NEW MEDIA: A Breakthrough in the Evolution of Creativity

Sep 25, 2013 8:45PM

Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, famously declared[1] that every two days, we generate as much data as we have from the beginning of civilization until 2003. These forms of data could be photos, videos, tweets, comments -- anything, in short, that someone might create using new technology. Estimates in the technology industry suggest that more than 500 million photos are uploaded each day to major social networking sites.[2]

Ever since Joseph Nicéphore Niépce introduced the world to the first permanent photograph in 1826, the art world has grappled with notions of reproduction and authenticity in the face of new technology. With new digital sensors and editing tools, the art and craft of taking pictures is now available to more people in more contexts than ever before imaginable. In other words, photography, previously the sole province of highly trained technicians, is now available to anyone with a smartphone.

Distribution tools have evolved in turn, and networked communications have opened the door for a wider variety and greater frequency of creative dialogue. A video captured in Tahrir Square can reach a computer anywhere in the world in seconds. Sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr serve as critical arterial pathways for worldwide flows of data. And while legal frameworks like Creative Commons have emerged to both protect artists and encourage creative collaboration, the law is constantly playing catch-up to the mashed-up, meme-driven culture that thrives on the web.

One might conclude that as barriers to creation and sharing lower, so does the bar for quality. Richard Prince's once-provocative act of re-photographing photos is now a common practice on Instagram, a social network of more than 100 million users. How, then, can we make a meaningful evaluation of art practices in the face of these technologies? How do we, as creators, consumers, and critics of art, engage with these new forms of media?

Photography is a helpful bridge in this regard. Once regarded as new, it provoked these same questions of evaluation and authenticity. But over time, as new became commonplace, we've come to realize that the same aesthetic rubric applies to photography. What is the concept? How has the artist engaged with the form? What is the artist’s intent and to what extent has he or she succeeded? How do these works move us? What is the creative dialogue this work inspires? In the end, art presents the same challenges and puzzles whether it's made by paint, pixel, or 3-D printing.

But what is new, and worth celebrating, is what this new age of creating suggests about who an artist is and what art can be. In a nutshell, an artist is simply anyone who makes art. As a result, an artist can be self-taught or heavily pedigreed. What should matter more is what the artist creates and the thinking process behind his or her creation. Amidst all those exabytes of data Schmidt refers to are emerging new voices, new methods and new communities, from Vik Muniz’s distanced photos of recreated masterpieces to Jennifer Steinkamp’s haunting video installations.

Technology has increased the ability for creative minds to make and share their work with a greater number and wider variety of art lovers than ever before, from Flickr pages to online auctions. And as more people in more contexts gain access to these tools, we'll continue to see remarkable shifts in who creates art and what they create. It's an exhilarating time.

Article by An Xiao Mina 

[1]   Siegler, MG. “Eric Schmidt: Every 2 Days We Create As Much Information As We Did Up To 2003.” TechCrunch. Aug 4, 2010.

[2]   Meeker, Mary and Liang Wu. “KPCB Internet Trends 2013.” Presentation at D: All Things Digital Conference. Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. May 29, 2013.