On the Renegade Hiatus
To whomever may be concerned, mildly intrigued, or totally indifferent — for the past few months, the Renegade website has been on hold, which in combination with some quite literal distance between Renegade and NYC, allowed for poignant reflection on not only the nature of the Renegade project, but the culture and community in which the project is rooted. My physical distance from New York evolved into an ideological distance. All that was once held sacred to me became banal, even preposterous. I began to ask myself why I cared about the things I cared about. Buzzwords like Art! Fashion! Youth Culture! Subculture! Nightlife! no longer intrigued me but, rather, came to repulse me. What did they contribute to the world? Why were my passions aligned with the hedonistic and shallow aspects of these disciplines? Why did I look up to certain artists or writers? Why was I relying on cultural supplements from outlets posting things like“Iris Apfel Emojis are Coming to the World”, “The Cyber Feminist Leaking her Own Nudes”, “The Difference between Kim and Kanye West”, Kendall Jenner is still Wearing Chokers and Zayn Malik’s Solo Career is Lit? Why did I respect their voice or value their cultural output and critique?
These authorities – authorities which we elect with our clicks, shares, likes and comments — have gained too much power. They are too often relied on for exposure to the newest, freshest and “best” artistic and cultural material. This centralized power and corresponding dependency has contributed to a distortion in the way we understand art, culture and “success” in the digital age. Trusted outlets flood our feeds, consciousnesses and unconsciousness with their appointed persons or projects of praise, maintaining significant control over what people see— and therefore, what people don’t see.
Now more than ever, the barriers between Art with a capital “A” and art with a lowercase “a” are indistinct. On the internet the barrier no longer exists. The screens that mediate our physical lives and the systems designed which dictate relationships inbetween these screens- are responsible for immense changes in the culture of art production and consumption. Works of art are posted by hundreds of thousands of people day after day. Anyone with access to a phone or computer has the dual ability to share and see what has been shared. On any given social media feed The Scream, a nicely composed selfie, and image of someone’s daily doodle are conglomerated on the same stream, the same screen, one after another.
The Art Institution’s authority to determine art/artists importance or success in the physical world has been subdued. On the internet, there are no museum walls or gallery frames. Art does not need to receive institutional approval to be seen. The exhibition space is no longer earned. It is unending. All works of art are digitally imaged, flattened, and reduced to an arrangement of pixels. Differentiation in material, size, location, and the artist’s hand become indistinct, as the digitization of artworks necessarily transforms them all into varying arrangements of data on a grid. Guernica is a rectangular image online, as searchable, as “likeable”, as discoverable as any stranger’s selfie. We no longer appoint certain digital media the title of “Art”; anything is art, which necessarily dictates that nothing is art. The artwork’s importance or worth is no longer appointed by the Art Institution, but rather by an entirely new system dictated by the digital economy. The internet has created a more democratic artistic sphere, in which each artist has an equal capacity to share what they make. However, the nature of the digital sphere mirrors the physical world in that political systems are necessarily accompanied by economic systems.
Digital democracy is partnered with digital capitalism. The predominate digi-economic ideology and rhetoric in the e-free market (the world wide web or individualized networks) propagates that each subject has equal ability to accumulate digital capital or digital wealth. Digital wealth is measured with digital currency: likes, re-shares, follows, reposts, re-blogs, and so forth. A piece of art on Instagram with 10,000 likes is more desirable than a piece of art with 10 likes. As more digital wealth is accumulated, socioeconomic status in the digital sphere increases. Increased digital socioeconomic status produces heightened “relevancy” and “influence” over the market/network. Relevancy in the digital market is understood as the reward for socio-economic upward mobility. Relevancy implies heightened visibility and influence. The more relevant the artist, the more power their wield in the market. The artist on Instagram whose artwork is receiving 10,000 likes or who has 1 million followers, is considered more important than an artist whose work receives 10 likes and has 100 followers. The more digital capital acquired, the easier it is to increase profit. An artist on Instagram with 1 million followers will have an easier time gaining more followers than an artist on Instagram with 100 followers. Relevancy breeds relevancy. The digitally wealthy become wealthier. If we consider artwork a product in this market, syllogistic reasoning would imply that if art is “good”, it will be noticed, gain relevancy and therefore accumulate digital wealth. If art is “bad”, it will go unnoticed and fail to bring its producer wealth or heightened status. Those who are digitally impoverished are understood to either make low quality content (product) or not seek to increase their visibility or their relevancy through means of digital wealth accumulation.
