Introduction by Roger Reynolds to the SEARCH Project.
Read introduction to Barrière's talk by Rand Steiger
It is the nature of the society in which we want to live,
that is in question.
SEARCH EVENT II, 16 February 2001, University of California, San Diego
The following TEXT was commissioned by the Composition Area,
Department of Music, University of California, San Diego for its SEARCH
initiative. The TEXT / TALK is copyrighted and appears in its original presentation
here. While links TO this TEXT or recording from other sites are welcome, no part of this TEXT may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic storage or retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the copyright holders [Please contact Roger Reynolds: email@example.com to facilitate this.].
What will be the future of music ? When considering this question, many approaches are tempting. Many of these would be elusive, more or less sophisticated strategies to avoid the question. One strong temptation would be to try to avoid the burden of such a task by refusing it, refusing the question as it is asked. After all, one could argue that it requires a fantastic arrogance, or at least an enormous presumptuousness, to pretend to answer the question.
In fact, it would be quite legitimate, but far too easy, to refuse the challenge and to pretend that there will simply be no future. Another temptation would be to set up a happening, to transform as a show the staging of an impossible answer to this impossible question. Let us then imagine that the voice of the speaker would progressively be transformed, as well as his image morphosed, but only at some precise moments, in a very subtle way that would prevent you from being totally sure about what he is saying, and therefore making even more impossible the understanding of his answer to the question. It would be a parable about communication in the future, distorted by an increasingly overwhelming number of communication technologies, and all the while with people having less and less to say to each other.
I must admit than I am really attracted by this form, which would mean transforming the answer into a multimedia piece that might have been called : "The Adventures of Cassandra in the Wonderland of Techno-Science and Art".
But besides the unrealistic amount of work that this would represent, this would be another strategy for refusing an answer. I would like today to accept the challenge, knowing that there is no way to succeed in fulfilling the contract anyway. I will do it with my "bare hands", that is to say without artefacts or mise en scène. I would like to conceive of it as a subject for mutual reflection, under the more conventional but hopefully still effective form of a talk, that may use the structure of a rhizomatic scenario, or, if you prefer, a series of considerations or aphorisms concerning only a few of the very many issues that the question may imply.
This form, I hope, should not exclude all sorts of possibilities of distantiation (in a kind of Brechtian sense) with our aim, as well as with the peculiar situation that we accepted to put ourselves in, while thinking about such subject matter. And it should not exclude humor. There is no doubt that this is a very heavy subject. Let us, therefore, try to say serious things with a little bit of humor. This could take place in the form of a character, a little girl called Cassandra, who reads a little bit too much science-fiction, and who has the bad habit of interjecting unpleasant things that we may not want to hear, as we follow her train of thought.
Enough of formal consideration and disgression, let us step inside the heart of the discussion.
...Cassandra considers active nihilism...
Will there be a future for music ? Who knows ? Nothing can be said for sure. But let us consider just for a moment that there is a serious possibility, actually several possibilities, that there would be no future for music, at least as we know it today.
Art, as generally considered in Western societies today, can be considered a middle-class concept inherited from the Romantic Era. There have been many other conceptions of art in the past, and there will be many others in the future. Even today, in Asia, and Africa, though we tend to forget it – or to consider that we have nothing to do or share with them – there are others, very much alive. Another conception, under Soviet ideology, was in place during most of the 20th century. As with many other issues, it has given way today to the total victory of what can still be called Capitalism, for lack of a better term, and therefore to another conception of art – market-driven art as entertainment – which is the dominant conception all over the world. Let us be clear, liberalism has won everywhere, and what we call socialism, for instance in France, is nothing other than a mild form of liberalism, a "liberalism lite", and the most lucid ideologists of this movement call themselves "social liberals". In this model, art is a business like any other. It can be a good or a bad business. Good art, by immanent market necessity, should be good business. Bad art, by way of its consequences, is bad business. Exceptions are just accidents that can be explained away as the result of the wrong marketing strategies.
