Art proceeds from experience; it is born out of the wider culture. Its materials are perception, sensation, memory, thought and attention. Its landscapes are those of the imagination, the conscious and unconscious mind, the psychic, the spiritual and the emotional. All of which are partly formed by our daily contact with the world around us.
Drawing on this experience, artists create an aesthetic language (literal, symbolic, and metaphorical) in which to express themselves.
It should come as no surprise, then, that when the world becomes increasingly digital, when our technologies and our conveyances with them are based on computers and mobile devices, artists’ work begins to reflect these experiences, and the concerns that arise out of them.
In fact, for anyone remotely observant of their environment, it would be shocking if art had not already begun to be deeply impressed by these surroundings and preoccupations.
The art of today ought to be about digital technology. It ought to be about our relationships with this technology – how it affects us and what it means and how we experience it and what is wrong with it. Because that is the world in which we are now living.
The medium and the terminology of this art ought to be those of the network itself – the terminals and servers and ‘clouds’ and devices and ‘wearables’ that together make up the digital element that surrounds and envelops us.
Of course art oughtn’t to be about anything in particular. It has no obligations. But an art that tells us nothing, that illuminates nothing about the world we inhabit has little relevance, and less power. The power of great art is eternal. But it cannot be great unless it responds to some specific condition in the culture and the society – and more importantly the era – in which it is made.
What surprises me is how much of our current artistic establishment reveres an art that ignores this environment, and ignores the art which is actually engaging with it. When the world changes, art changes.
And so it should, otherwise it would die.