"Let us abandon reason like a horrible mine. Let us throw ourselves into the pit of the unknown, not because we are desperate; but to simply enrich the bottomless reservoirs of the absurd."
Fillippo Tommaso Marinetti...A Futurist Manifesto, circa 1910.
The sleek and speedy machine of "Fine Arts" was demolished during a head-on collision with the insurmountably jaded wall of "Post-Modernism". No one, it seems, has much interest in even hauling off the wreckage. "Good enough", I say; "let sleeping dogs lie". It is time for a new order. Not one of those lame "rising-out-of-the-ashes" things; because it is time to turn our backs on what was. Let the art schools, fashionable galleries and the whole money grubbing industry of Fine Arts rot and rust and fall in from the weight of its own exclusivity. It is time for a revolution. It is time for a "Digital Manifesto".
Why a manifesto? Simply because no one does manifestos anymore. Therefore, what better way to connect the passion of the old with the promise of the new. If there is to be a Manifesto of the Digital Arts here are some of the things it should include.
I. Death to the ...
Like all good manifestos our's must call for the death of something or other. Usually, this death is wished upon an oppressor or an oppressive idea. I can think of no greater oppression than the concept of "limited editions". One of the things nailed into your head while attending the finer art schools is that the artist owes it to buyers, agents and your future estate to limit your output of a certain image. The argument usually is that too many copies drives down the prices and scares off your "investors". But, who really profits from this? Not the artist. This is the art agents' way of guaranteeing that after you die everyone else will profit.
Limited editions may have made sense in the past. Litho stones and silk screens wear out. An engraving plate can print the image upon it at only one size. But with today's digital printing, ten copies now are the same color and quality as ten more copies later. An image can be printed at one size on coated paper, and another size on back-lit film, and another size on canvas. Is each one of these a separate edition? Wherein lies the edition...with the image or with the materials and size? If this is a convention that can so easily be usurped, then why bother? Is it better to sell one print for a thousand dollars or a thousand prints for one dollar? "Digital" allows and should encourage the artist to limit their output based only on the demand for a particular work or image over the course of their whole lifetime. "Make hay while the sun shines"...(then bury your files with you).
II. We hold these things to be "contra-digital"...
As the story goes, Picasso refused to enter Braque's studio until he received Braque's agreement to his warning; "all artists are thieves!" Picasso absorbed Braque's conceptualization of "Cubism" and the rest is art history. And, why not? No one complains when an artist includes a tree they have seen in their neighbor's yard in some art they are working on, because that tree is a natural part of the environment. "Environment", however now includes the world wide web, music on CD, high quality photographs published in magazines, etc. Copyright laws are going to have to change to include the ability to sample these parts of the natural environment for inclusion in other artist's works.
Don't get me wrong, here, any person that copies or otherwise re-issues someone else's work in whole or part and sells that work as their own or without permission of the original artist should be a candidate for public flogging. With the original artist receiving the syndication and re-broadcast rights for the video taped flogging footage. It's only fair. Either that or convince all mankind to quit inventing and using machines that make perfect copies and provide instantaneous distribution of aural and visual materials. OOPS, too late.
III. Expand the creative bandwidth!
In the January/February issue of Communication Arts magazine (page 52), Paul Matthaeus wrote an interesting article about the transition in commercial TV away from the expensive proprietary special effects houses toward desktop multi-media platforms. The following paragraph makes a good argument for where Digital Art is also heading. Under the risk of public flogging, here is the paragraph:
"In the mid-"80s, print was revolutionized by an innocent little box called the Macintosh, and programs like Pagemaker and Illustrator. Suddenly the ability to manipulate text, design, texture and color was in the hands of the proletariat. Typesetters decried the technical deficiencies. "The Macintosh will never have the kerning pairs of a Mergenthaler!" And over a decade later, it still doesn't. But it enabled millions the opportunity to manipulate the media. Iteration after iteration, layer upon layer, the breadth and depth of design exploded, producing some wildly interesting work from the uninitiated and design illiterate. People who had no idea what the "rules" were, and felt no loss when they were broken"...had no business doing what they did, but thank God they did. Mr. Matthaeus went on to add, "desktop video may never reach the highly controlled and calibrated quality of conventionally-produced high-end Video...but like in Print, it just won't matter." Expanding the creative bandwidth is more important and will win out over preserving worn out standards and ways of doing business that are designed mainly to exclude and discourage the millions who now have digital control over the "visual" part of the Visual Arts.
While the integrity of an Artist's work must always be the major concern, Digital Arts must currently avoid being suckered into corporate maneuvering that limits creativity and access based on old standards, materials and money. For example, watercolor paper may not be the best substrate to reproduce an image. And, just because art salesmen are stuck in a place where what the image is printed on is more important than the image itself...where the frame costs more than they will pay the artist for the piece...where brand names mean more than innovation, we must not give in. We must continue to work and publish, show and share and market what we have made.
It is regrettable that some manufacturers in their zeal to sell over priced and maintenance intensive printing systems made claims as to ink longevity without bothering to learn the facts of their product. The Digital Artist will have to work for many years, now, to counter the already faint-hearted gallery owners who use ink longevity and desperate clinging to old materials as an excuse to ignore THE WORK that digital artists create. In the new world we are currently creating, high cost will no longer signify superior work. Galleries and critics alike will soon have to realize that creativity, vision, diversity and craftsmanship have returned as the benchmarks of "value".
IV. Toward a living Art...
Digital tools can make Art that is accessible; Art that everyday people can afford to take home and live with, and discard when they want to move on to something new. "Archivability" is a scam...a way to exclude...a lame excuse to charge more money. We can't possibly know that any one of us is making artwork that someone will want to pull out of an hermetically sealed drawer in five hundred years. Digital artwork is much more akin to the Japanese print makers of the 1700 and 1800s. No one questioned if those prints were going to last three hundred years. Those colorful, masterful, fast moving commodities served a different purpose all together...a living purpose. A purpose that was inextricably bound to expanded creative and commercial bandwidth brought about by new tools and techniques. The market for those prints roared with the life of mass approval not exclusion based on price or snobbish philosophy. This is where a Manifesto of Digital Art should carry us.
V. There is no conclusion...
Manifesto or not. Archival inks and papers or not. Limited editions or not. Regardless of the stalling tactics of galleries, critics and the art industrial complex, the genie is out of the bottle. Nothing will stop this innovation. All the excuses that plague the digital artist today will be swept away as this wave hits the beach. My advice is to grab your motherboard. Paddle out as far as you can. Catch the wave and enjoy the ride. Live long and prosper.