Found Art Found Everywhere

The prime piece of remix fodder for this week happens to be “Pretty Much Everywhere, It’s Gonna Be Hot.”

This one is a bizarre 9-second interchange on a news show, possibly Haitian, though they speak English. It sets off my stupidity detector, sure, but it also sets off involuntary laughter. It may work for you, it may not, but what I want to ask is, can we call things like this art? Is the process of selecting, or at least stumbling upon, a strange old video that happens to have some peculiar entertainment value, and doing just a bit of cutting too easy? Or is the end product the only thing that matters?

I don’t think many people would argue that, for instance, The Atomic Cafe, a film constructed entirely out of old footage and audio recordings from the early Cold War, is not art. It has a clear identity of its own, a narrative arc, even though the only work the creators did involved selection, cutting, and sequencing of the source material. The same could be said of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, which I have been listening to a lot lately – Smith not only took the trouble of amassing old records and picking out the best, but he sequenced them so that they commented on each other and formed a vaguely historical arc. Perhaps not everyone would agree that the Anthology should be called a work of art, but that view is not uncommon.

If we’re going to argue that these examples are instances of art, while a single found video is not, then we will have to come up with a clear place to draw the line. It is hard to argue that one piece of art has a vision while another does not – how do we know what was in the creator’s head? – and it is also hard to argue that a single piece of footage does not reflect on the world around us. What, then, is the difference?



6 responses to “Found Art Found Everywhere

  1. The difference that is so dominantly expressed and declared by the academics is the lack of authority in the youtube example. When we talk about art and the culture that surrounds it there is a assume the selection process by which these objects are elevated to the level of appreciation deserved by an object of art.

    At the foundation of the artistic world art is defined probably to an extent by the artist and viewer. The way the definition is thus thrust upon the world is merely through selection. In the end that is all that art is, a process of selection, whether it be of the minutia to choose colors and lines and patterns and forms or to the macro level of simple choosing which object to be your art object.

    In the end though this selection is put up against the test of authority of the critical selection process by which the critics decide which selected objects are deserving of the title of art. That process is lacking in the youtube setting. However were your youtube video to end up in a museum display of internet art, well then there wouldn’t be debate.


  2. Again we come to the issue of the artist-centric versus the audience-centric view of art. I certainly would not argue that doing something that requires little or no effort can _make_ someone a great artist. Duchamp had already established his reputation through his painting when he created Fountain. But many forms of expression and entertainment are essentially anonymous. Not just Internet postings, either – things like jokes and folk tales rarely have a known point of origin. There is still a place for the notion of great artist, but I think a definition of art needs to account for these non-artist-centric forms as well.

    This doesn’t mean that I reject ‘high’ art. I made the distinction between ‘expression’ and ‘entertainment,’ and while I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion of art as _personal_ expression, I think that it _can_ serve a purpose beyond diversion. I just don’t think that it _has_ to. The purpose of all art, be it _The Waste Land_ or a stupid Internet meme, is ultimately the pleasure of the audience. In the former case this pleasure comes as much from the insights to which the poem might lead the attentive reader as from its entertainment value, but pleasure is pleasure. It would be hard to defend the claim that the enjoyment I get from reading _Ulysses_ is in some way better than the enjoyment someone gets from the latest Internet video, unless we are to make a moral injunction. There is a place for both ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, and they can both be art.

    In the case of ‘low’ art, in which the entertainment of the audience (whose opinions can be manipulated, but that’s another story) is everything, I don’t think authority is a meaningful notion.

  3. I wouldn’t discredit the idea of authority so quickly. Many individuals have suggested that it is the lack of a selection process that has prevented blog writing from becoming a serious form of intellectual debate. Obviously with the Comparative Blogging Foundation I disagree with that idea. But I do bring it up here as something you should consider when asking the question of why internet art is not considered art by so many.

  4. Thinking in terms of what people actually consider art, authority is certainly significant. But there is considerable public hostility towards art that is only considered art because it was made by someone famous, so the place of authority in the common definition of art is at best unclear.

    Intellectual debate is a different matter. There is certainly a place for authority there, though how that authority should defined could be debated. Do you equate intellectual discourse with art?

  5. haha, my post would look like I do. Perhaps one could make an interesting argument for such a relationship but rather what I would have said is that with no authority and the web acting as the democratization tool it currently is, art (and intellectual discourse) are greatly discounted when produced in arenas such as blogs. Take for example literary criticism, only just recently are blogs being taken as seriously as academic and journalistic institutions when it comes to critical discourse on new works of literature.

    But focusing in on just art itself I think our society in general demands that sort of gallery or museum or exhibition to tell us what we can consider art, whether or not we agree with what they suggest is a different question. But to argue for something to be art not even considered art by these sources is not something I see all that common in our society.

    But it should be. I personally believe that the youtube video as an example of objet trouve is accurate and also productive in looking at what art might be in this digitally social world.

  6. Okay. I agree with that. I haven’t read much about authority in literary criticism, though the stuff Stanley Fish has recently been writing about academia is relevant:

    For an interesting (if somewhat over-intellectualized) discussion of authority and legitimacy in science, look at Jacques Lyotard’s _The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge_.

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