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Sunday, April 8, 2007 -- 12:38 pm

I think we've all noticed at this point that there's precious little content on the web that's been generated by anyone else. (And this particular post, I acknowledge, does nothing to remedy that problem.) There's news and political commentary, where content is supplied by the world around us and doesn't require much in the way of research -- it's really just observation and reaction. And there's the occasional thoughtful person who records interesting reflections regularly. And, of course, there are those people, mostly pornographers as far as I can tell but a few others as well, who have found provide "meaningful" content as a business model. But by and large, "user-generated content" on the internet consists of little more than tedious and insipid diary entries. This is probably not surprising, though I do find it alarming that in recent years the media have started to conform, more and more, to this format of providing less and less meaningful content (which is expensive), but packaging it more palatably so no one notices that they actually know less after reading the article than they did before.

I'm not sure what there is to remedy the problem. Clearly there are limits to our individual intelligence, creativity, talent, and resources, includings limits to the amount of time and effort any one of us can invest in a project that just doesn't pay, and leaves us at the mercy of the plagiarists. Nor would it be sensible to limit access to the internet to those bureaucratically deemed to be "deserving"; there'd be no surer way to kill it. Perhaps we can only hope for better search engines, that will be that much more efficient at finding the needle in an ever-growing haystack of drivel and gibberish.

Sunday, April 8, 2007 -- 9:57 am

A trip to the museum yesterday got me thinking. The artists were the contemporary, conceptual sort. One (Gordon Matta-Clark) chopped holes in buildings with a chainsaw, and his oeuvre consisted of the photo-documentation he collected of these architectural vivisections, including interesting photographic collages. The other (Lorna Simpson) works in less tangible media, including simulcast movies, photographs juxtaposed with jumbled lists of adjectives, and collages excerpting a single recurring expressive feature (hands, vases) from a series of otherwise disparate (and presumably existing) works.

None of this sits well with my aesthetic sensibilities, but I have taken to heart Schönberg's dictum that "Art is not about making people comfortable," or words to that effect. And presumably these artists will inspire more receptive and fertile imaginations than mine. I wouldn't presume to critique their efforts here, although they were, I think, not entirely accessible to us unwashed sorts.

What I especially found myself thinking about was the economics of it all. Artists have always needed patrons, be they governments, religious establishments, or wealthy private citizens. Some, these days, I expect would gravitate toward the shelter of academia, but there isn't room for all of them there, and the rest depend on politics and their wits to survive. And further, it's hard to say how artists working in these media would be able to attract patrons in the first place. Their work is decidedly individual and non-propagandistic, and I struggle to see how any medieval (or corporate) patron could find its reputation magnified by the artists' efforts, either directly or indirectly.

A sensible person, then, would probably opt against this sort of career, in favor of something duller and, perhaps, more comfortable. (Though as someone who tells himself that his current employment is only a temporary affair, until his masterpiece is perfected, I must say that my job, while materially comfortable, is a constant source of anxiety.) What prompts them to choose otherwise? Upbringing? Can someone really have so much confidence in their vision (a vision that involves carving up abandoned buildings, no less) that they're willing to blaze a trail that may end up leading nowhere, or at best may not be followed in their lifetime? Clearly some people do. It's a curious leap of faith.