Do we have to accept this vision, and the cultural and economic consequences of it ? We can, as do most members of the cultivated middle class with political and economic power today all over the world. But we should not. Artists, have another vision of the world to defend. Art is or should be formative, "world-making" (to echo on the reflections of Nelson Goodman). There is, in fact, nothing nearer to politics. The artist's responsibility may be considered in some ways less risky than the politicians'. But he still has responsibilities to handle, things to fight for, beyond just money-making and survival.
André Malraux, the writer and cultural thinker, has said that civilizations have to learn that they are mortal. Art, and music specifically among the arts, because it is the most abstract and therefore irreductible form of art, has to learn a similar lesson.
So why exactly should we fear the possibility that art could vanish? There are several clear and present dangers.
The first is the process of deculturation. We hear globalization spoken of all the time, its values and its risks. This is indeed a very important phenomenon, which has positive effects, and at the same time very dramatic ones. Another global phenomenon, somehow linked but also not necessarily correlated, is deculturation. We would have a hard time finding positive sides to it. It is the process by which a society loses its culture. It used to happen for displaced groups, moving from agrarian contexts to cities. It happens today inside cities, with the formation of ghettos. One of the paradoxes is that these ghettos often happen in order to protect a cultural identity, which for good or bad is thought to be at stake.
Losing culture through deculturation is like losing memory. Without memory, one cannot develop and grow.
What does this mean for us from a musical standpoint ? That we have to consider art and music history through a learning process that includes a critical (and not simply a blind) apprenticeship, that provides us with tools to understand not only techniques, but also their artistic meaning through their uses. And because everything is tied together, we need to understand the "structure that links" all these things (cf. Gregory Bateson : Mind and Nature – A Necessary Unity, Bantam Books, 1980), which ideally means that a musician should also be acquainted with anthropology, as well as with sociology, and all possible other disciplines necessary to understand the linkages of the cultural network in which music is embedded.
One important issue that underlies this argument and arises here is this : to live and exist together we have to share values. And culture can be considered as a way to share them, besides being a way to develop and test them. In this vision, culture is therefore an experimental laboratory for values. That is why it is an important social and political activity that imples a consciousness of all the ramifications of the context in which it unfolds. Musicians have a responsibility to protect musical culture, in all its forms, and at the same time to make it progress, to develop it, to drive it to new paths without losing their points of departure. This is a task that they cannot achieve without taking on the responsibility of memories. Here is the important apparent contradiction that they have to overcome : memory is or can be a burden. They have to build on it, by learning to be free of it. It is something to forget, just for a moment, rather than not to know in the first place.
But let us try to be more specific. What are the exact dangers that music is exposed to ? Let us discuss just a few.
Computer programming technologies and methodologies, like "artificial life", or "genetic algorithms", are – or will be in the near future – one of the tools of creation. They offer fantastic artistic potentialities. But like any tool, they can be misused. Soon, "automatic music" will be everywhere. It will replace Muzak. All of the so-called utilitarian forms of music – for elevators, waiting zones, commercial malls, social spaces, bars and restaurants – can become automatically generated music. It is a field, but also a market, that will explode very soon. Radios will have channels dedicated to "generated music", that is music whose sound and structure both will be synthesized and self-generated, and that will be more or less sophisticated. It will also become adaptative : thanks to technologies such as neural nets, intelligent agents, and, later, more elaborate processes, it will analyse your taste as well as your mood and will produce music to satisfy your supposed needs at a specific moment. In Hollywood and elsewhere, synthetic means will be used first to produce musical arrangements, and then progressively to compose the entire music for a film or other audiovisual product. The directors and producers will just have to give instructions concerning the "feeling", the "mood" they want for the specific context of a scene or part of a film, and the generators will compose accordingly. They will even be able to replicate a given musical example and develop it tirelessly. These new forms of synthesizers, capable of generating and therefore replacing both the score and the instruments, will never complain, or strike, and they will be cheap.
