Does social media reduce art to a commodity? Or is it a democratic platform that facilitates a disruption of old ways of thinking?
The “Social Media is Killing Art” debate brought together four art experts to discuss the pros and cons of social media.
On Thursday 23 March at Art Basel in Hong Kong, Intelligence Squared hosted the annual cultural debate on the topic “Social Media is Killing Art”. The debaters included internationally acclaimed artist Ryan Gander, curator Alexie Glass-Kantor, Aaron Seeto (Director of Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara) and international art advisor Lisa Schiff.
Quick to adapt and rapidly consumed, social media is becoming an integral part of the art business. In fact, social media has fostered an emerging market segment of collectors, leading to art market growth to over USD3 billion in 2016. However, there are limitations to social media platforms, such as social media’s condensed form that does not allow for in-depth conversations, or its lack of ability to communicate the subtlety present in art.
This debate unravelled the opinions for and against social media in the art world. Art Radar has a look at the main arguments in the debate.
Social media is killing art
Ryan Gander and Alexie Glass-Kantor argued that social media is indeed killing art. Gander has misgivings about social media though observing his students and their use of social media, through a change of aesthetics and through the degrading of understanding of what visual language is. He contended that the world is a beautiful and amazing place, if the valve is open, but that social media is closing that valve.
According to Gander, the art world is dividing into two: the cognitive and the retinal. He said:
Social media only really caters for retinal art and retinal art, along with the collapsing on time (because you only have three seconds to absorb this stuff) means that you’re getting a lot of shinny stuff and unicorns and sad clown paintings and emojis. Emojis is a form of visual language, but it’s a language for babies.
Emojis are the most clichéd, narrowed down and superficial language that fails to convey the complexity inherent in art.
Gander gave an overview of the comments he receives on his Instagram, which revealed a very simplistic discourse. There is no reaction and dialogue that enables a depth of communication. As Gander observes, “Social media is great for giving information, but it’s terrible for communication, because it lacks response, it lacks time.” The artwork represented on social media does not have the same impact as when you see it live. Gander argues that we really need to safeguard quality. He ends by observing that “visual language is being condensed and people are forgetting how to look and how to approach art in a human way.”
Through her presentation Glass-Kantor outlined the many ways social media is killing art. She started by observing that social media is quite elusive to define:
Social media platforms are meant to act as spaces that form community based interactive content sharing, but […] this utopian manifesto has collapsed into a rubble of vacuous narcissism, fake news and poorly disguised advertising. Today social media not only dictates every interaction we have with one another, but it dictates the nature of our cultural consumption.
Glass-Kantor proposed seven ways social media is killing art:
- Artworks have literally been destroyed through people sitting on them and taking selfies with them.
- Trolls and online bullying is at an all time high, and 88 percent of trolls occur on Twitter. It is also a place where people’s morality is questioned, where the subtlety of an original image is destroyed when shared millions of times.
- People touch their phones on average 2,617 times a day and they cannot turn them off. Facebook is designed to be addictive. The human attention span has fallen to less than eight seconds, which is linked to smart phones and social media use. People are feeling overwhelmed by social media in every aspect of their lives.
- Artists and galleries are forced to produce an astonishing amount of social media output in order to stay up-to-date, which means they have less attention to give to art making.
- Big social media companies make money off artists’ capital, rather than creating a shared profit system.
- Social media enables and facilitates plagiarism.
- Social media skews our perceptions of reality. Our interactions with each other become inauthentic, impacting our ability to engage in meaningful dialogue. Social media can only exist as a replica, but we think it is our reality.
Glass-Kantor argues that “filters erase nuance and pictures crop context” and in this way social media is killing art.
The benefits of social media
Lisa Schiff and Aaron Seeto argued that social media in fact provides opportunities to art consumers and artists. Schiff raised several possibilities of social media, and argued that it is up to artists to reveal the conditions and nature of social media. She highlighted that each new art form challenges the old, that social media can lead to disruption and unmooring, which is not necessarily a bad thing when challenging old ways of thinking. She contended that artists can be discovered on social media, that the art businesses need to expand their vocabulary around how art is consumed and distributed on the web, recognising that the web is the site of many first encounters with an artists’ work.
Social media can impact the way people think, but that this does not have to be seen as negative, and that social media and art can interact with one another to breed hybrid forms, death is not a possibility. Interaction can be productive, but also subversive and destructive. The internet also has these characteristics, it depends how the artist works within its borders.
Seeto also argued for focusing on the benefits of social media, not just the difficulties. For example, social media provides a free platform, a place that disrupts existing paradigms of thought. He observed that to say social media kills art is to take an approach that suggests
that there was a more idyllic time to think about art, see art in a more rarefied situation, completely negating and ignoring social media’s potential to cut through the oppressiveness of social privilege, class and economy.
Seeto further observes that “art happens in all corners of the globe, and it takes all kinds of physical and nonphysical forms.” The internet is part of this ecology. Social media is open, democratic and enables communications across time zones into every corner of the globe. It is a network that creates communities of artists and allows them to communicate with one another and see their own work in different contexts. Seeto points out that “the art world is bigger and more complex than what you already think.” It is not just about the few who can make it to the big events.
There is a lot of fake news and misinformation on social media, but this is not the fault of social media itself. It is up to educators to facilitate understanding about how to find the correct information amongst the fabrications. From an educational perspective, social media also creates lists and indexes that help people find information. Through social media, our geographies morph, territories are re-inscribed and reinvented, relationships spring up on the most unexpected ways.
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- Art Basel Hong Kong Salon 2017: The Art of Publishing, Digital Media and Cultural Journalism – videos – April 2017 – Art Basel Hong Kong industry professionals gathered to discuss key issues in the art world
- The Global Gallery: Thaddaeus Ropac at Talking Galleries 2017 – video summary – March 2017 – influential gallerist Thaddaeus Ropac opened the 2017 Talking Galleries Barcelona Symposium with a call for a return to the gallery space
- 5 Asian contemporary art videos to watch on Art Radar – July 2016 – Art Radar has put together a list of 5 interesting videos and related articles on Asian contemporary art to review in Summer 2016
- “No References”: 9 Hong Kong video and new media artists – July 2016 – Art Radar profiles 9 artists from Hong Kong’s first retrospective of video and new media art at Videotage
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