Do We Even Want Art?

When it comes to art, what is it that we are looking for?

Many people will say that in art they are looking for “authentic expression.” Or maybe “unique creation.”

Peter Plagens claims that “art and truth used to be fast friends.”  They could not be separated. One of the massive appeals to art was that it gave us something authentic. Art can be used to express the real emotions in life. Chaos. Calm. Joy. Pain. Confusion. Beauty. All of these things can be expressed through art and creation. Plagens continues his exploration into photography by noting that the camera was first viewed as a drawing more accurate than by hand. The goal here was accuracy. Something true and not distorted, even by the limitations of one’s own hand.

As the camera industry grew, more became possible. Film was overtaken by digital. Sensor technology has grown infinitely. There is so much processing power in a camera now, and the user has complete control over what image – or even video – is captured. As technology has grown, so has our ability to process. Hardly a single frame is ever released or published without being processed, edited, and tweaked.

This is not to say that there are not purists out there. Old men and 20-somethings alike are patrolling beaches and camping national parks with their Polaroids, Nikon F‘s and Canon AE-1‘s. The old farts want to stick to the old ways, and view anything digital as a lie. The young ones see something they like in the older style. And then there are those of us who love the modern stuff. The newest DSLR or Mirrorless camera release is always a big deal. “How is the dynamic range? ISO limit? Video capability?” We do not understand why our peers want to use grandpa’s old technology. “Don’t they see the awful grainy noise?”  “That camera is so slow!”

Our lives have been overtaken by media. What was once only a medium for art has been forced to absorb the communication needs of our generation. The boundaries between artistic expression and communicative media with a purpose has been blurred. Both use the same cameras. The same computers. The same websites.

This is not to say that no forms of communication offer anything artistic. It is also not to say that digital manipulation can be a tool for expressing art. The point here is that our need to communicate has overlapped with our desire for beauty. This has led to the devaluation of authenticity.

I cannot call it the death of authenticity, as we still have those who strive to keep authenticity possible. The rise of the daily vlog has given us an opportunity to peek into the lives of others, no matter how interesting their lives. However, they still have the opportunity to show us bits and pieces of their lives. We do not see everything. There is always something happening behind the camera, or when the camera is off.

Daily vlogger and popular YouTube-r, Casey Neistat has tried to combat this lack of authenticity. Within the last couple of years, he and a team of creatives has released an app called Beme. Beme attempts to give users a way to share their lives without the ability to alter it. Take a look at this video for a rundown of their vision and the app itself.

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The problem here is that while people love Neistat and his life, the lives of most of tend to be boring to each other. So while Neistat may be a worthy follow for a vlog or on Beme, most users are not as interesting. They simply do not have the resources to portray the kind of life that so many people love watching Neistat live. And while the app has not done well recently, Neistat and his team remain excited.

The questions then remain, do we want authenticity?  Do we want art?  Or do we simply want massive amounts of content?






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