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Artistic value in digital communication

by LF for Shades Magazine 

The fetishism of art results in an understanding of art as a distinct sphere inside society and outside the economy. This reflects a certain division of artistic labour e.g. between studio and gallery, but not the cultural processes around images. In the situation in front of an image there is a reality unfolding, just like it is in the situation at the assembly line, or in bed. Not in the sense that these situations are similiar, but in the sense that they are always more than just their specific act of manual labor, affective labor, or the mythical pure creativity and pure aesthetic pleasure. This is the real realism, not the aesthetic fact that reality is visual and therefore visual representations of reality appear to be connected to reality. But still the value production in the making of works of art is very well a different one than the one of making advertisements or of applying make-up to one’s own face. It is not enough to say art is anything that is produced as art, this would just be again the fetishism described above.

While we have to go past the question of production of artworks to how the artworks work, we have to be careful not to reduce the resulting products to the status of visual media, to images that only have communication as their value, of images as text. Because then their realism is only representation. We want to raise the question of what else art images can do that sets them apart from other images. This is meant as an attack against images that are only allowed to be pieces of media. What is found can not only be consumed, it can be redesigned, its construction changed, a variation produced. This is not a question of mediation and communication, not of changing the way of understanding of something, but of modifying the construction of something. What does this mean for creative work? Creative work creates things that let see that they are constructed. Not in a pedagogic sense, through comments on how they were made, but in a real sensual approach. When you encounter something and you build up a reaction of approval or disapproval of how it is made. Let’s not say that there should not be any calls, representations, illustrations. But it is about avoidng the error of just grouping all these things under umbrella-terms. Instead let’s think further how we can distinguish them. A piece of art is not about meaning, but about agency and active reception. This agency is also related to how the situation of reception is governed. It’s fascinating to see how the authority of the work of art can surpass the governing of the situation of reception and be more than a medium for a certain end. Think of paintings in national museums, in shopping centers, on commercial digital networks.

Of course it is very often about meaning nevertheless. Every artwork is in that sense a clash of image and language. This means we can very consciously ask: how can we grapple this image by means of words. One point for the irreducible free and open part of images is still found in the fact that their own organic visuality is resisting this approach. Images provide their own universal language, which leads to a variety of reactions and actions.

Art provides a use value that can be reproduced visually and is never exhausted. This artificiality, as a high level of being constructed, as a construction that is very hard to put to use (representation) and still very useful (its being-real, realism beyond representation), is a quality that shines light on two higher, in the sense of more abstract, levels of quality. Two steps above the artwork: object. One step above the artwork: media. In our case the question of media becomes relevant related to communication networks. Certain services are called “social media” today, accessed by people who interact there in a both visual and textual way. The term social media is strange, it reduces a term by specifying it, not any media, but social media. By doing this it wants to point at something extended: not only media, but interactive media on the internet. So by adding a second very abstract term the already very diffuse term of the media becomes only more diffuse. Yet we might say: there is also in this case a reality outside the means of communication unfolding, and this could be the social thing about social media. But just as we have to differentiate the term media, we have to do deal with the term social. In the existing social media services, you have to produce a personal representation according to industrial norms in order to be allowed to participate. A facebook profile is structured and looks like a CV. Instead of social media we could also call them commercial media. Often they appear more social once you use them wrongly, e.g. by filling in fake names. This is a first step of intervention, just as described above, to understand how something is constructed and then start modifying the construction. Then they become a means to be social without so many risks for your own person, a digital public square without an entry fee, fence, or overseer. This protected communication might be better called mediated sociability, instead of social media.

How can this awareness of being able to construct things be escalated, even beyond the digital and artistic playgrounds? If this question is not brought up, the flexibility inside electronic space only obstructs all the limitations faced outside of it. Activity connected to specific media means it is channeled, this is a very limited activity. For example turning memories into images makes them useable and exchangeable, there is a thin line between a diary as a means of self-discipline and the commodification of experience. Also it can result in a standardization of life through rankings of experience in a market of allowed adventures. Social media provides a space for all kinds of conversations and other interactivities, and transforms them into a cybernetic database of claimed liberties, always measuring the acceptable level of disorder.

On the one hand it doesn’t matter in what spaces exactly youth wastes itself. But what activities youth is engaging with does matter, in case one attributes still hope to it. There is a differnce between being young and maintaining a self-imposed immaturity. For a moment let’s call it self-imposed immaturity to only natter and gamble online. But this would be an abstraction of the content of the games and conversations. In fact this is exactly the abstraction that is performed by moving interaction in the digital realm. This mass space promotes lack of commitment, you can shout slogans in your own echo chamber there, have the social capital of being on the attendance list of a cool event without showing up, say something and edit or delete it later. There are many cases where this is exactly what is missing in social encounters, this leaving a flexible space, this keeping a distance. But once it becomes the standard it has to be problematized. But let’s end on a more positive note here. The vastness of the digital realm destroys its own restrictions. Its endless wealth is provided in the form of art, inexhaustable, this generates potentials. In that sense, the net is a catalyser for activity beyond its own media. This happens, like described above for visual art, in constantly when we encounter artistic visuality, but it remains important how consciously this is happening. If we want it there can be a crisis of media, we can tear down the barriers.

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