Art has suffered of late, plague battered, furloughed and locked in corridors too narrow to distance in. Even before Covid it was spread like neon butter across endless interest attuned scrolls, our careless attention’s negative lathe, focusing it into a broadly consumable familiarity. A sort of tasteful blur that could easily sell dreams woven into ethical gym wear. It would be easy to include culture, mistaking it for Art’s crooked shadow as another casualty of the current clamor, and perhaps it is, but as Einstein observed you can’t tell the shape of the submarine you are in as it sinks to the bottom of the ocean (I paraphrase of course).
So why do we find ourselves here? Measuring worth in clicks, scrolling like Skinner’s Pigeons hoping for the elusive reward? We could blame the brands, the calcification of early advertising into the bedrock of our desires, we could blame ourselves, our own paucity of imagination seduced by the shiny dailies that prick our feeds like magpie bright fools gold. We should definitely include the platforms in our blame, those dark UX patterns summoned by the rites of weaponizing attention, the alchemy of turning awareness into gold (well click based cents). More than that I think it stems from what we have done to value. Ever since the Medici’s shuffled into the shadows of history, art has more and more mutated, from Practice, to Persona to Placeholder for value. Along the way Artisans evolved into the creative industries we have today, bartering with banks of high end brands, attempting to squeeze vision into what is always going to be tainted co-opting, even the most remarkable visions are drowned by the weight of pimping out soda. The conflation of ideologies with the organs of consumerist propaganda was never going to end well, Moores Law has just amplified the process – as one giant nameless tech company once stated, move fast and break things.. Well things are broken.
But the creative ‘industry’ doesn’t have to be this way, we do not have to be confined to the blinding ubiquitous platforms that whore our better instincts in return for distraction, hollow comfort and the leading of varied aesthetic appreciation. Berger talked about the necessity for space, how art cannot be created without that lacuna between institutions, platforms and even the creators daily existence. Space needs to be independent of the apparatus of consumption, autonomous yet connected, a universal interface with no fixed position.
Along with space, art and culture need to be able to sustain the creators, despite Modigliani famously exchanging oral favors for paint, it is unusual that great art can be created without at least a few of Maslow’s bottom rungs being built. By which I mean eating, having somewhere to sleep, possessing the tools to create. Before the behemoth of social media eclipsed our consciousness with the collapsing corridors of ‘like begets like’ and shrunk our tastes into a pleasingly marketable homogeny Artists had side gigs, the lucky ones crowbarred their practice into agencies, skimming momentum off paid projects. Still not ideal, but because all was not public and scrollable you didn’t have big brands simply lifting styles wholesale and not crediting the original creator (or if you did it was so obvious a level of outcry more tangible than six angry tweets would occur).
So we have at least two ingredients missing for Art to flourish, finance and space. This leads us nicely onto the next and maybe most pressing matter. Art needs to exist independently in the world – to be a thing in itself, not tied to the medium. The blind progress that birthed surveillance capitalism, separated us from our personal data and twisted both democracy and our senses of selves into caricatures beyond parody is coming for the real, physical very day world we live in. AR is the next battleground, this time your mind and geography are on the line. However inescapable the comforting glow of the phone feels there is still an off switch. Persistence and the AR cloud will make this off switch very hard to find.
Illust wants to create the tools that firstly give artists direct and trestles authorship of their work. Once this is established financial chains of custody can be created – a royalty system that always exists ensuring creators always benefit when work is sold (or as the current trend has – flipped on the secondary market). To address the cusping wave of AR, we are under Illust working in a 3D standard for the blockchain, a way to create a wrapper that plugs into the existing tool set be they Maya or Adobe or some home-brew lidar system. At its heart it will be similar in concept to how vectors work, describing the ‘point cloud’ and its vertices attributes, encoding the UV data, weights, materials and shine within a Smart contract system. Instead of hashing the mesh, the mesh will be in a very Kantian sense the thing and the thing itself.