An insightful look at what may be happening to the world of art. A video. Not by me.

I'm not particularly relevant to photography anymore but I take consolation in knowing that no one else is either.  Have a look at this very powerful, very thoughtful video about the changing nature of popular art and tell me what you think.  http://vimeo.com/34608191  

It's called PressPausePlay and it was produced by House of Radon, a creative agency in Sweden. I happen to agree with nearly everything in the video but I am especially interested in the idea that we are in a "crisis of democratized culture" that could lead to a new, creative "dark ages."

While it's true that more people than ever before have access to the tools to automatically create art what it's given rise to is a tsunami of mediocre work the sheer volume and noise of which hides the very few truly talented artists. It's not enough to "up one's game" unless the intended audiences for your work are savvy at the rigors of data mining and are hell bent on finding shining needles in vast, oceanic haystacks.  One of the interviewees in the piece states, in a matter of fact way that, "most people don't have talent."  But because of the outpouring of work in every genre "People start to become comfortable with mediocrity."  At some point we lose our ability to discriminate between genius and hollow imitation.  

These seem to be almost universal beliefs among both artists and critics. Don't argue with me until you've watched the video.  It's very well made and I think it's worth your time....


Michael Ferron said...

Way to much mediocre work out there Kirk. It's tough now for the talented artists to get attention. Plus With Flickr, Facebook etc. the talent is tough to find. The whole thing is too big.

On a side note. As one who still develops film at home it bothered the hell out of me to see how that person was handling the film like it was a cheap ribbon.

Anonymous said...

That film Actually Is a cheap ribbon. What you are watching is motion picture "work print" being edited. Work print is a cheap copy of the original "negative," that is used for editing purposes only. After the editing is completed, a "negative cutter" will conform the negative to match the work print. The negative cutting is done in clean room like conditions.


Anonymous said...

Great work always gets through no matter the noise.
What troubles me most is that this video and almost everything we see gives equal time to all opinions. There are opinions that are not worthwhile but due to our fear of excluding any voice time is wasted expressing all opinions. This video could have been 1/2 as long if some of the inane comments were cut out.
As far as the creative dark age, that's just a cycle, soon most will tire of photography and people will shift their interest to bicycles.

Kenneth Tanaka said...

I'm not quite so positive on this film's "message", Kirk. Its basic thesis - that common access to digital "art" tools floods-out genuinely talented artists - reads too much like an excuse note ("My dog ate my homework") for the weak and mediocre. I can't speak to filmmaking or music but I can say that talented and truly committed photographic artists have more opportunities than ever to bubble-up to their level of ability and ambition. And, no, that path doesn't lead through Flickr, Tumblr, or online photo hobby fora.

But, as always, success in the higher levels of art photography requires levels of work, devotion and dependability that the majority of young people are simply not prepared to accept.

Ian said...

Some points which interest me:
The technology preceeds the art - so what is the artist making with the technology which is available? We are a part of this change;
An artist still has to have something to say - the motivation (obsession?) to make art;
most artists who work in digital need to get out more, there is no program for experience of life.


Jacques Gilbert said...

People are scared and excited.
Right. Welcome to the history of the world. I bet people were scared and excited when they first handled fire.They were scared and excited when they tried agriculture, or domesticating animals. On one side they could die of starvation of mauling, and many did, on the other, it could change their lives for ever. And, ultimately, it did.
I am sure some cavemen were scared and excited when they first saw crude pictures of fearsome beasts on the walls in Lascaux.
Illiterate peasants were scared and excited when they first saw books that had not been hand written by copyist monks. Not to mention the literate crowd, who probably saw that as the end of culture as they knew it. I could go on with every advance in science, social changes, industrialization, mechanization, urbanization, digitizing, but you get the idea.
Scared and excited is the normal state of being alive and aware. It took us from beating each other's brains out with mammoth femurs to insulting each other through a global instant ubiquitous network over the relative merits of BW film and SilverFX conversions.
I hope we continue to be scared and excited, because that's what moves us forward.

cerement said...

And yet the repeated theme through the video was the level of skill showing up in the coming generations: the conductor talking about how musically proficient the younger performers were, the media instructor talking about how visually literate the new students were. Yes, there is a lot of mediocrity out there, but we now have at least a couple generations that have grown up knowing how to filter and sort and rank this flood better than most of us can imagine. And the democratization works both ways, not only can can any "plebe" post his cat video, but now the tools to do so are not restricted to the "elite" who could afford them. How many visions did we lose because a potential photographer couldn't pay for a Hasselblad or a Leica? And if your photograph isn't standing out on Instagram, is it because it got buried in mediocrity or because it was mediocre?

Tom said...

I think it's great, that most of people now have the chance to at least try to create art. That's important progress. What haven't changed is the fact, that it still requires a lot of hard work and talent to be succesfull. But did Mozart, Van Gogh, Elliott Erwitt, etc. had an easy life? I don't think so.

@Ken Tanaka: You're absolutely right about Flickr or Tumblr. You have to look sideways of mainstream to find great pictures. Local galleries (my preference), 1x.com, 500px.com et al.

