The New E-xpressionists18

Art with a Capital "E"

Computers and art can bring out the worst in each other when they first meet. One reason is that the signature of the machine can be too strong. It can overpower the intended expression, as occurs so often in holographic art and 3-D movies. Technology can be like a jalapeo pepper in a French sauce. The flavor of the computer can drown the subtler signals of the art.

Not surprisingly, the mutual reinforcement of computers and art has been most effective in music and the performing arts, where the technology of performing, disseminating, and experiencing a work of art most easily commingles. Composers, performers, and audience can all have digital control. If Herbie Hancock released his next piece on the Internet, it would not only be like playing to a theater with 20 million seats in it, but each listener could transform the music depending upon her personal situation. For some this may be as simple as varying the volume. For others it may be turning the music into karaoke. For yet others it may be the modification of the orchestration.

The digital superhighway will turn finished and unalterable art into a thing of the past. The number of mustaches given to Mona Lisa is just child's play. We will see serious digital manipulation performed on said-to-be-complete expressions moving across the Internet, which is not necessarily bad.

We are entering an era when expression can be more participatory and alive. We have the opportunity to distribute and experience rich sensory signals in ways that are different from looking at the page of a book and more accessible than traveling to the Louvre. Artists will come to see the Internet as the world's largest gallery for their expressions and as a means of disseminating them directly to people.

The real opportunity comes from the digital artist providing the hooks for mutation and change. Although this may sound like the total vulgarization of important cultural icons -like turning every Steichen into a postcard or making every Warhol into clip art--the point is, being digital allows the process, not just the product, to be conveyed. That process can be the fantasy and ecstasy of one mind, or it can be the collective imagination of many, or it can be the vision of a revolutionary group.

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