What has already been happening with samplers – which in many musical situations have replaced instrumentalists, causing some to be unemployed – will happen with music "generativity", that is the automatic generation of musical structures, by explicit (specified by a human) or implicit (self-implied by analysis) rules of composition.
I will not even take the time to try to argue if this is good or bad. One sure thing, is that it will happen. It already is happening. Composers will have to adapt. Some will provide the generative engine-makers with data and knowledge and will make their living from it. Only a few will succeed in surviving on the side, and even fewer will be able to develop artistically. But was not it always the case ? Is this a catastrophic scenario ? No, it is going to happen just like that. So what should we do about it? Once again, we have to be very conscious of it ; we have to anticipate it by contributing to its development so that we can partly control it.
We must develop the antidote for this poison which is going to contaminate the whole of society. We have to assume the responsibility for balance, for equilibrium ; in order to do so we will have to proceed with what researchers in systems theory and systems thinking are calling ago-antagonism (cf. E. Bernard-Weil, Précis de Systémique Ago-Antagoniste and Limonest, L'interdisciplinaire, 1988 ; for a presentation in English of related works, see : E. Bernard-Weil : Management of Chaotic Systems with the Model for the Regulation of Agonistic Antagonistic Couples and Proceedings of Information Processing and Management of Uncertainty, 1990, 498-507).
We must participate in the process of developing automatically-generated music, in order to be able to influence its objectives. Is this playing the sorcerer's apprentice ? Maybe. But we have no other choice. It is our only opportunity to make it a partially positive process. We have at the same time to establish some form of generative music ethics, in a very similar way that biological research may need to be controlled by ethics.
But we also have to stop obsessively seeing conspiracies everywhere, a syndrome that nourishes science-fiction, but also applies to real life. We have to try to be more constructive and transform a lucid awareness of potential dangers into something creative, not fall into paranoia. Generativity in music, which after all is at the very origin of computer music (cf. the works of Lejaren Hiller), may also be very positive, if handled properly.
...Cassandra attempts to "think positively"...
What are the ideas we have to defend, or, rather, to promote, to insure the future of music ? The importance of research, of collaborative efforts, the necessity of centralizing problems to decentralize solutions, is to sum it up in a formula, to "say what we do and do what we say". Too many composers are hiding their "recipes". We should always publish our recipes. One of the things we have to retain from modernism, is that we have to conceptualize what it is exactly that we are doing, or at least trying to do.
...Cassandra visits the psychoanalyst...
One positive, even if also dangerous, side of computer aids to composition is certainly the "mirror effect". Formalizing one's own composition techniques is exteriorizing them (making explicit what is usually implicit and even sometimes hidden), allowing one to achieve a distanced perspective in which everything becomes possible. It can be dangerous when we are weak, and get lost in critical loops. It can become sick if we harbor illusions about the power that this may represent as an instrument for dominating others. But it can also become very fertile in allowing others to evolve by developing their own analytical and critical abilities and turning them inward. Computer-aided composition – as a broader template including generativity – is also a fantastic educational tool : with extensive, embedded knowledge, one is allowed to play with all sorts of styles and techniques, to learn about form by experimenting with structural models, etc.
And it can be a very important tool for developing originality, while making one more conscious of similarities and differences. Generally speaking, it can help us by making us more conscious about the meaning of what we do.
...cassandra explores synthesis...
The future of music will also be found in synthesis. Sound synthesis is, these days, very paradoxically – at least if we consider its unused potential – considered "out". It remains, to my feeling. tragically undeveloped. After fantastic progress between the 60s and the 80s, developments have nearly ceased today. Not that there are no interesting developments. There are plenty everywhere. But synthesis is not valued as it should be by composers : they do not invest enough time, investigate enough its potentialities. Besides, it resists industrial packaging and exploitation: too complex to use, too difficult to imagine what to do with. It remains the unknown continent, where so many pioneering discoveries are left to encounter.
