The entrance of digital tools into the 'art' realm causes all sorts of hysterical reactions from people who ought to know better or perhaps should have moved the panic button a few feet away from the television before spouting utter shit in dead tree magazines. Newsweek has an an article on the coming photo-pocalypse because the digital is apparently too easy, makes things like art less prohibitively expensive and lowers the price of experimentation, and doesn't speak in tongues to some shadowy god of nostalgia atop the majestic Art Is Here and Y'all Are Over There mountain. It would appear that this is the bad thing and too many of us are ostensibly doing it. Oh dear.
I should write a couple thousand words on that draw a dark conspiracy theory that overshadows fundamentalist Luddite aesthetics and the dead tree/smeared pigment industry but I'll spare everyone that including myself because 3 am is not the proper time to start an ulcer. What I do find interesting about much of this type of armchair elucidation is that it usually assumes that convincing photo alteration work in Photoshop is as easy as click-click-Grant-Dollars! and that anyone with a short attention span, a computer, and a fervent desire to immerse the mighty canon of high art in shit and garbage can produce, with little talent or knowledge, something that threatens the usual order of things.
I'm guessing that the intersection of art and technology is what is bugging Plagens here because other things he's written (this review that spans a whole lot of publicly funded art controversy in the process of talking about a book someone else wrote and seems (I'm no art critic) a lot more grounded as well as reading a whole lot less screechy) have the quality of serious thought and reflection being invested in them. It is probably a generational issue but, man, how little can you really understand about something that is building momentum and becoming more widely and wildly used and still be a critic worthy of readership? Especially when you spend a fair number of words in your own writing about the efforts of early photographers to make their own photographs less like photographs and more like painting. The connection between them doesn't seem like a huge stretch to me. Apparently the reading public is still cool with this. The most difficult part of this column for me is that Plagens often comes so damned close to getting the appeal of digital formats and manipulations to photographers. Then just staggers off down memory lane to leave the rest of us who've grown accustomed over the majority of our lives to the impermanence and fluidity of captured images to wonder what the fuck he's trying to get to underneath the landslide of anecdotes.
I'm sure there is more to this direction of criticism that I'm just not getting. There must be. This fella is no idiot but when I read that column I don't see the semi-hep art critic. I don't see anything. I just hear the sound of a ball mouse squealing as it is dragged across the surface of a fourteen inch CRT monitor. Does that make me a monster or did I just get whapped on the head during this bubble or the last one? I'm lost and don't understand what essential question he is asking here and why so many important aspects (like the idea of photography either being dedicated to or intended for the documentation of nothing but the truth) are being glossed over. I read it again and just threw my hands up in frustration. There is something out of joint here and I'm not willing to believe half truth in order to exhume it. Anyone?
The ironic side note is that I stumbled on this article while looking for something else and read it on the Newsweek website on December 5, 2007 when the article is from the Dec 10, 2007 issue. Ouch. Yep, when I said all of your base I meant it.