STEAM

Dear Yasminers,

First, welcome to our new moderator, Houssine SOUSSI.

I'd like to second the idea expressed by both Paul Fishwick
and Stephen Nowlin that the posts to this current Yasmin
session have been quite interesting in general, and perhaps
because Roger made it clear from the very beginning that he
wanted to get down to the basics -- and so if I choose now to
single out Jon Ippolito's and Stephen's recent posts for a reply,
it is only because these two have "punched a few more of my
buttons" than some of the others.

But having just used a phrase which implies disagreement, let
me quickly emphasize that these two posts -- as has been
characteristic of this entire discussion -- have been so thoughtful
that they really do not invite argument. Allow me, rather, to feed
some of their thoughts into a continuing attempt to paint a
picture of the conflicted situation in which techno/new media art
finds itself, and in which effort I will be merely skimming the
surface of some much contested territory -- but with perhaps
one or two new insights.

And I begin, again, with this simple point: if STEAM is to really
achieve its potential, there ought to be some really noteworthy
and important art coming out of the techno/new media community
-- but I am wondering how many of us find this to be the case?
As Julia Buntaine notes, much of this work -- once seen -- tends
to "fall quickly into the past".

Indeed, I am wondering how many of us feel that there is
significant amount of important art being produced in any field
today? And if we answer as I suspect we must, then we must
turn immediately to the point which Stephen has brought up, and
which is in truth the "elephant in the room": with the loss of belief
in the supernatural, where is art to turn to as a source of the
visionary and transcendent which seem intimately connected with
important art?

And here -- in respect to the search for inspiration -- I am
reminded of Jon's mentioning his attempts to follow in the
footsteps of his father Angelo Ippolito, an important Abstract
Expressionist painter [1][2][3]. Yes, the supernatural had long
since disappeared for the artists of the late 1940s and 50s -- but
they were able to draw upon a different source of inspiration:
their generation had just concluded the second great "war to end
war", and in the wake of which the United Nations had been
founded -- and in the pursuit of which war humankind had once
and for all recognized its own unlimited capacity for technological
advancement [4]. And hence it is that we can agree with the
critics who have described the senior Ippolito's paintings [5] as
"renowned for their lyrical color, light, and compositional rigor".
This is great art: luscious, gorgeous, adventurous painting -- but
at the same time extremely disciplined.

Sixty years on, however -- and having cracked the genetic code,
and sent humans to the moon, and having placed virtually all of
the world's knowledge online -- we seem no more enlightened as
a species; and so how could this outcome not be reflected in our art?

And so we must have compassion on ourselves -- but this does
not relieve us from the responsibility of thinking things through,
rather than just "running harder in place".

Like many of us, Jon has turned to techno/new media art as the
way forward, and he rightly decries the obstacles presented by
an art establishment more attuned to "art as object" as opposed
to "art as system" (and this, by the way, Jack Burnham's terminology
-- and I would in fact like to take this opportunity to plug Burnham's
1968 book Beyond Modern Sculpture [6] as an essential introduction
to virtually all of the issues with which we are still dealing fifty
years on!).

However! If our community can somehow -- somehow! -- manage
to begin producing some truly memorable work -- work in which the
technology is entirely assimilated to a supremely human end -- then
I think that many of the legitimate difficulties described by Jon in
presentation, attribution, conservation, and so on will melt away like
lemon drops; and the precedent I would like to cite is symphonic music.

And here I think the parallel is so obvious that it does not need to be
belabored: the symphony orchestra (and especially by 1780 standards)
represents an enormous investment in technology, personnel, staging,
conservation, and management -- and yet even relatively small
communities over the centuries have been able to field such orchestras.
And the reason, of course, is the great and memorable music -- the art! --
which cannot exist without this vehicle.

And conversely, if we in the techno/new media art community feel
that we are being given the cold shoulder by curators and
conservators, could not the reason be to a great extent that our
effects are relatively paltry and forgettable?

The phenomenon of the symphony orchestra, moreover, illustrates
an important and previously-discussed aspect of the quest for
greatness in art: the need to circumscribe one's means. Yes, the
symphony orchestra is a complex thing, but it is actually quite
rational in its structure, and it has retained a remarkable stability
over the centuries.

So therefore, let us techno/new media artists promise ourselves this:
although science and technology place a new instrument at our
disposal on what seems like a near weekly basis, let us begin to
pick and choose, and create a rational orchestra which our imaginations
might have some hope of placing under their control.


G. W. (Glenn) Smith
Space Machines Corporation
New Orleans, LA 70119 USA

[1] http://collection.whitney.org/object/838
[2] http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/485044
[3] https://www.moma.org/collection/works/37227?locale=en
[4] Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. "Some Reflections on the Spiritual
Repercussion of the Atom Bomb" in The Future of Man; Harper & Row;
New York, NY, USA, 1964.
[6] Burnham, Jack. Beyond Modern Sculpture: The Effects of Science
and Technology on the Sculpture of This Century; George Braziller;
New York, NY, USA, 1968.

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