I would call this the documentation and writeup for my first Digital Imaging assignment if I wasn’t in a horribly pessimistic place over the images I made and the class itself.
There was a conceptual artist (an artist whose primary medium is ideas, and any physical manifestation of the artwork is downplayed or secondary to what the piece makes you think about) who started his career in the 1960s named Mel Bochner. One thing he felt charged with, one thing he wanted to avoid in his work was to “add to the furniture of the world.” This was in response to minimalist and abstract expressionist sculpture, which was pure form: Bochner swung back around to pure concept because it seems that in part he was fed up with just adding to the deluge of form.
I know how to make an image. I know what it means to control every aspect of the frame, to draw out from a scene a beautiful picture and then refine it in photoshop to a point where it’s all but a perfect representation of the picture I visualized before making the first exposure. But as far as pictures on the internet are concerned, who cares?
I’ve talked about this before, I know I have, but something about starting in my Digital Imaging studio has just reinforced this to an almost frustrating degree. My teacher mentioned that there are 300 million images uploaded to facebook every day and 400 million sent through snapchat. Checking my snapchat score now, the number of snapchats I’ve sent and received, over 11,000 images lasting less than ten seconds each have passed through my phone. My Lightroom catalogue on my Mac is hovering around 29,000 images, and my computer at home with my catalogue from high school sits around 34,000, and I’ve probably kept and worked with one of fifty images sitting on my hard drive (not to mention the likely 15-20,000 images taken for commercial purposes). What does that leave me with? Maybe 800 digital photos that I’ve spent time with.
I still like these images, it just feels like they’re an absolute dead end in terms of placing worth and time into developing this line of thought. It feels like there are endless exciting things I can do with the physical medium of photography, but making work which ends up as a digital file and shared over the internet feels like a mundane route at best.
I’ve started thinking about my VMFA Fellowship application for the 2015-2016 year. Last year I put together a good distillation of where I was, it had some nice landscape pictures and an artistic statement which served as a reduction of my mentality at the time, and although the images were decent they were, well, just images. Within the last few days I was finally able to start thinking of doing something besides plain digital images for my application this year and it no longer felt like an insurmountable uphill battle.
I think for too long I was sucked in by the mentality that the solution to my problems with images over the internet was to make better images. But throwing seven images periodically into a sea that gets added to by the billions daily, I can’t help but be a bit skeptical that there’s anything worthwhile to take pictures of, no matter how good the pictures are, to be posted online.
I may as well mention the “assignment” that these photos were “taken for” while I’m at it.
The assignment was titled “hashtag everything” and as soon as I got the assignment sheet it set off all the red flags. Essentially, there was a list of hashtags (#readymade, #cat, #nostalgia, #graffiti) and we were tasked with taking photos that represented (literal interpretation or otherwise) these hashtags and posting them on a shared tumblr for all three sections of Digital I.
Almost immediately the whole project sort of tipped its hand: since the project was started in the first week of school, 680 posts have been made to the blog, and although there are some nice images, the whole thing collapses into an irreconcilable pile of mixed aims, crossed context, just an absolute internet mess. All of the images in this blog post were posted to that tumblr, but no matter how good these photos are, even if I was ten times better at making a digital image, it would still be meaningless within the deluge of images.
The hashtags are intended to provide some semblance of order, to provide a cataloging system in order to reconcile the set into some sort of order, but even within each hashtag there can be the varied aims of either taking the hashtag literally, ironically, or just hashtagging that particular thing for no reason. In short, the hash tag doesn’t inflict any sense of order on a set of photos. A one word method of organizing content is a reduction of language and methods of communicating information, eliminating any sort of nuance or subtlety. The absolute mess of lack of context completely ruins any sort of singular image posted in the context-less context.
I’ve always been inclined to try and learn from every experience I have the privilege of, well, experiencing. Some things just suck, but especially when it comes to school I try to get a little something out of every class I take, and especially art classes I’ve alway been a bit upset with people that just write off anything a class has to teach wholesale for whatever reason. I’m resisting very strongly the urge to do that with this class as it shapes up to be “Digital image culture 101” but the only thing I’m getting from it the more I think about it is how abhorrent I am to so many of the effects of the internet. Not that it’s evil, just that it’s something I need to grow away from, not closer to.
The most frustrating thing is how seemingly important it is to be able to harness it in some capacity. I always came down on the side of the tree makes a sound when it falls in the wood by its lonesome, but there’s definitely a thread of thought that says if something isn’t broadcast, whether or not it actually happened is basically irrelevant. On the inward-outward spectrum, this school of thought would come down very definitively on the outward side of things: the degree to which something exists and matters is the degree to which it is disseminated and shared.
I guess the problem that I have with this is that it doesn’t feel true. I have only lived life inside of my own skin, and no matter how much I talk to people, no matter how much I post on social media or read about other people on the internet, the experience of being Nick Seitz has always resided between my two ears and behind my eyes. Artwork comes out of my mind and hands and serves as a method of connecting me to myself, to those around me, to the outside world, but ultimately it’s most important to myself, because that’s where I have to spend all of my time.
I feel like I have to bring this up in such extensive detail because in some capacity I feel like there are views in the art world swinging around to documentation and dissemination of work being of paramount importance. Like it’s critically important to be able to preserve in some facet the artwork and put it online so that others may get an idea of you and your artwork: the artwork must live for documentation because that’s what gives it some lick of immortality, the ability to outlive the moments in which it exists before it was discarded, damaged, used up. After all, what’s the importance of artwork, of anything, once it ceases to exist and be accessible for consumption by others?
I’ll refer back to “my head is the only place I’ve ever permanently occupied.” I think inherent in the internet is some grandeur of permanence and escaping of corporeal realities by spreading of thought, of visual artifacts of one’s life. But I think that humans are more fallible than we give ourselves credit for, and ultimately I think there’s little that’s more important than making the experience as felt by you the best one possible. Making artwork, living, creating a personality that is informed by the things you’re able to put online, it eventually seems to distort the experience of life into the mentality of how can things be shared instead of experienced, how can things be documented instead of felt?
I don’t know what I’m going to do with these thoughts and of course there’s the enduring irony of everything I write and post on this blog about the internet that it is on the internet. Maybe it’s redeemed by getting only a couple hundred visitors a month if that, maybe not. Maybe I’d have a different philosophy if masses and masses of people cared about what I did and what I thought. In the meantime, I’ll be focusing all of my energy in smiling when I walk down the street, in holding onto that moment of satisfaction when I finish a project that I love before I even show it to anyone. Of waking up and being excited about living another day. Of enjoying those private moments and thoughts that can’t and shouldn’t be shared, the sum total of which is the existence of each person separate from every other person on this earth of seven billion people making one billion images a day.