The Crisis in Art

March 19, 2017 § Leave a comment

Warhol-Campbell_Soup-1-screenprint-1968
Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Can, 1962

I like the idea that Twitter and Andy Warhol are equivalent expressions of their eras. Both incarnate their respective cultural moments with illuminating simplicity. Warhol called his studio The Factory, made artworks using industrial processes, and tried to be robotic in his utterances. What the artist implies is how 1960s consumer culture made mass identities, but with the appearance of uniqueness. Update that and you get Twitter as an aphorism machine and automaton of self-promotion. Twitter fulfills the vision Warhol foresaw of today’s fame industrial complex – as the art critic Jerry Saltz recently quipped: “In the future everyone will be famous to fifteen people.” Most important: Twitter embodies our present era in a manner Warhol himself wouldn’t recognize.

History works like that. Epochal change happens in a way we don’t fully understand. Tweets have no value without an audience to read and respond to them. This tells us the transition we are now going through is one from not human to machine so much as individual to collective, from client-server relationship to a peer-to-peer universe. Art today places a lot of emphasis on group initiative, but the effect is relatively weak when compared to the awesome power social media and the blockchain puts into the hands of the collectivity.

twitter

While the end result is not art, the culture the net creates suggests a new role for art that the institution has yet to come to terms with. It’s a crisis that the current vogue for artworks as an asset class helps to obscure. But no matter the collusion that will continue to prop that market up, the cultural tendency of actual significance in our time is happening elsewhere with profound long-term effect.

Rosemary Heather

This text originally commissioned by MISC Magazine – a journal of  strategic insight and foresight, FALL 2015.

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