Joseph Beuys famously declared on a number of occasions in the 1970s that ‘Every human being is an artist.’
I wonder what he would say in 2017? I think he’d say the same thing. Everyone is an artist. Oh yes indeed, everyone really is an artist.
Or, at least, I would modify that with: everyone can be an artist. Creativity is in everyone, I feel. What distinguishes those who make it their life’s work and those that don’t are different levels of drive to get the creativity out. As someone who seems to be trying to make art her life’s work at the moment I feel that desperate drive to get it out almost every day of my life.
However, that hasn’t always been the case with me. From the time I went to university in 1990 until a few years after I had had my first child (around 2006) I didn’t do much that could be described as creative. I studied my degree (economics and politics), I worked for a locksmith, I taught English in Japan, I was a temp for six months, I worked in academic reference publishing and then I had babies. During those years I didn’t do much beyond doodling in meetings and a one-week painting course at Oxford College. So I have been the artist who both has the urge to create all the time, every day, and who has previously suppressed it for the greater desire to get educated (in a subject other than fine art), earn money and look after small humans.
I firmly believe that there is no difference between me now (someone studying for an MA in art who creates something every day and shows the world via social media) and me then (someone who doodled occasionally and didn’t show anyone anything). I’m the same person. I have the same urges (I’ve just allowing myself to follow them now). So is everyone like me?
Earlier this week I created a a-minute-of-my-life video and challenged friends on Facebook to create their own and post online (this is my attempt). I had about six responses, which wasn’t quite as many as I had hoped, but they were all different, creative, quirky and artistic. It might not have been many but it was still six responses which proved to me that I could encourage creativity out of people who would not describe themselves as artists necessarily and who might not have otherwise pursued anything creative on that day.
I’ve recently read a book by Gregory Sholette called Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture which talks about the huge amount of art activity that takes place beyond the art institutional world (art schools, art galleries and the like). I see on social media that most of this so-called ‘dark matter’ exists there (and indeed there is more beyond social media). I see it in the people I know, the people I am friends with or related to and by assumption the people they know, the people they are friends with or related to and so on and so on. It spirals outwards. I like the analogy used by this book of ‘dark matter’ because like ‘dark matter’ in the science sense we know it exists, yet we cannot quantify it.
Another observation I have about this art by ‘everyone’ is how transient it is compared to most of the art seen in the art institution world. Instagram is littered with very creative and thought-provoking images and videos many of which have that elusive essence that all artists want to portray, yet they appear, they are ‘liked’ and then, they are gone, out in the ether of the virtual archives in computer and server land.
I love scrolling through Instagram and Facebook and seeing the comments, quotes, poetic words, images, videos and ideas of ordinary people. They move me. They inspire me. They inform my own art practice. The world is saturated with creativity and artistic activity (saturated in a good way). I love the virtual world for that.
Duchamp’s famous Fountain ‘artwork’ had a revolutionary impact on the notion of what an artist is in the early 20th century (an artist changed from a skilled practitioner to anyone with a concept and the means to display it with or without skill). Could we argue that Instagram and Facebook have had a similarly revolutionary effect now? Have they enabled the mes from 1990-2006 to find channels for their creativity that perhaps didn’t exist prior to 2006? So not only can anyone be an artist in the art institution world, anyone can be an artist anywhere now?
Surely this ‘dark matter’ on the internet is the new avant garde, is it not? I would argue that it is as revolutionary as Duchamp and his urinal. Peter Burger, the author of The Theory of the Avant Garde, who argued that the historic avant garde was unique and ultimately doomed to fail in its aim to subsume art into the ‘praxis’ of life should take note here (except the fact that he is no longer with us): social media has successfully subsumed art into the praxis of life. Or at least I think so. The historical avant garde has been successfully replicated and will continue to thrive. This avant garde hasn’t yet been adopted by the art institution or bourgeois society, so it is working, is it not? It is both art ‘ahead of the rest’ and art integrated – just like the dictionary definition of ‘avant garde’.
It has, in my opinion, created an avant garde revolution, just so with gradual splash rather than a sudden big bang. The dark matter is there, it is huge, it will continue to grow.
Walter Benjamin might pipe up at this juncture and say something along the lines of ‘well, this is all well and good but do these virtual arworks you see have the aura that original art has?’ I think I need to leave that debate for another blog entry. Watch this space.