The Wired Artist
May 2, 2000
Most artists need some sort of sanctuary--a mentally uncluttered
environment where they can get in touch with their muse. From the
number of letters I've received it seems there's a new and dangerous
threat to a balanced studio life. It's the computer. More particularly
the email and internet phenomenon. Artists tell me of addiction,
compulsive behavior, on-line avoidance, concentration loss. The
medium has some of the same characteristics as a slot machine--neutral
mechanical interaction, exciting promise, random reward. Some artists
are telling me they are pulling the lever far too often and are
considering pulling the plug.
What's to be done about this? There are some questions we might
ask. Do we need to be in touch or do we artists function best as
islands of unsullied egocentricity and self-direction? How does
the medium raise our standards, our knowledge and our capabilities
and how does it diminish them? There are similar questions we still
ask about TV. Good and bad stuff. Mesmerizing. Soporific. At the
dawn of TV Marshall McLuhan called it "foaming nonsense."
And then Ed Murrow looked at it and remarked; "This thing can
teach." As Adrienne Rich has said "TV created a false
collectivity." The internet has the same potential.
I believe in habits. Learning good habits and unlearning bad ones.
Humankind has always had to adjust to change and innovation. For
good or bad we've evolved to where no thinking being can pass on
the miracle of a wired global village. But we artists, with our
flagrant and often childlike weaknesses, have to settle down and
teach ourselves to use the medium well and wisely. Let the head
guide the hands and fingers--and cut to the chase. The creativity
chase--that's why we're here, isn't it?
PS: "The skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame."
If you would like to see selected correspondence relating to the
previous letter "A New York Story," please go to http://painterskeys.com/clickbacks/story.htm
If you would like to add to or comment on the
above letter, or any previous
letter, please do so. Publication deadlines are
3pm PDST Mondays and Thursdays.
The following are
selected correspondence relating to the above
letter "The Wired Artist."
Thank you for taking the time to write.
Since I am a digital artist (no "undo"
buttons on a canvas and I always do something I wish I had not done),
the computer is my "canvas." Fortunately, I have no problems
plunging my heart into my digital world. Yes, there are the peripheral
elements of email and the web, but they are seldom things that pull
me away from creating.
They are what I rely on to pull away when I need to, to be used
as breaks when I need them. But they are not distractions for me.
Amyellen Leib, Twentynine Palms, California
My sanctuary is the night. Like the Jewish sabath a sanctuary indestructable
by its very nature (being a place in time rather than in space)
and of the invaluable feature of cyclic recurrence - a refugium
that comes to you if you let it.
The computer danger is totally dependent on the personal structure.
An addictive personality will inevitably find a focus for addiction
The computer is among the very few means a surreal artist like myself
can get into contact with people of similar interests (almost) regardless
where one happens to live. Isolation can only be helpful temporarily.
Feedback and the exchange of ideas are fertilizers one can hardly
afford to be without.
Most habits are self-produced nowadays and artists must avoid any
mechanical repetition and stereotypes just as everywhere else.
P.S. I am still pondering if further receiving your newsletter makes
any sense for me and will give it some more weeks to decide. Generally
I am more interested in personal exchanges, but artists are a very
peculiar folk, and many lack any real interest in anything but their
very own stuff - so few contacts last and stay interesting.
I control potential net addiction and make it work for me by only
answering email twice a day, at lunch and later in the evening after
cleaning up in the studio.
Stanley Sporny, Huntington. WV
Need each other
I received my computer this past Christmas,
and right from the start, I viewed it as a necessary tool that I
would have to fit into my schedule. Someone once said, "Technology
is neutral" and I would have to go along with that. You can
use TV to watch PBS, or Baywatch...your selection tells you a lot
about yourself. I have found the internet and e-mail invaluable
to me...I use it to connect to other artists and friends that were
once inaccessible. Focussed on art as my world anyway, I have discovered
amazing ideas, artists, marketing strategies, art supplies, books
(YOU, Robert!) etc... For me, the internet came along exactly when
I needed it. I hadn't realized how isolated I had become, until
I joined discussion groups about art...I realized how much I missed
working with other artists (I was a crest designer for 15 years),
exchanging ideas, problems, concerns. It's difficult being a fine
art painter in this multi-media-hyped-up world. We need each other.
Judy Lalingo, Ontario, Canada
Freedom to choose
The computer is a mind stretch. How we choose to conform to its
allure dictates if it becomes a positive or negative tool. We have
the freedom to choose our media and the tools of our craft. Experience
and experiences enhance our ability to create.
