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.” (Virginia Woolf)
The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter “The Wired Artist.” Thank you for taking the time to write.
Amyellen Leib, Twentynine Palms, California, USA
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.
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 just anywhere.
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.
Stanley Sporny, Huntington, WV, USA
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.
Need each other
Judy Lalingo, Ontario, Canada
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.
Freedom to choose
Mary Adriani, California, USA
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)
Carole MacRury, Point Roberts, Washington, USA
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. I’ve 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. It’s 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. I’ve realized this past year, that although I’ve absorbed a plethora of information, my own output has diminished. I’ve 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.
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 I’m 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 I’m not alone in this absorbing but lonely occupation.
How to use it
Renata Spiazzi, San Diego, California
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.”
Sara Genn, Vancouver, B C, Canada
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.
Health warning included
Carole MacRury, Point Roberts, Washington, USA
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!
To the point
Matthew Schmidt, Wisconsin, USA
Luise Perenne, Fountain Valley, California, USA
“Is Anybody There?”
“Does Anybody Care?”
—-A line by John Quincy Adams from the musical “1776”
Sue Legault, Vancouver, BC, Canada
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 them.
Nigel W Daly, UK
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.