So why do I do art? I had tried to describe the disillusionment I feel with job, with computers, with technology, with the internet, and how that drove me towards doing something more real, more physical, work I can complete, that can make the world a bit better, even if it just to bring some brief enjoyment. Then I saw this interview with Peter Sunde, founder of The Pirate Bay:
His words sum up, at a deeper and bigger level, all that I am feeling.
But still we think of the internet like this new kind Wild West place, and things are not in chains yet, so we don’t care because everything will be OK anyhow. But that is not really the case. We have never seen this amount of centralization, extreme inequality, extreme capitalism in any system before.
From a young age I developed an interest in computers. This was the mid 80s, well before the internet. Technology was a solitary thing, and I liked that. Computers were uncomplicated. They were tools that did what you told them to, and let you extend what was in your mind into new places. These isolated boxes were only useful for creating. Anything you wanted to consume you had to physically get and pay for. The expense in time, knowledge, and money, meant it was not worth having a computer if you weren’t going to make something.
Then the internet came along. Actually before that, dial up BBSs came along, and networks like FidoNet where messages would hop around the world, from computer to computer, in batches over phone lines. It might take a few days for that message board post from the other side of the globe to make it to me, but you could communicate. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the internet, then mainly only available in colleges. Those conversations could happen quickly there, and with access to a global academic community. The possibility for knowledge was huge.
Now that is real. In my pocket I have a device where I can talk to anyone in the world, ask any question, see most anything from anywhere. In achieving that, knowledge isn’t enough. This was no longer a place mainly for people who could understand and respect what this was. It now contains the messiness of who we all are, of our economies, ideologies, the conflicts between them. Nothing is ever finished. Anything that is built either has this life where it must always feed the network, or disappear into oblivion. Only the biggest have the wherewithal to succeed at this. How could I hope to make anything anyone cared about, when the demands of the network as it is just keep centralizing everything?
So I thought, well, what if the decentralized approach could come back in some way, and let us communicate, without censorship, and without central control? I thought the git version control system could serve as a great building block for this. It records information in such a way that it is impossible to alter the past without someone noticing. It is meant to be distributed, copying data far and wide. It allows for signing data so you know it comes for a trusted or real source. I thought using git, something like twitter could be built, and it would be decentralized, and hard to censor.
What if this system was used for destructive ends, as I was now seeing social media playing out in new wars? What if it is used to manipulate people? How would I deal with everyone using it, and not knowing who might use it and how? In such complexity, what do you do? Computers were no longer the solitary, creative devices they once were. They had the faces of every person on the planet behind them, with all of the messiness, uncertainty, manipulation, good, evil, and confusion. They had become what as I child I wanted to escape.
I would rather not care about it myself. Because it’s very hard to do something about it, and not become a paranoid conspiracy person. And you don’t want to be that. So rather just give up. That’s kind of what people have been thinking, I think.
The inertia is huge. As much as I find technology challenging, sometimes fulfilling, and still full of possibilities, I was never going to be able to do anything about it from within. Anything I do with computers is doomed to be swept along in this current. My job certainly is that. What I once thought of as a career has become a paycheck, with the occasional points of pride I hold on to to get me through the day. While much of that has something to do with my current employer, I find it hard to imagine it not feeling that way elsewhere. Another job would just maybe make it easier to swallow.
Stop treating internet like it’s a different thing and start focusing on what you actually want your society to look like.
So that is why I started drawing, and then painting, and have been at it for 2 or 3 years now. I can’t fix it from the inside. I certainly can’t fix it at all. What I can do is get back to what it once was, when technology was just a tool to create, and didn’t seek to recreate you, and what I need to do is create. Each work of art is a singular object I can start, and finish, and move on. It can go into the world and hopefully make some impression on someone, even if just so basic as to let them pause in all the complexity of life and find some spot of beauty or new point of view.
So what do I want society to look like? I want to see a world where on the whole, we create more than we consume. Where we can have those solitary moments where we can be ourselves. Where those moments allow us to then connect more directly, and authentically. Where beauty can be found by noticing the mundane, the unnoticed, by looking somewhere other than where our attention is directed. Where being better people is our highest value. I’ve always felt like right now is the best time of my life, compared to the entirety of my past, even when now may still fall short in so many ways.
The irony is, how we place value on art is also part of the same problem. There are a lot of us doing this stuff. I have no reason to think I am anything more worth noticing than anyone else. Capitalism is the means by which we reach consensus on value, and in that system, some of us have much much more weight than others. Curation is an important thing. Someone needs to sort through all that is happening to build a cohesive story of what is worth our time and attention, which will always be a limited resource. Success is defined as reaching those who have mastered capitalism, acquired so much wealth that they can have the luxury of putting some of it toward something so human and impractical as art.
I recently I went to the Whitney Biennial, and saw the “Occupy Museums” wall, clearly and beautifully explaining to the assembled crowd how the whole system of finance supports and limits art. That’s nice. What it says to me is the man behind the curtain no longer cares if you know he is there or what he is doing. He will even pay for someone to tell on him. Now you know, what are you doing to do about it? Is there anything you even can do? Is there an actual alternative that has a chance of working?
There is the same problem, knowledge is not enough, but it is in a different place. So what do I do now? I don’t know. There is nothing more I can do but keep creating. The rest depends on everyone else.
— Joseph Vincent Annino