Brand New Media

This post is gonna piss a lot of people off, including my girlfriend and one occasional reader from Washington State. And if it doesn’t, I won’t have done my job properly. Basically, I’m about to tell a sizeable amount of creative, hardworking, well-intentioned people that their media are useless. Understand, I do this not to provoke anger, but to provoke conversation and long contemplation. Media have shifted throughout history, and it’s about time we recognized that media have shifted again. Specifically, that modern visual art and theatre are no longer valid forms of artistic expression. They had a good run, but it’s honestly time we move on. As a form of expression, they are inadequate and useless, respectively. As forms of artistic creation, they are almost entirely bankrupt. But good news, artists and theater-lovers! Novels are on their way to where you are too! You won’t be alone in the category of “media that should have been extinct a century ago”.

I first had an inkling about this a few weeks ago when I watched a show about modern art. I forget what exactly it was, and honestly, I’ve been thinking about this since before I even began university. In Hamilton, where I live, there is a weekly event called the Art Crawl. During the Art Crawl, you go from gallery to gallery along James Street North, seeing work by different local artists. Without meaning to demean anyone in particular who has shown their work at this event, all of it, almost every single piece, has left me entirely cold. At these galleries, there is always a hushed crowd gathered around the artist, asking “what does this mean?” or “what is this supposed to say (or evoke)?” It finally hit me one day, like a sack of bricks: if you have to stand there, telling everyone who walks into your gallery exactly what your piece means for them to appreciate it, you’re an awful artist. You’re horrible. You’re bargain bin and you should never have had your work on display in public.

Theatre is the same thing from a different angle. Sure, there are gigantic touring musicals, but can we finally say what we’ve all been thinking? While they can be delightful to see, and a good performance is always good, there is little to no reason to spend thirty to forty dollars on mediocre tickets to see a bland, watered down and committee-approved version of naughtiness and bawdy behaviour. Even if everyone in the show is well-behaved, even if it’s a local production that will never tour, theatre has far less wiggle room than cinema. They can only do so many things with a captive audience before people stop paying the ridiculously inflated fees to go see their over-staged and self-inflated pap. Experimental theatre goes too far in the other direction, seeking to offend everyone so blatantly that someone still has to ask the creator (or the collective of people behind it) what it all meant.

The last time I had a transcendent experience in a movie theater was literally the last time I was in one. The last time I had an experience that was worth the inflated ticket cost to see live theatre? Blue Man Group. It was funny, it was primal, it was human, it embraced all of the changes the world has undergone since the 1960s with the enthusiasm of Devo. It rocked me to my core, despite the fact that I knew every other city with a Blue Man Group show was seeing exactly the same thing as I was. And that’s because they embraced the changing cultural and media landscape to deliver a show worthy of being seen in the 21st century. The rest of live theatre stumbles backwards in time to the era of toothpaste commercial musicals with astonishingly few teeth.

And really, that’s where I’m going with this. It’s the 21st century. What the hell are we doing? We’re clinging to live theatre and visual arts as the high-brow entertainment option, as though movies and television haven’t become art in the last fifty years. I have seen more affecting movies and television in the last month than I have seen affecting visual art or theatre in my life. Yes, when I see Kick-Ass for the fifth time, it will still be exactly the same movie and yes, when I see Into the Woods again, it has the potential to be different as it is being played live, before my eyes. So what? It won’t change. It won’t be unpredictable. The deconstruction of the fairytale that Into the Woods performs influenced no one, where Shrek created an entire subgenre of fantasy movies that’s alive and evolving to this day. The last person I’ve met aside from my girlfriend who has a visceral, gut reaction to visual art–painting, sculpture, photography–is my girlfriend. These days, even the artists are left cold by their own work.

It’s the future, and it’s time we stopped clinging to old media. Visual arts and theatre are not high class, they’re irrelevant. Sure, someone’s view of the cosmos could have changed with a sculpture a hundred years ago, but not today. If “Miracles” by Insane Clown Posse can make more people contemplate the world and its many wonders than all of your combined landscapes and photographs, put down the brush. You’re through. We have television–a medium still in its infancy sixty years after its inception. We have movies–widely recognized as art and still looked down upon by the bourgeoisie. We have the album–a format that has been explored, yes, but whose potential is still untapped in the face of digital distribution methods. We have webpages! Only a very brave few have set aside a webpage as a work of art. We have video games–now capable of interacting with their audiences in a much more direct and immediate way than sculpture can hope to achieve. We have comic books–which are sadly being referred to as “graphic novels” in a vain attempt to get them out of the “not art” ghetto.

We have so much potential in so many media that we’ve yet to explore. So let’s stop wasting buildings and money on visual arts and theatre. Next time you want to go to a gallery? Stay home and read Watchmen or the SCP Foundation wiki. Listen to Year Zero and browse through the ARG. These are very exciting times, and we need your financial and critical support to make them happen. Thank you.

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  1. Dave
    December 24, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    honestly, i agree with you completely. Its depressing how rarely any contemporary art leaves me feeling anything other than alienated. I went to study it and lost interest very quickly. Honestly video games and the internet seem like more relevant forms of cultural expression.

    However when you say modern visual art is irrelevant, thats not really anything new. Art as an acedemic body has recognized the irrelevancy of modernist visual arts since the 60’s. In fact in a round about way Andy Warhol(as much as i dont like him) made exactly the same point as you did. Art is about what matters to a culture writ large, not to a select intellectually incestuous minority. Do you modernist visual arts in the strictest sense or just all visual arts to date?

  2. December 25, 2010 at 11:39 am

    I saw Evil Dead The Musical and thought it was alot of fun. Then again, that’s the only theater play I think I’ve even watched.

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