The accepted truth of equal opportunity online deserves reconsideration and doubt. Participants in social networks don’t all start with the same resources or opportunities. Accumulating wealth for one subject is much easier than it is for another. Success in the digital market is as complicated and nuanced as it is in the physical, fiscal economy. Artists and artworks who become digitally wealthy are not necessarily the most talented, intelligent or progressive. The value of an artwork (or a human being) cannot be assessed in correlation with its digital representation and corresponding wealth. We cannot automatically accept that artists with the most followers, or artworks with the most likes, are the most important, desirable, or signifiant. It is important to understand that the artwork and artists promoted by public outlets, which infiltrate personal feeds and permeate screens, are chosen based on their position within the digital market. Any artist is now assessed primarily through their digital reflection, and ultimately, their digital wealth or lack-thereof. Relevancy, now more than ever, is the name of the game, and unfortunately, relevancy is more easily acquired with traits not often associated with the duties of an artist. Any artist seeking heightened visibility is now charged with the challenge of self-branding and self-promotion, necessary components for increasing digital wealth, gaining relevancy and ultimately increasing their social and cultural influence.
In this digital market, superficiality, vanity, chauvinism, materialism, dishonesty and manipulation more often lead to wealth accumulation, relevancy and influence than generosity, authenticity or intelligence. Cultural producers seeking to expand their digital influence must create work which abides by the laws of the digital market. The public’s reaction to any and all digital output (product) is instantly visible; immediate numerical evidence indicates which artworks are booming or busting online. These numbers quantify consumption in digital currency. Artists seeking to increase visibility in the market must make and post art that will elevate their digital socio-economic status. Their artwork must supply the demand of their market/network. The relevant artist today, one gaining attention from various respected media platforms, is one whose influence and wealth has been firmly established and numerically affirmed. The relevant artist may be understood first and foremost as a digital capitalist. In the both the digital and physical art world, a certain quota of digital wealth and social influence is understood as necessary evidence of “worth” or “talent”. Digital socioeconomic status is dictating real-life opportunity. Artists who prove their “worth” online are offered corresponding opportunities to expand their physical market, wealth and influence. The contemporary artist seeking digital relevancy must give the people what they want, rather than show them what they didn’t know they wanted.
In the history of Modern art there is mutual intention in the role of each modern master: to, in some way, deconstruct, counteract or reinvent the artistic and ideological norms which preceded them. Are contemporary artists awarded this freedom? Is this no longer what it means to be an artist? Art in the age of the digital economy functions in an entirely new way. The most visible (and applauded art) is art is art that satiates the desire of its viewers: product that supplies societal visual demand, rather than challenging it. The role of the relevant artist is no longer to show its viewers things previously unimagined or impossible or to illuminate voices previously silenced. The role of the relevant artist is not to challenge viewers— to think, reconsider, wonder, discuss, or feel- but rather, to allow us to continue at ease, uninterrupted, in an endless, unblinking scroll. It’s of course true that there are artists making thought provoking and progressive artwork without the digital economy at the forefront of their creative process. There are artists participating in the digital sphere who do not seek heightened visibility. There are artists who accumulate digital wealth and earn societal relevancy without succumbing to the demands of their market. Sometimes the market demands progressive, challenging and intelligent cultural output. There is thought provoking, engaging art that is also digitally wealthy. I argue that this kind of digi-economic success in the market is the exception, rather than the rule. I argue that the artists whose voices are being heard are those fighting on the digital frontier, succeeding in the digital market by creating artworks that supply the demand of their network. To concretely illustrate this point, consider an artist who posts a blue painting and a red painting in a day. The blue painting produces more capital than the red painting; it receives more likes, shares, follows, etc. An artist seeking to gain influence would understands that their market demands more blue paintings than red. An artist who supplies this demand satiates the desires of the market and gains more digital wealth, increases their online socioeconomic status and heightens their relevancy. The artworks succeeding in the digital market are those which make viewers feel comfortable, rather than challenged. They perpetuate sameness rather than progress. Social climbing, materialism, superficiality and vanity proliferate as qualities in creative people— all of whom are enslaved by the laws of the market and a society which declares their worth relies on mass binary interactions.The hierarchy of visibility is skewed.