Here, too, musicians have their role to play. Not only composers but instrumentalists as well. They must engage themselves deeply in this endeavour. An extensive contribution from performers to the physical modeling of traditional instruments, for instance, would cause the field to expand tremendously. And the interest and validation of composers will help to provide the right control formalisms. Their absence is deadly today, causing most of the existing tools to be unusable for musical purposes. Synthesis, like so many other aspects of computer music, should not be left to engineers alone. There was a time, not so long ago, when musicians had to become programmers to be able to make computer music. Today, one expects music software to be as standardized as the instrumentation of cars : you should be able to open them up and drive immediately without even noticing the brand and model, and more specifically without knowing at all how they work.
But there are obvious dangers in the progressive standardization that is occurring in computer music. We must fight to maintain an understanding of how things work. More generally, we must fight to preserve computer music tools that are as open as possible, and the same goes for computer tools in general.
That is why computer music programs, which are toolboxes or languages rather than packaged applications – software environments such as Max, PD, Patchwork, Open Music and others – have to be preserved and encouraged. The future of music depends on our ability to resist standardization and give appropriate artistic and aesthetic answers to these needs.
One should not have to choose : as in front of the window of a ice-cream shop, one should be able to look at all the flavors, and make freely his or her own combination. Which supposes, to push the metaphor to its limits, that one knows what these flavors are, how they are made ; which ultimately means keeping the possibility to go back home and to do it yourself, reconstructing it with the recipe, or possibly inventing a new one. In our domain, this implies fighting for and preserving knowledge and openness. It is said that a child needs to taste a flavor 600 times in order to categorize it, to put it in his conceptual map. So it requires a tremendous amount of time to learn, master and explore. But pushing for sound synthesis should never be opposed to, for instance, sound processing. The future will proceed by searching for continuity between all sonic materials, as well as between the various dimensions of our cultures. All forms of sounds and musics will be unified in a continuity, which should not be a chaos but a network where everything is linked.
The sonic materials of music that instruments and voices can represent constitute an accomplishment that has taken several centuries, even several millennia, within a culture which proceeded with a slow maturation, a natural selection of some details rather than others, and in which everything makes sense. The cultural – "acculturated" – ear is fascinated by these non-explicit constraints that underlie our artistic practice.
Even if one wishes to reject the stratification, the sedimentation of culture, it is not possible to ignore it totally ; any attitude of refusal still positions itself as a reflection, even a negative, of what it is refusing. It is in this sense that one can come to conceive that there is, in any artistic approach, a cognitive enterprise that ignores itself, the search for an absent structure – deep, hidden – that the artist, with other means than the scientific researcher, is trying to exhume, to exhibit. So any approach to sound synthesis by computer must construct itself in continuity with collective memory, in a dialectical movement between memory and creation, tradition and invention.
This is what justifies the use of simulation as a methodology for the comprehension of musical phenomena. Simulation can be seen as a "mimesis", whose remarkable property – distinctive when compared to pure and simple imitation – is to make available in the computer, for the artist, a body of knowledge in perpetual evolution. This applies even more specifically to the part of knowledge which is ususally left implicit by a lack of adequate tools for its formalization. This knowledge once made available – precisely thanks to the unique tool of formalization that the computer represents – the artist can in turn reconsider it, build on it, develop it, enrich it with new meanings, adding to it his own creative potential.
This approach also allows one to re-establish from inside composition, hierarchies, orders of importance, which are sometimes confused in the cultural process of sedimentation : such arbitrariness makes room for a logic of continuity in the creative process. The artist can indeed, if he desires it, control all the phases of creation, be all at once the instrument-maker, the composer, and the instrumentalist.
However, this mastering of the totality of the creative process can end up in an embarrassing freedom : the composer is not prepared for it by its training, and he can fail to take into account all of its consequences, or lose himself (or herself) in technological detours, having started with a tool whose fascinating complexity can be the worst of mirages. He can be obsessed with mastering an instrument which he has not completed, because he has not succeeded in giving necessity to its use in a work. Novelty is never, as such, a significant criterion in artistic production ; it can not be confused with progress. For that consists in an accumulation process which starts from foundations constantly re-evaluated and rebuilt. Novelty taken as a value condemns discourse to the sterility of merchandise, quickly produced, quickly consumed.
