THERE BE DRAGONS HERE, STILL
Once upon a time, maps were more beautiful than accurate. Before the invention of the mechanical clock or the compass, the world was a more fluid place. Maps were made from subjective impressions of distance combined with myths, philosophy and theology.
Not the most direct route to your destination, but at least it gave you something to ponder along the way.
Our ancestors imagined that dragons and gods lurked in uncharted corners of the world.
|Here be dragons-- Hic sunt dracones|
But as they invented tools for measuring, their world came into sharper focus. Early astrolabes enabled navigators to track their location by the stars. Then came the quadrant and the sextant. Maps became more precise. Geometric grids rationalized our experience of space.
Today anyone can find their precise location, along with details about every surrounding restaurant, gas station or pot hole, by consulting their GPS.
Going by your GPS, you might conclude that there are no more dragons left in the world.
Sometimes it seems that a similar trade off is taking place in the world of fine art. Beauty, design and composition of form are often subordinated to content. The talent and skill for the creation of fine objects seems to have become less important while wordy explanations of artistic purpose have taken center stage. Information technology is the artist's new tool, from Photoshop to video cameras where we simply point and record hours of random happenings.
Perhaps one of the most significant results is that artists can now effortlessly replicate and manipulate billions of historical images with ease. The temptation to scoop up data files to make pictures out of pictures seems almost irresistible. Information technology has made possible several new art schools such as "sampling," "repurposing," "recontextualizing" and "transformative use."
|Koons: stupid scribbles superimposed on photos of a waterfall and a couple|
We are assured this is OK because today "curation is creation." Why should an artist have to start back at the very beginning with a pencil when it is so easy to get a head start by combining pre-existing building blocks into new art?
At the dawn of the information revolution, Bernard Wolfe warned that in an era of computers and space programs, avant garde art could not mutate fast enough to stay ahead of everyday life. His advice to modern artists: "Forget it. The job of the decimated avant garde is to catch up with the ordinary, which means learning to live with the speed of light." The successes of information technology are undeniable, and their images are a worthy challenge to the arts when it comes to inspiring awe in the human heart.
|The "pillars of creation" seen through the Hubble space telescope.|
There are important reasons, in maps and in art, why our priorities might shift away from creation and toward discovery. But despite the obvious successes of the sextant and the GPS, there are still plenty of uncharted territories where dragons still lurk. They haunt the bytes themselves, creating suitable challenges for artists who aspire to something better than "curation."