@Jacques Gilbert: Spot on, but more people need to boldy face the scariness and turn it into something usefull, instead of burring the head in the sand like an ostrich.

Bill Danby said...

I'm surprised that mediocrity has only just been discovered by so many intelligent people. I'm guessing it's here to stay. Wait, I have an idea: Let's resist it.

Nah! that couldn't possibly work.

Atlasman said...

The more garbage we view, the great the appreciation for exceptional works!

kirk tuck said...

If only that was true...

kirk tuck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kirk tuck said...

I don't think the new generations are any better at digging through mountains of crap. They seem to have settled for less, If C+ is good enough you've got a lot choose from.

AndyK said...

I don't buy into the notion that mediocrity is a new phenomenon. Forty years ago I was creating a lot of mediocre art! Fortunately, only a few patient friends and some fellow mediocrists had to endure it. :)

Anonymous said...

Mediocrity has been the norm in the USA, for a long long time. The big change is that the 'net allows people to display their vapid, banal and trite "art."

The advent of digital makes it easier for the dilettante to try and make art. The committed artist has always found a way to make their art.


Jim said...

A lot to think about there. I've been saying similar things for some time now. Mediocre work has always been out there although less in volume and it didn't have worldwide exposure like it does now. People shoot something and post it then the Internet addicts all comment "Awesome!" even if it's crap.

John F. Opie said...

We live in wondrous times in terms of technology.

We live in frightening times in terms of the human condition. Choose you apocalyptic scenario from the panoply available...

Finding brilliance is made easier: those toiling in obscurity, kept from rewards by institutional and cultural barriers, have enormous opportunities to not only survive, but thrive.

Those who own the institutions - galleries, academies, schools, studios - more often than not cannot abide the intruders.

Gonna be a fun ride.

Mark Davidson said...

Yes, there is tons of mediocre stuff out there. Always has been but the volume is far greater due to cheap cameras and the internet. Also this complaint is usually referring to tech enabled creativity. I have not noticed a real uptick in sculptors. :)

Nobody has really touched on the real topic and that is the economic one. The real frustration for these artists is that they are being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work competing for attention thus depriving them of sales. That is the heart of it.
"I cannot get the recognition (and sales ) I deserve because of all the cheap nasty stuff crowding out my message."

Art is a business like any other. If you make your living in it you face all the same business challenges that other businesses face. The romance of the artist is marketing fluff designed to enhance the value of the product.

If there were really the passion and artistic purity they are claiming then they would be satisfied to be making art at all.

Sorry, it is pure and simply an economic and unromantic fact. It was present when I went to art school and it is even more so today.

kirk tuck said...

No. Mark you are wrong. It's not all about making a profit but it is all about finding an audience. The satisfaction is making the art and then connecting with an appreciative audience. If artists were truly concerned about the money they would do something else for a living. They do it for the art. And part of the art is the audience.

Art is not a business like any other. It is all profoundly subjective and unmeasurable. You must be thinking of commercial stock photography which can be reduced to a commodity.

kirk tuck said...

Elliott Erwitt is a very bad example of the idea that artists have to suffer for their art. Erwitt has been highly successful and found an appreciative audience as early as the first part of the 1950's when he started working for life magazine, the biggest magazine and photo showcase in the world, at the time. His commercial work has been highly successful and generated an enormous income over his life time. Several museums and public collections are vying and bidding to own his fine art catalog which is valued in the millions of dollars. He has a loving family and a beautiful apartment in Manhattan. He is still working, producing and profiting. Sorry to turn the myth upside down.

I don't think people need to "boldy face" anything. They need to do their own art, which comes in all shapes and sizes, and then find an appreciative audience for it.

kirk tuck said...

Great work does not always rise to the top. In fact, most product marketers will tell you that whoever is first to market with the loudest campaign almost inevitably controls market share and has the most success. The road to success is littered with bleeding edge artists and commercial products that were ahead of their time, unappreciated and then subsumed by the general market. It's a romantic fantasy that the cream of art always rises to the top. The best marketers win and they are NOT always the best artists.....by a long shot.

kirk tuck said...

I disagree and think we've moved into an age where the entity with the strongest pronouncement of message trumps skill, quality or content. It's hard to separate the market from the disruption and changing of the guard in the art world but I think the reality is that the rewards go to those with the most fluency with current marketing, not artistic capability or vision.

wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

Well it took me a couple of days to view these ~ 1h20m, but I think it was worth it, even if only for the discussion here.

What I found great was the conclusion at about 1h13m, first of Seth Godin and then from the next guy who started with "As an artist, you have to accept the unexpected". I find it reassuring that not everything can (and will) be foreseen by marketers and corporations, and that the younger generation takes "this internet thing" and technology to connect and to create some great stuff. Finally. And I loved the concert of that young conductor/composer guy.

No, this won't necessarily lead into a dark age, and to mediocre content only. But it could lead to a situation where people like a Nick Brandt or a Peter Turnley (or a Kirk Tuck?) only get their 5 minutes of success, as we say, at least in the media - because not everyone can afford to have a big print from any of these on their wall in their home. Nevertheless, I would still visit a Nick Brandt or Peter Turnley or Kirk Tuck exhibition of course, and admire truly great work. And so will some of those big corporations who *can* afford to hang some of those big prints of great artists onto their walls.