"Man's mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its
original dimensions." (Oliver Wendell Holmes)
Mary Adriani, California
This letter is of particular interest to me as I
am in the process of re-evaluating my own
thoughts as to the value of the internet and its
effect on creativity, especially in regards to
volume of work.
In my own endeavors as a
writer, there is no doubt that many doors have
opened for me through my exploration of the web.
Ive discovered fantastic resources such as
rhyming dictionaries, books on grammar and style,
encyclopedias, regular dictionaries, not to
mention the many on-line classes and critique
boards where I post my work for comments, and
even publish in e-zines. I no longer have to go
the library to read excellent works by published
poets, and in some cases, I can even hear them
read by the poet. My morning begins with a
"word of the day", "famous quote
of the day", and of course, your own
twice-weekly newsletter. Intelligent discussion
boards exist solely for the purpose of exchanging
ideas and opinions. Its a banquet of
information laid out for us to sample, taste,
come back for more if we wish.
The problem is that like
any buffet, one tends to take too much. Ive
realized this past year, that although Ive
absorbed a plethora of information, my own output
has diminished. Ive come to the conclusion
that I spend far too much time being inspired,
and far too little time doing something about it
as far as my own work is concerned.
The other more serious
question, besides addiction, is the quality and
validity of what we read. There seems to be no
real groundwork for authenticity in the web, and
it takes a discerning eye and an educated mind to
tell the difference between fact and fiction,
between excellence and mediocrity. The danger to
new and budding artists is not recognizing the
difference. There appears to be no "Good
Housekeeping Seal of Approval" to assist us.
We need to put ourselves on simmer, instead
of bubbling over with too much inspiration, too much data, and find
ourselves a quiet place, be it artist's studio, lakeside, or mountaintop,
and draw forth that which is uniquely ours.
The web is here to stay.
Perhaps in time, we will learn how to take
"just enough", knowing that when we
want, we can come back for more.
Carole MacRury, Point Roberts, Washington
I can relate to your article issued
today about the Internet. As an erotic artist I find that it is
a valuable tool for obtaining reference. However, my interest goes
beyond just looking for reference, one site can lead to another
and suddenly I've been sitting there for hours feeling guilty afterwards
of not having utilized my time more productively.
It's something I need to work on.
A couple of years
ago I hit on a system that has become a habit and
I must say that it works perfectly for me in my
studio. Perhaps some of your readers might try
it. I simply make my art the primary activity in
the studio and only go to the computer when
Im in a state of contemplation, waiting for
paint to dry, or some other neutral activity.
Then contact such as your letters Robert come as
a nice little gift, a sorbet to the creative
palette, and a confirmation that Im not
alone in this absorbing but lonely occupation.
How to use it
Ralph Lombreglia in Atlantic Unbound
wrote: "The proper artistic response to Digital Technology
is to embrace it as a new window on everything that's eternally
human, and to use it with Passion, Wisdom, Fearlessness and Joy".
Renata Spiazzi, San Diego, California
in case you were
wondering, i am not sitting at my computer. i am
working on a set of nine 20 x 24's. when
something comes into my inbox (for i am getting
emails realtime on cable modem) a little noise
tells me i have mail and i walk over here and see
what it is. this is all in small caps because i
am holding my yellow ochre yogurt cup and brush
in my left hand as i type this.
Sara Genn, Vancouver, B C
Health warning included
I'm still waiting
for a book to be written on the impact of the
www, but haven't seen one that has covered all
the concerns yet. Maybe one day computers will be
sold with a health warning and an instruction
manual written by experts, educators, and
psychologists on how to live with a computer in
the house. :-) Meanwhile, I observe and take
notes. It's a learning experience!
Carole MacRury, Point Roberts, Washington
To the point
Matthew Schmidt, Wisconsin
"Is Anybody There?"
"Does Anybody Care?"
----A line by John Quincy Adams from the musical "1776"
Luise Perenne, Fountain Valley, California.
I spend quite a lot
of time on-line. And it has interfered
with my writing. It came about when I first got
hooked up; I got so excited about all of the
possibilities out there that I subscribed to
every newsletter that sounded interesting as I
traversed the web. Some days I got 15 to 20
newsletters, on subjects from self-help &
psychology, to art & architecture,
photography, diet & health, daily quotations,
as well as writing.
In the last two or three
days I have unsubscribed from all but half a
dozen that I have really found useful. I did
archive the information I had received so that I
can refer to it again, but I will be much more
careful in the future about what I expend my time
on. There are stories out there to be told; I
have chosen to free myself so that I can write
Sue Legault, Vancouver, BC
We artists do best when we live in
our heads, give our own counsel, and take the postulating of others
with amusement and a grain of salt.
Nigel W Daly, UK