As a lurker on this enjoyable forum, I swore I wouldn't get suckered into the debate about leaving the new media art ghetto for the art world. But I can't help it any longer.
It's true that art world institutions like museums play a critical role in preservation. Johannes gives great examples of performative works like Reel To Reel that require the dedication of a "collector" to be renewed in a form other than relic or videotape (*cough* Flight Patterns *cough*).
It's also true that those same institutions will fail to rescue most of today's new media if they don't adapt to innovations happening outside the art world. As Richard Rinehart and I argue in our forthcoming book Re-Collection, museum conservators need to get their hands dirty with the tools and protocols used by game fanboys and remix artists.
But let's leave aside preservation for the moment, and look at influence and economics. Here are some numbers from February 2003:
Metropolitan Museum of Art (best-known brick-and-mortar museum)
2 million artworks
5 million visitors per year
5,000,000/2,000,000 = 2.5 visits per artwork
Rhizome.org (best-known virtual museum)
4 million visitors per year
4,000,000/600 = 7,000 visits per artwork
Remind me, which is the ghetto?
I know what you're thinking: you don't want to fight for attention with LOLcats and "Will It Blend" videos. It's not just the quantity of attention, but also the quality. You want approval from a curator or collector with a keen eye, not just some neighbor or YouTube commenter. Without the attention of these gatekeepers, new media art will never find a place in the white cube.
That's probably true. And that's why new media artists currently invest enormous amounts of personal energy and ambition contorting their work into a shape that will fit through the gallery door. Sadly, unless you become part of the 1% in new *or* old media that become art stars, your best-case scenario is probably a darkened "media gallery" in some corner of a museum--the artistic equivalent of the short bus. Rather than trying to fit through the narrow hoops of Art, most new media artists aiming for recognition would be better off diving into the vast ocean of the Internet.
To be sure, the stereotypical gallerygoer is more artsy than geeky, and may appreciate a "critique or comment on digital technologies" better than, say, the average Slashdot user. But the stereotypical gallerygoer's critical stance on technology is often based on ignorance. (Remember how your classmates who sucked at math flocked to the arts?) New media artists may find it easier to connect meaningfully with the Internet's Long Tail than to the blue-haired ladies on elite museum Membership lists. Indeed, some of the most popular creative phenomena of 21st-century networked culture had precedents in artistic work of the 1990s. Google Earth is a networked version of Art + Com's Terravision; Electric Sheep is a screensaver version of Karl Sims' genetic images; Wikileaks is an update on Antoni Muntades' File Room.
Every year new media settle more deeply into the public vernacular, and every year the art world drifts further from influence and relevance. When we included a game console in the Guggenheim's Seeing Double exhibition, we got quizzical looks from the other curators and docents trained in art history. But the guards and ordinary visitors were all over it.
For a new media artist to concentrate exclusively on the art world is like a Chinese businessman in Hong Kong concentrating exclusively on English patrons. Both are ignoring the billion potential customers who speak their language. Sure, you're not likely to appeal to all of them--but at that scale, you only need a tiny fraction of their eyeballs to do better than what you'd get from the art world. It worked for Aaron Koblin, whose cred comes not from showing at blue-chip galleries but from playing ball with Yahoo and Google.
Maybe you don't care about influence--it's all about getting paid! OK, how many canned videos of his (originally live) flight paths will Koblin sell to art collector wannabees at $50 a pop on s[edition]. Maybe 100? That's $5,000, not counting s[edition]'s take.
Could a new media artist do better outside of the art market? Some are trying. Last spring, when Morgane Stricot was adding interviews to the Variable Media Questionnaire, she noticed a number of artists formerly known for net art releasing versions of their installations and Web sites as mobile apps.
I don't know whether the proceeds were enough to pay the rent. I do know that one of the artists, Scott Snibbe, woke up one day to find his work Gravilux the number one free iPad app on the Apple App Store, above The Weather Channel, ABC Player, and Netflix:
"Art Wants to be Ninety-Nine Cents"
Snibbe's Gravilux has been installed by 500,000 iPad owners. If one out of a hundred of them bought a "pro" version for 99 cents, Snibbe would make $5,000 right there--the same as selling 100 at $50 each on s[edition]. Except that he'd have 5000 times as many eyeballs (and fingertips) on his work.
Let's not be so eager to knock through the walls of the Media Art ghetto just to find ourselves within a slightly larger Mainstream Art ghetto.
Cheers from Maine,
It's not too late to catch up to the 21st century
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