Community, Collaboration and Social Media

Written by Shawn Spangler

Art and technology are implicitly tied and continue to shape and inspire one another. Existing and developing technologies will always be a catalysts to influence how the arts are taught, created, viewed, and marketed – in some instances transformed – in relation to the transition to a digital society. This digital society is not static, it continues to advance and develop at a very rapid rate.  Artistic methods and disciplines certainly have different dimensions and relationships with technology.  There are art forms like photography or video that exist because of technology while mediums such as ceramics which can be influenced by technology.  My attention is focused on the latter, particularly the impact and role of social media as a source of information, dissemination and discussion about artist practice.

The Internet along with computer-aided technology has made available the ability to collect and share enormous quantities of information and data, while connecting people over vast distances, collapsing notions of time and space.  It is a global phenomenon not simply for its capacity as an international network but also its creation of cyberspace. The Internet has altered our overall relationship to fundamental concepts such as social interactions, presence and time.  In this it precipitated the expectation that instantaneous or as the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan, described as “all-at-once-ness”, being here and there at the same time is now part of being human.

This ubiquity has found itself in the artistic landscape of ceramic design. David Pye's theory of workmanship, in particular “Workmanship of Risk”, presents a fundamental challenge from the tradition of craft to the digital incursion that ensues.  Pye remarks that the quality of craftsmanship “is not predetermined, but depends on the judgment, dexterity, and care which the maker exercises as he works.”.[i] As Pye proposed, working with a material must entail a certain amount of risk.  Does the use of computers with save as or undo functions really demand sufficient involvement with the material or enable us to take risk?  Does this render us more noncommittal using virtual mediated forms rather than more immediate materials such as clay?

Image from exhibition "ctrl+p" with Shawn Spangler and Brian Czibesz

Image from exhibition "ctrl+p" with Shawn Spangler and Brian Czibesz

Digital media is decisive and engaging in that it creates a substantial shift and allows a new sort of participation with art.  It uses both web and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue.  This provides a structure for people to interact with one another and, in turn, open possibilities for the exchange of ideas over vast distances nearly instantaneously. For the arts this has a number of implications, the most interesting being technology that supports synchronous interaction. In an analog model, collaborating artists visions are consistent of a shared set of expectations and presumptions that also include what each individual constitutes as strong work and what subjects are worth investigating.  There is an agreed upon or shared vision that may or may not move towards a new style or aesthetic by way of a variety of new and diverse tools.  Each person’s work is an expression or shared vision filtered through their own viewing lenses.  Much of this remains true where in a digital model collaborative technology (Skype, electronic whiteboard, photo and video texts, etc.) provides opportunities for artists from numerous locations to simultaneously participate in discussion or work upon projects together in real time. I believe that while the evolution of digital technology may lead to new ways artists approach process, the greater implication is how technology affords opportunities to share information.

Part of what is paramount about social media is the opportunity artists have to reach a specific audience that is interested in what they produce.  Traditional ways of exhibiting works is shifting. Online distribution of information has allowed artists to circumvent the traditional structure of art representation by placing work online directly. Computer-based interaction has, to some extent, decentered the experience of art from the gallery as being the sanctioned art space.  Multimedia outlets enable a domestication of experiencing art, no longer does viewing art require a fixed space. This dislocation is accelerating where online galleries rival the brick and mortar environment as a primary and exclusive space for exhibitions.

While discussing such events as the St. Croix Pottery Tour, the presenting artists at the Utilitarian Clay Symposium at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee began a dialog about technology and community,.  This presented questions regarding technology’s role of initiating communities and galleries while not being constrained by a fixed location.  Emily Schroeder Willis refers to the upcoming online space that presenting artists at UC6 are currently forming, and states in her article Generational Shift, “ we would brainstorm (there), daydreaming of how we could create a new system of artist community though modern technology.”[ii]  This upcoming online community/gallery is to operate as an educational space where individuals can sell objects, and share ideas. 

There is no doubt that the destination for craft is evolving in concordance with technology. Ceramics responds and reflects social, economic, and technical demands of society from 25,000 years ago to today.  Digital technologies have changed the context in which art is produced and displayed, while extending and intensifying perception of time and distance.  I remain fascinated with how technology, which is constantly in renewal or transition, continues to transform the timeless tradition of production of ceramic work.


Footnotes:

[i] The Nature and Art of Workmanship. By David Pye. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968.  Pg. 20.

[ii] Schroeder Willis, Emily. Generational Shift. Ceramics Monthly, December 2012. Pg. 80.