The composer who turns himself towards the computer, as is true with any other artist, will only find in synthesis what he has brought to it, and, in any case, know answers to questions that he will not have previously and correctly asked. There can, of course, be meetings, that is, true vocations that realize themselves only in the presence of the tool itself, but these events are very rare, and they cannot be used to deduce any generality.
...Cassandra gets haptic and becomes interactive...
The future of music comes about through the exploration of new instruments, as well as by the extension of traditional ones, and the former is a field that has been too much neglected up to now. Transducers, gestural interfaces, have to be put in the hands of interpreters ; players have to be associated with the heart of this research in order that it benefit from their incomparable knowledge. The aim should not be the demagogy of pretending to make everybody a musician, but rather to extend musicianship. We have to build on musical knowledge (which is an infinite resource) rather than to rely only on engineering, as though there were not already a musical culture.
Interactivity will also be a central part of the future of music. As television has been for the most part lost as an educational tool, and is now used as a leisure and entertainment device, interactivity as it is being used today is, unfortunately, most highly developed in so-called video games. There are enormous musical possibilities at stake here, and they should not be investigated uniquely within the domain of games. Meanwhile, musicians should not abandon this domain, but should rather help games to become more knowledge-development oriented, rather than purely mindless entertainment. This would then offer interesting creative perspectives.
The future of music will develop through a reconsideration of the interaction with scientists which has been one the most disappointing promises of the 20th century. But the future of music should reside, more than ever in the past, in the exploration of new forms – for instance, through confrontation and collaboration between artists from all domains – all sorts of forms, and in particular the exploration of interaction between images and music.
One should refuse purely illustrative uses of music, which put it again and again in a utilitarian role, but, rather, accept participation and contribution in all kinds of works that are forged according to a master plan where the target is meaningful, and/or the experience educative. One of these forms is installation.
Rather than assembling a more or less complex set up of devices, technical, media-oriented and/or aesthetic, the object of an installation, in order to be relevant in the field of art, could consist in instantiating a sensible reflection on the very nature of this activity, even beyond art as it is today. And, a fortiori, if an installation proceeds from a premise of interactivity, it should be assembled and operate as a reflection on the interaction between the artificial and the real, at the very moment of the triumph of the virtual.
Such an approach, both self-referential and trans-referential, should proceed in a sensible, if not sensual manner. Discourse of/on art does not imply sterility, necessarily. And the lost innocence of art conditions this auto-reference, this auto-critique.
This is, then, about establishing an interrogation, staged through artistic practice, through a form that should be sensed, experimented with, and assessed also (but not only) as the enunciation of an aesthetic as well as an ethical project : a statement on the state of things, on our relationship with a reality more or less "mediatized". This should be done without falling into the traps of making a user's manual or an argumentative caricature of a didactic or a politically mediocre art.
In the disorder of contemporary art – so disturbing for those who cannot think without the aid of categories – such an enterprise, out of the norm, looks particularly ambitious and even pretentious, and is probably bound to fail. But it still appears valid, and could even reveal itself to be healthy. Even more, when installations use new technologies, these have too often, unfortunately, the function of obscuring rather than clarifying, through their own self-justifying, self-installing, self-sufficient ideologies.
A part of the aesthetic challenge today – in opposition to the excesses of certain conceptual art in its technological variety – consists in taking the risk of "stating what it is that one is making" while taking responsibility for "making what it is that one has stated one will". We must not fall into the trap of the programmatic art form, or get disillusioned by the effects of such rhetoric : the audience is the only judge, and the sensible experience that he/she has lived will be the only determining one at the moment of the artistic judgment, the only one which counts in this domain, no matter to what degree the discourse alone may be convincing. The issue is definitively not achieving a technical "tour de force", or even a simple technological demonstration. It is rather about shaping technical procedures to the service of sensible experience, carrying out interrogations on the nature of these and on the ways they change our perceptions, our relationship to the world.
