In the past 50 years, the distinction between high and popular culture has broken down. Prior to the Second World War, there was a general agreement that literature, the visual arts, and classical music were more important to our culture than, say, films, comic books, or television programs. That agreement started to come apart in the 1960s, a decade that saw the rise in status of the youth movement and such popular forms as rock music. Within the art community itself, a new avant-garde began to ask whether the art of the galleries and the museums really was more important that the visual creativity all around us, even in commercial products. I will call this breakdown “the end of Art” (with a capital A). The phrase has also been evoked by art historians and philosophers such as Hans Belting and Arthur Danto.
Clearly art (with a small a) did not and has not come to an end. There are tens of thousands of artists in Europe and North America alone, more in Asia and elsewhere. What has come to an end is a consensus about the centrality of Art and Literature and their power literally to save culture. The end of this consensus predates the coming of digital media and especially of participatory (social) media. But the explosion of participatory media today leads us to ask once again: what happens after the end of Art?
Our current media culture is a plenitude in its size and diversity. Traditional media (film and television) are still influential, while in participatory digital media, more people are publishing their artifacts (texts, images, videos) than ever before. There are 600 billion Facebook pages and 152 million blogs; 35 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. In this enormous universe of media forms and artifacts, there is no cultural center, and the role of art is necessarily redefined. The traditional art communities still exist and even thrive, yet they have become “special interests”: they cannot define a culture which has no center. Or, rather everyone is or can be an artist by participating in any of a range of diverse media practices. In this sense, social media today may be realizing (and at the same time rendering irrelevant) the dream of the historical avant-garde: to make the practice of everyday life into art.
The video documentation of Jay Bolter’s keynote speech the digital plenitute and the end of Art at ISEA2011 is available online in five parts. Please click on the the following links for Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.
- Jay David Bolter (born 1951) is Director of the Wesley New Media Center and Wesley Chair of New Media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA. He is the author of Turing’s Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age (1984); Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing, (1991; second edition 2001); Remediation (1999), with Richard Grusin; and Windows and Mirrors (2003), with Diane Gromala. In addition to writing about new media, Bolter collaborates in the construction of new digital media forms. With Michael Joyce, he created Storyspace, a hypertext authoring system. With the AEL collaborators at Georgia Tech, he is helping to build Augmented Reality (AR) and mobile technology systems to stage dramatic and narrative experiences for art, entertainment and informal education. He is currently working with colleagues at Georgia Tech on the theory and practice of performance in digital environments.