Posted by: Andrew | April 30, 2008

The Web: artists made here

At the San Francisco International Film Festival this week, I had the pleasure of viewing 1,000 Journals, a film directed by Andrea Kreuzhage about an artist who frees a thousand blank journals into the world as an inspired community arts project.

During a Q&A after the film the artist, who goes by the alias Someguy, admitted that the project never would have reached its scope without the Internet as a medium for people to trade and view colorful scans of journals.

One of the most appealing aspects of the piece was seeing the diversity and flamboyance of the many journals the film’s subjects had populated with collage, prose and verse, photographs, drawings and paintings. Just as striking is the lasting impression the film has left on thousands of people across the world, who have now launched their own project, dubbed 1,001 journals, to continue what Someguy began. In sum, they formed an online artistic community. This is one of the finest examples of a social network I can recall seeing, as it hatched from necessity: the circles that have grown up around each journal are often wide, its members separated by thousands of miles. Only through the Web could the timeless art form of journaling have swelled to such a scale over a very brief period of time. The marriage of classic art forms and digital communication validates the Web 2.0 network we have created.

It also got me thinking: Why do ancient modes such as poetry, narrative and visual expression endure? Anti-utopian visions of human development have always portrayed the future as cold, sterile, and devoid of beauty and techné (although brimming with technology, to be sure). But over the past decade the Web has enabled a wider swathe of the community to access and create art, be it visual, musical, lyrical, etc. Remember the state of the music scene in 1999? That period to me is awash in corporatized megapop about as artful as a can of Pepsi (am I summoning the ghost of past sponsorships?) But thanks to the Web, bands that never would have gained 100 listeners can now build small armis of adoring fans through the long-tail distribution and online marketing tactics (think MySpace, iMeem, RCRDLBL, Mog and last.fm). It might mean fewer artists hit it big with multi-million dollar deals and appearances on MTV Cribs, but it also means that more people than before will be able to eke out a healthy income from their art. All in all, the Web has crated a more equitable distribution of wealth throughout the artistic community, fostering the kinds of connections between people that give artists broader exposure and more direct access to their audience. But it doesn’t stop there: as Someguy says, “This is an experiment and you are part of it.” The Web hasn’t just closed the gap between artist and audience, it has create artists out of all of us, even the ones who never would have considered themselves artists. Would the journalists of Someguy’s film have found their creative notes without the power of the Web? My guess is, probably not. The Web creates a collaborative atmosphere of ideas, with bits of knowledge flying across a void that once seemed so much larger.

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