I want to encourage the deliberate adoption of more simple technologies (and consequently more affordable and hopefully more masterable ones) than those used today in the best virtual reality systems (those that allow quasi-perfection in simulation and image synthesis). Projects could even show a lack of interest in purely technological performance, insisting on the use of technology to serve an expressive purpose, one which arises out of staging the potential dangers of virtuality (especially of the manipulation of an individual's image or voice, and consequently of some attributes of this individual's identity).
The aesthetic form chosen could aim clearly at provoking, without arousing confusion : on the contrary, it could provoke a personal reflection which itself could elaborate, for instance, on the troubling experience of encountering altered instances of one's own image and voice. This is, in a very modest way, what I have tried to explore in my cycle Reality Checks.
There should be no fascination with the occult, the dark side of technology, toward which our civilization, today, is looking for comfort, desperately searching for values and spirituality. Much to the contrary, we should be reversing these sick, compulsive devices, these contemporary clichés and, while doing so, we should nourish our work from them, as the operatic form has nourished itself from archetypes in order to better transcend them, in order to undertake a true aesthetic interrogation. Once again, without losing track of the primordial exigence of the sensual experience (versus the conceptual background) of the work.
Because works of art that use new technologies too often have a tendency to devolve into new avatars of conceptual art as I underlined earlier, a program itself can become self-sufficient, devaluing even the necessity of a realization.
Also, the interest of interactivity is not in whatever demagogic illusion might convert the audience into a creator, by whatever means, and at no artistic or personal cost. It is more about realizing a form of electronic palimpsest : where each participant contributes by inscribing his own comment onto a collective work in a perpetual becoming, by exploring his own image, by revealing the "frightening foreignness" of its possible electronic transformations.
And by installing the interactive work in its function as mirror : the giver of reflections. The aim and the process are the same : a confrontation of virtual and real worlds.
Electronic devices for sound and video capture are not simply recorders ; they modify reality. Not only do they send back images to us – literally and metaphorically – but they allow us, even force us, to get some distance from them, and therefore also allow us the possibility of taking up a new position in relation to them.
At such a distance everything becomes possible : introspection or fear, auto satisfaction, amusement or painful questioning. An extreme case is the one in which we are confronted by our own image, our own voice. These devices then become objective and subjective analyzers at the same time.
Reality Checks is a series of integral – that is, they mix images and sounds – interactive pieces, where the spectator is confronted with his own image (precisely with representations of his own appearance and voice) and has to interpret it.
He is exposed to situations where the image of himself is subject to a progressive drift that he can control – but only partly, since the images have their own inexorable life that reminds him of the powers of a hidden order, one beyond appearances, which therefore establishes that all images demand interpretation.
Interactivity becomes the vector of interpretation : by exploring a space, one constructs his own interpretation of the reality to which he is exposed. A self-portrait can then become a process of revelation, serious or playful according to the perspective that each person chooses to give it.
Reality Checks attempts to be both a philosophical and artistic experience, using the new interactive computer technologies for image and sound processing to revisit and question the canonic forms – as, in this case, the self-portrait – by questioning the status of reality and representation, as well as the question of virtuality.
The Reality Checks series is a collection of virtual reality pieces about the increasingly, mutually dependent status of reality and virtuality, how they interact, how they eventually conflict with each other.
They are meant to be intimate experiences, living parables concerned with our changing relationships to objects – as well as with ourselves – questioning our present and future in a world where the border between them may tend to vanish, leaving us with even more questions about our identities.
...Cassandra discovers Adorno...
