Our new relationship with art


Taste in art can differ among personalities as well as social and cultural lines, but the human spirit shares the capacity for greatness and innovation. To some degree, creators trick us into watching what they have done, but at some point one needs to understand that art really is a social need.

Art is food for thought; it is a way to let our brains ‘breathe’ a little, a way to get inspired as well as an emotional loophole (catharsis). Because of this, it is essential to rethink one’s approach to art to better appreciate it. In a day and age where jobs may consume our lives, art is all the more important in that it may be one of the only refuges we have left.

However, the psychology of art has changed in a negative way. On the one hand, going out to see a movie or a play means engaging, and presumably thinking about what you are seeing, but the use of a computer to watch a movie, on the other hand, means watching it in a totally different mindset. One might stop midway and pick another film online for instance. One is likely to be multitasking, at least at some point.

The point is, we live in a culture with a growing attention deficit. Commercial movies adapt themselves to that reality, and cuts are multiplied as the attention span of the average audience has decreased.

All of this changes the way we approach art, and technology may, in that sense, have decreased the quality of our artistic experience. As Moby put it in PressPausePlay, there is a danger on the side of the production as well, much like the sci-fi scenario of grey goo: “Art and culture potentially might succumb to that same principle where if everybody is a musician, everybody is making mediocre music, eventually the world is covered with mediocrity. And people start to become comfortable with mediocrity.”

In the same film, author Andrew Keen states, “When you fall into the trap of confusing the artist and the audience; when you believe that the audience knows more than the artist, [. . .] then art ends and you have something else: cacophony. You have simply an apology for radical democratization, and it’s wrong to confuse democratization in real or political terms with the creation of art, which is, by definition, for better or worse, an elitist business.”

These days, the danger of a cacophony, and that of getting comfortable with mediocre art is greater than ever before. Especially online, it is hard to imagine virtuosi of the past being able to break through the mass of garbage that exists on Youtube for instance. In this sense, while technology has been a blessing for many artists in their creation and distribution processes, it has also changed the distance there used to be between the artist and their audience. While that isn’t a problem on an individual level, at the social level it means that as art is less revered, it is devalued.

That is why I believe it is really important to take our artistic experiences out of the virtual realm. This means taking steps to “sanctuarize” our experience of art. Whether you choose to go to exhibits more often, to a public performance of some sort, or just to shut your email and put your phone away when doing something similar at home, it’s all up to you. Just as you work more efficiently when you are in a neutral place with few sources of entertainment, your artistic experience is better when you focus on it. Paradoxically, it may help you open your eyes to what is happening around you.