“Now the man that invented the steam drill
He thought he was mighty fine
But John Henry drove fifteen feet
The steam drill only made nine”
The above lyrics are from the old American folk tale and song about ability against technology. Many people have recorded the song, but my favorite version is from Harry Belafonte, recorded in 1954. You can hear it here
I am no Luddite when it comes to technology; I have been working with computers since the mid seventies and began using Photoshop during its first version. Tech has always been a part of my life and I am always looking to use it to free myself from the drudgery of menial tasks. There is a difference though, between using tech as a tool and using it in place of thinking or ability. This is the problem with all tech; people come to rely on it to give them an advantage that they don’t have the skills for otherwise, nowhere is this more apparent than the field of visual art.
Tech affects the business side of art as well as with people who couldn’t get into a gallery, now selling their work on eBay or over the net for next to nothing. In the old days these people were confined by their lack of ability to the areas they lived in. Now, with tech, they can have a website and advertise for free to people around the world. What this does is it creates pressure to commoditize art; to make it a widget and mass produce it like any other thing being made in the same way… as much as possible and as cheap as possible. Tech allows you to have no committment to a craft. You can dabble and still teach high school or work at an office. Ebay is up 24 hours selling for you.
You see this with the daily painters and plein air painting. Because these paintings are made alla prima in a few hours, people sell them for next to nothing carrying on that factory worker mentality, working for an hourly wage. What people like the daily painters and most plein air painter groups don’t realize is any good artist paints every day and most good artists paint from life. The idea that somehow practicing these things is special or noteworthy, just shows you how low the bar is set these days. The daily painters are particularly laughable in boasting about creating paintings smaller than 6×8 every day. The focus is not on the paintings quality but its price.
Plein air painting is not far behind, with most painters lacking the skill to paint anything except the simplest of motifs. Plein air painting has now become what western art was in the seventies or wildlife art was in the eighties; a place where the least amount of ability allows you to participate and still call yourself an artist. People whose abilities are masked by the fact they paint outdoors and pass off their limitations as a style and a genre of painting, which it isn’t.
Social networking, another tech invention, has convinced people that what you are doing every minute of the day is important. This electronic voyeurism has artists racing to post their images on ning or facebook and then tell everyone on twitter. The side effect of these social media is that the painting itself becomes a byproduct of its promotion, it convinces people with mediocre skills that ability is unimportant; it is networking and marketing that creates your success. Fame is now more important than talent, and what tech does more than anything is it allows people to become noticed without having to earn that notoriety with ability and hard work.