Art is a mimetic behaviour that, to objectivate itself, uses the most advanced rationality -- in terms of mastering materials and technical procedures. By means of this contradiction, this behavior responds to the contradiction of reason itself. If the goal of the rationality was an accomplishment necessarily non-rational in itself – happiness is the enemy of rationality, an end, but still needs it as a means – art would integrate this irrational telos. It uses for this purpose a limitless rationality in all its different procedures, while in the so-called technical world, it stays itself irrational, a prisoner of production relations. Art is mediocre in technological times when it makes an illusion of it, by presenting itself as the social and universal mediation.
Theodor W. Adorno : Äesthetische Theorie, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970. [My translation into English.]
These considerations should not be forgotten when we are urged again and again to reduce art to technical demonstrations, or when we may tend to overemphasize the role of technology in our work, for instance for publicity purposes.
This establishes also, again and again, the place of criticism, including self-criticism ; the quest for meaning ; the search for values that art should retain or recover again. Because the 60s wanted to get rid of oppressive values (mostly the values which had lost meaning), they destroyed most values. Value is by default, therefore, the market, and the processes that enforce it are social and cultural Darwinism. We need to re-establish values in a time of deculturation. Our responsibility is to transform deculturation into acculturation, that is, into a learning process. We have to find or to help to find the "structure that links" (cf. Bateson, above).
What is it that we might find interesting in techno ? Or in any other form of music, especially in that which we find problematic ? This may be a Judeo-Christian relic, but nevermind. It is a valid attitude, because it helps to establish the links between us, and within us.
Search for values, all sorts of values : rational values, emotional values, in any case, personal values, which you can, however, share with others.
Learn from scientific metholodogies. For instance : learn from mistakes. Accept criticism. Accept error. Transform error, or chance, into gold.
Being concerned with the future of music also implies fighting for redefining the social status of the artist, as well as the social role of the artist.
Ambitious artistic works using new technologies are prisoners today of an infernal logic which limits them either to "puttering", because of a lack of means or a lack of the mastering of means, or to the production of demonstrations whose value is a mere justification of technology. So they are mired in technological propaganda or in communicational agitation, rather than being true works of art.
It is about time that we bring to maturity what can be conceived of as an emerging art : digital art. And this maturation should proceed, in a slightly paradoxical way, from the desacralization of technology, through apprehending the correct measure of its contribution to artistic creation. Digital art will only take its place in the world of art when it is recognized as art in a more general sense ; therefore, when its specificity is accepted not anymore as foreignness but as identity, as significant difference -- when it is able to forget, therefore, technology as such and to concentrate on expression. To reach this aim, it is necessary to conceive and realize a collective and global agreement regarding objectives : from training to research, from production to diffusion.
Obstacles that prevent this development are numerous. To start with, there is the widespread demagogy that pretends that anybody can become an artist with and thanks to a PC. All the problems of art will be handled, including the economic ones : there will be no more reason to pay artists for their art since everyone would become an artist thanks to technology. This vision will be used – as a matter of fact, is already used – also as a pretext for the disengagement of governments from art : since making art costs nothing, or nearly nothing, why should they give money to artists ?
But since everybody is an artist, nobody is anymore. The end of art – after the end of history.
In this cultural model, dominated by a form of economic logic, everybody becomes a consumer of art technology rather than being an artist. This has to be interpreted, of course, in the context of the installation of the new economy, of the mutation of material goods towards immaterial ones, services (cf. Jeremy Rifkin : The Age of Access : The New Culture of Hypercapitalism, Where all of Life is a Paid-For Experience, Tarcher/Putnam, 2001).
However, soon, it is the existence of art itself which is threatened. It would be wrong to just consider that rejecting this vision of things is nothing more than a corporate reaction of artists afraid of losing their prerogatives and seeing their existence threatened. There is much more to it than just protecting artists : protecting art (and, beyond, a vision of culture and society) that may altogether vanish with them.
Multimedia creation, accessible to all, is for most people exemplified by the techno movement, and considered as an artistic experience sometimes, seemingly, as valuable as many of those that are produced by artists stuck in academic prisons, not even knowing how to evaluate themselves.
