Why is so much New Media Art so shit?

by Andy Polaine on September 14, 2008

in General

I’ve been pondering this question a lot recently whilst writing my PhD stuff recently (it covers this area a lot).

Fortunately the Near Future Laboratory explain why with their Top 15 criteria that define “interactive” or “new media” art. It’s worryingly spot on, which makes me suspect the writers have made a few of these themselves.

I’ve been guilty of some of these and my students have definitely been guilty of all of them. What’s worse is that I’ve seen plenty of multi-thousand dollar grants go towards much of that crap too. (I’m just jealous of course – I want someone to fund my lame ideas to the hilt too).

In answer to my own question, I think it’s because it takes itself and the medium too seriously. That makes any kind of art shit in my book.

(Thank Nik)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gary Ridgway September 15, 2008 at 8:21 am

interesting.

I have often wondered this fact too. So many times I have walked into a ‘new media arts’ show only to be bamboozled, confused, frustrated and rather short changed emotionally and creatively.

As soon as I find myself ‘wondering’ how it was done, I think the work has failed.

Some of it just requires too much explaining for me to ‘get it’, and often they are examples of poorly executed uses of modern technology that bear no relevance for the average person, or maybe I just didn’t read the catalogue essay.

I’d rather see ‘old technology’ executed well.

Having said that, the ‘new media art’ show called WHITE NOISE at ACMI in Melbourne, Australia re-confirmed my greatest desires and my worst fears.

The simplest works which required an audience member to simply stand, watch and listen were often the most powerful in their effect and were at times beautiful, emotional and breath taking.

The most interactive of the pieces on show was simply the worst. I watched numerous people simply graze in and take off without a second of required input to the piece.

Numerous pieces of new media art simply request too much attention from the audience I feel as well. We’re a pretty inattentive bunch and I don’t feel people’s attention spans are governed by their ‘art’ intelligence.

Many video art pieces are guilty of this. We have grown up used to session times, movie theaters, TV program guides etc, suddenly we’re requested to randomly walk in and watch a video for 45min where we have no idea how long it goes for or when it started.

oh well. This is all old news anyway.

2 Andy Polaine September 15, 2008 at 10:11 am

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve seen some great stuff too, but I have seen an awful lot that is either terribly produced and displayed or not very well conceived in terms of interactivity. I don’t really care if it’s old or new technology as long as, as you say, it’s executed well.

Working in new media is hard though because there’s not so much to borrow and learn from what’s gone before. That said, I think a lot of new media art fails because it draws upon video art, which was never very brilliant in the first place in my opinion. Shaky camera work, shoddy “noir” lighting, a few nude people and earthquakes often = “rejection of the Hollywood aesthetic/dominance”, when in fact they it just looks rubbish because they don’t know their craft.

It’s important to remember, too, that nobody spends much time in front of The Great Works of traditional art either. I timed myself in front of a Picasso once. Two minutes was hard going, most people spend 30 seconds before walking on. I don’t think that attention spans have changed much and good interactive art can hook people for a few minutes, which is quite an achievement.

I do think, though, that it has to work on the level of playful interaction. If you fail to get people to take part, the rest is useless and all the theory and art ‘intelligence’ behind it is for naught. But I feel that many artists baulk at the idea of being approachable in that way because being unapproachable (or unintelligible) can cover up weak or ill-developed ideas and provide a fine set of new clothes for the Emperor.

By the way, I think wondering how it works is part of the discovery and engagement of interactive works. It’s learning the rules and system of the game – the next stage is then trying to test it and break it and see what you can do with it. Artists need to engage with that process rather than avoid and worry about it. Again, those that don’t like people ‘wrongly’ interacting with their work usually aren’t coming from an interactive background but rather a traditional art in the holy white box of the gallery kind of approach. Interactive art is much better out of galleries too, I think.

3 Jenn Figg September 15, 2008 at 4:16 pm

Hey Andy,

About the top 15 criteria that defined “interactive” or “new media” art…where can I find that list / what are they?

Thanks!

4 Andy Polaine September 15, 2008 at 5:00 pm

Ah, sorry, I broke the link that I wrote in the article. It’s fixed now and here too: http://www.nearfuturelaboratory.com/2008/09/05/top-15-criteria-define-interactive-or-new-media-art/

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