Contemporary societal values are reflected in the digital landscape; wealth, power and physical attractiveness reign supreme over intelligence, altruism and sincerity. Perhaps because the later traits don’t lend themselves to a more “likable” selfie. The laws of the digital market affect journalism in the same way. Respected outlets are, like artists, competing for relevancy through the accumulation of digital currency. In their case, the correspondence between the digital and physical world is more overt and direct. Digital wealth is the necessary evidence of worth and quite literally necessary for outlets’ fiscal sustenance. Outlets rely on the physical fiscal support from advertisers. Advertisers seek to support digitally wealthy outlets The more digitally wealthy the outlet (directly correlated with readership), the more fiscal support they are rewarded with. Writers are now forced to evaluate an article’s success by the amounts of clicks it receives- the amount of product “sold”- rather than the quality of the writing or the intelligence of the content.
This is by no means a new concept in the creative industries. Art exists in the physical market and has for hundreds of years. Art is bought and sold. Art is a luxury good. Art education and exposure is directly linked with (fiscal/physical) socioeconomic status. However, I’d argue that in the digital age, any artist seeking to share their work with the world must immediately enter the market and henceforth succumb to the rules of supply and demand. The digital market is a hyperbole of the physical fiscal market. In the past, artists lacked the capacity to instantly share their works with the world and immediately assess the (numerical, binary) response: their digital profit or loss. The demand of their market was not so immediate and pronounced. In the past, “art” became “Art” through appointment by institution. The internet provided an opportunity to democratize artwork, to eradicate the imaginary and classist art authority. But capital has invaded and appointed new systems of evaluation; systems based on numerical profits and losses, on the laws of the market. The language offered in the digital landscape has been reduced to a mere binary. Like or dislike. Follow or unfollow. Comment or silence. Share or neglect. A transaction takes place or it doesn’t; a sale is made or it isn’t. Artwork reaps a digital profit or a digital loss. This over-simplified method of exchange is inhibiting some of the most powerful qualities of art. An art viewer’s ability to interact with artworks has been horrifically simplified. The question of art’s role in society is an unending one which lends itself more to subjective, individual answers rather than universal truths. However, I argue the binary system of exchange particularly decreases the ability for the artwork to provoke contemplation or consideration. An artwork should have the ability to instill doubt, emotion and contemplation in whomever encounters it. A viewer should be able to take away more from an artwork than a like or dislike.
The real-world equivalent of the current digital art-scape would a never-ending sprint through the MoMa, in which the runner provides each art piece roughly a second of their attention. Each piece would then be evaluated with either a thumbs up or thumbs down. The paintings with the most thumbs ups would be placed at the front, in the most accessible parts of the museum, while the paintings with the least thumbs ups are banished to the far corners of the museum, only visible to those who search for them, those willing to exert the labor necessary for an adventure off the beaten path.
The digital democratization of art sharing and interaction has taken the art world a massive step forward by providing more opportunity for artistic exposure and exchange. Despite this, I worry that, alongside this new digi-economic, political and social system- the invaluable experience of art in the physical dimension is being forgotten. Artwork that in the physical dimension allows us endless reflections, discussions, doubts, frustrations and elations has been transformed into pixels, which limit our language of exchange and methods of interaction. Everyone deserves the opportunity to see diverse art created by diverse people. Every artist deserves the ability to share their work. The internet has helped us deconstruct high barriers between Art and the every day: the avant-garde and the status quo, the conceptual and the pragmatic. Seeing art online is a privilege that anyone with internet access now has the power to enjoy. But we cannot forget to pursue the creation and exchange of artwork in the physical dimension.
— We must take into account the laws of the digital market and not evaluate an artwork or artist by their digital socio-economic status.
— We must treat artists and artwork of lower digital socioeconomic status with equal consideration and respect as the digitally wealthy.
— We must remember an artwork or human is so much more than its numerical profit or loss.
— We must question the notion of equal opportunity online.
— We must work to expand the binary language we use to interact with artwork and artists online.
— We must to question the authority of our trusted media outlets and demand content of aesthetic, intellectual and political worth from outlets and artists alike.
— We must use our power as individuals and exert the labor necessary to discover new, unseen or un-promoted artwork, rather than relying on the other/an outlet to dictate what art is worthwhile.
— We must seek to create and support artwork that challenges us, rather than those that merely satiate our surface level aesthetic desires.
— We must remember to preserve the irreplaceable experience of interacting with artworks in the physical dimension.
— We must strive to increase people’s opportunity to see art not only through a screen, but in real space and time.
Renegade, as an ever-evolving project, platform and community, will be dedicated to all stated above. Our aspirations are to create collaboration and exchange between real people, in real time and space, not merely in a digital landscape. Therefore, the Renegade online presence will be a reflection of projects and collaborations developing in the physical dimension. Because that’s the one we believe needs preservation. And that’s the one that matters most… right?
With infinite love and respect,
Posted by Cassidy George
on December, 2016