But, more often, such creation is unhappily limited, closed in on itself, lacking references, ignoring art history as well as the established techniques which constitute the apprenticeship of the artist's profession. It deprives itself of the possibility of putting its own product into perspective, of evolving by building on the foundations of a heritage which rather than being a burden can allow an analytical and critical dimension to develop.
The true artistic aims of today and tomorrow demand long and complex training, as much technical as artistic. The profession of the artist today is largely as much as, if not more, a speciality, than other professions proceeding from long and complex training programs. We should help political people in charge of cultural and artistic education understand that it should proceed by a continuous artistic apprenticeship at all the levels of education, from kindergarden to university and beyond. The ultimate aim must be to allow the reception and understanding of art at the same time that one is initiated into its practice, in order to allow anyone to take pleasure from art all his life, as well as rendering him or her capable – with all the proper and necessary knowledge – of making the choice to take on art as a profession, with all the difficulties that will follow automatically, such as finding his or her own way, and making a living from it.
One can see that, when considering the subject of digital art, one is drawn more deeply into a societal problem concerning the future of art, as well as of culture in general. This is why answers must be collective and not left to a form of cultural Darwinism inspired by neo-liberalism, which would too automatically constitute the default ideology in cultural matters through blind submission to the presumed-to-be-objective logic of the market and cultural industry. This is why these questions are in truth political questions that demand political answers, answers that we wish to be responsible and ambitious.
For an artist, now and in the future, the aim should be to get for himself mastery of the tools and concepts that will allow him to truely assume the objectives of art. He cannot do this entirely alone. It proceeds through a conception of constantly new training, after the university, throughout life, a training conceived to teach him – and give him all the necessary potential – to take up these challenges. It proceeds, too, by re-evaluation of the idea of research in art. The methodological model of scientific research must be adapted to artistic research, this against the often naïve experimentation in some artistic practices that are in fact a discredit to art.
Finally, it proceeds by the production and demonstration of works – with all the effort of realization necessary to accomplish them – as well as the accompanying pedagogy necessary for their optimal reception.
New structures have to be imagined and implemented, having a common resource in an accessible network of experience and knowledge, materials, humane and logical means, in all the concerned domains : educational, artistic, scientific, and technological. Creativity must also manifest itself on the institutional side. If governments cannot assume these tasks alone anymore, handicapped by all sorts of other agendas, we will have to develop new structures, imagine new forms of investment in art, including for instance studios and laboratories founded and managed directly by groups of artists and researchers.
We have to acknowledge that the large cultural institutions (museums, operas, theaters, etc.) that would have the means, have not assumed their responsibilities in this domain. We will have to convince them to do so. It is urgent that we break down the narrow contemporary mind-set which imposes a self-satisfied, mediocre theoretical and ideological prison upon the world of art. Here, too, we must shake up all forms of academicism. One must think from the outset at an international level, develop international resources rather than those that are oriented towards local communities only. We must question again and again the systems of artistic evaluation, the local (often mediocre) powers – academic, institutional, media-oriented – that decide for everybody what is or is not art.
We must consider new practices with curiosity and generosity, develop new criteria of evaluation that are specific to them, on top of, and not instead of the traditional criteria. We must allow this new art to develop and mature. Here again, there is a political perspective. It is the nature of a society in which we want to live that is in question. To allow new art to develop is to allow it to change us. What would be the use of art, if it was not to change the world, even just for a moment ?
Cassandra wakes up one morning and decides to brutally change her own gender. This is considered, in the 21st century, the "last frontier". She succeeds in booking a reservation on the Web site of the Transformers' Society for that same afternoon. When he comes back home in the evening after the operation, he turns on the TV and falls asleep. He dreams of hearing a woman's voice, a voice whose words he cannot at first understand. Little by little, however, he starts to decipher them "Since I know that the real is in no way real, how could I know that dreams are dreams ?"
[From a creative adaptation of a classic Japanese poem by Jacques Roubaud (cf. Mono no aware, Gallimard, 1981). [My translation from the French.]