It's sad that Kodak (or our German Agfa) didn't make it. But for most of these other big guys I wouldn't waste too many tears. Dinosaurs have to die - it's the way the world moves. The ones who will be remembered are the artists, and I think that won't change much.

Thanks for bringing this up.

Condor said...

Most gallery art has sucked since about 1917. Certainly since about 1962. But, they made a nice business selling the shite to suckers. They want to keep it going, but maybe it is finally crapping out on them.

kirk tuck said...


kirk tuck said...

You are very welcome. Thank you for your thoughtful contribution.

Mark Davidson said...

Then the problem is the lamentable lack of audience. Thus it ever was.

When I was starting out we all had the joy of creation. We also had the common problem of scant audience. So now we had another project; create or find an audience. Some of us did better than others at finding audiences. That was, and is, part of the art world.
We went from gallery to gallery trying to get shows. Sent out slides everywhere. Maybe we got a show maybe we didn't. When we did get a show we got the mailing list of the gallery, added the names on our list and sent out postcards announcing the show and reception. It was a great deal when the gallery paid for hors d'oeuvres because we knew that meant a much greater turnout from their list.
This is nothing new. I would argue that these are the "good old days" as we have the possibility of unlimited exposure and audience that was unimaginable 20 years ago.

As for the video, I can hardly see how one can say that they are not interested in the money when virtually all the dialog is specifically mentioning the difficulty of making money in the crowded market.

Yeah there is more stuff. And certainly there is more stuff that we don't like. But we also have better tools to find and be found.

kirk tuck said...

I think it's instructional to talk about the quality of the audience. Several people, in reference to music, noted that the participation of the audiences and the use of music fundamentally changed with the internet. In previous eras, one would make the effort to leave one's home, go to a theater or a concert, or, as you mention, go physically to an art gallery. All of which implies clear intentionality. The interviewees talk about the fact that they now have thousands of MP3's and mostly just use the music as background noise while they multitask. Much different than diligently listening to music as my generation did. When music becomes background white noise, when photos become interchangeable commodities, when movies move from a big dark room into a landscape where they are also just a part of the browsing mult-tasking mentality then the audience has profoundly changed as has their relationship to the media. They no longer perceive any art to have the same value structures.

I don't think people are uninterested in money but that's not why they do art. I think most people are coming to grips with the fact that art could command certain fees in the past which could create a livable income but that the fees have dropped to the point that many fewer than ever before, as a percentage of population, can match that.

Do we have better tools to find real talent? Or do we have the time and resources to find the people who are best at marketing, regardless of the merits of their art? The whole point is that if you drop a gold coin into a five square mile pit filled with pennies and mix the coins up randomly is it easier or harder to find the gold coin? And as a far as I know there are no specific search tools that work by finding something as subject as "more creative" or "better art." Just most popular. MacDonald's is the most popular restaurant in the world. We know how to find that.....

Michael Matthews said...

I finally got around to viewing PressPausePlay and have to say this is the most impressive video I've ever seen on the internet.

Agree or disagree with the ideas expressed, but take a look at the production values.

All of the film-making crafts are beautifully represented. Lighting, camera and lens decisions, a tendency to use locked-down shots on a tripod, minimal shaky-cam nonsense when handheld, superb editing with no jump cuts, flash cuts, reverse angle disruptions, and with grade A audio acquisition and editing throughout.

Only in a very few short sequences did I find myself briefly reacting with "goddammit, rent a Steadicam!..." and then quickly retracting the thought as the next scene resumed the prior high standard.

It's interesting that whether self-taught or film school graduates the people making this video did it with the traditional, highly complex collaborative approach of studio film making -- all the way through to including end credits in the traditional manner. And those credits were not in imitation of the traditional display; every person working on this undoubtedly earned representation.

For a few moments there, I was afraid we were going to be cheated out of hearing the pop/classical composer's electronic work played by live musicians. The video seemed to take off on too many tangents to properly follow through. Fortunately, that was not the case.

One could argue his effort was debased somewhat by mixing in so much voice-over stuff from other interviewees, and by laying in unrelated video over the performance. On the other hand, the musical style is so vague in form that it is hard to watch and listen to it at length with rapt attention.

I liked the inclusion without comment of the two Japanese(?)guys using thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of high tech equipment to produce such cheesy images in their attempt at translating music into visual effects.

So where does all this rampant democratization of art lead? A world of gray goo, as mentioned in the video? Apocalyptic chaos, the destruction of all values? I don't pretend to know.

But I do think it interesting that those who pursued the question did so with such disciplined adherence to craft and the employment of so many highly talented people, all working as specialists and in collaboration.

Thanks, Kirk.

kirk tuck said...

I think the obverse is true, that the rich and collectors more and more depend on galleries to filter and vet the work for them rather than digging through a mountain of manure looking for the pony that optimists believe they will find buried there.

kirk tuck said...

You are most welcome. Thank you for a nuanced look at the actual production.