Geert Lovink on Thu, 17 Sep 2020 09:42:38 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Lev on the embarressment of digital art

URL or not but this is too good, and too important for nettimers, not to read and discuss. These very personal and relevant observations come from a public Facebook page and have been written by Lev Manovich (who is “feeling thoughtful” as the page indicates).

My anti-digital art manifesto / What do we feel when we look at the previous generations of electronic and computer technologies? 1940s TV sets, 1960s mainframes, 1980s PCs, 1990s versions of Windows, or 2000s mobile phones? I feel "embarrassed. "Awkward." Almost "shameful." "Sad." And this is exactly the same feelings I have looking at 99% of digital art/computer art / new media art/media art created in previous decades. And I will feel the same when looking at the most cutting-edge art done today ("AI art," etc.) 5 years from now.

If consumer products have "planned obsolescence," digital art created with the "latest" technology has its own "built-in obsolescence." //

These feelings of sadness, disappointment, remorse, and embarrassment have been provoked especially this week as I am watching Ars Electronica programs every day. I start wondering - did I waste my whole life in the wrong field? It is very exciting to be at the "cutting edge", but the price you pay is heavy. After 30 years in this field, there are very few artworks I can show to my students without feeling embarrassed. While I remember why there were so important to us at the moment they were made, their low-resolution visuals and broken links can't inspire students. //

The same is often true for the "content" of digital art. It's about "issues," "impact of X on Y", "critique of A", "a parody of B", "community of C" and so on. //

It's almost never about our real everyday life and our humanity. Feelings. Passions. Looking at the world. Looking inside yourself. Falling in love. Breaking up. Questioning yourself. Searching for love, meaning, less alienated life.//

After I watch Ars Electronica streams, I go to Netflix or switch on the TV, and it feels like fresh air. I see very well made films and TV series. Perfectly lighted, color graded, art directed.

I see real people, not "ideas" and meaningless sounds of yet another "electronic music" performance, or yet another meaningless outputs of a neural network invented by brilliant scientists and badly misused by "artists."

New media art never deals with human life, and this is why it does not enter museums. It's our fault. Don't blame curators or the "art world." Digital art is "anti-human art," and this is why it does not stay in history. //

P.S. As always, I exaggerated a bit my point to provoke discussion - but not that much. This post does reflect my real feelings. Of course, some of these issues are complex - but after 30 years in the field, I really do wonder what it was all about)


The mystery of why some technology (and art made with them) has obsolescence and others do not - thinking about this for 25 years. We are fascinated by 19th-century photographs or 1960s ones. They look beautiful, rich, full of emotions, and meanings. But video art from the 1980s-1990s looks simply terrible, you want to run away and forget that you ever saw this. Why first Apple computers look cool, cute, engaged? But art created on them does not? And so on. I still have not solved this question.

Perhaps part of this has to be with the message that goes along with lots of tech art from the 1960s to today - and especially today. 19th or 20th-century photographs done by professional photographs or good amateurs do not come with utopian, pretentious, exaggerated, unrealistic, and hypocritical statements, the way lots of "progressive art" does today. Nor do their titles announce all latest tech processes used to create these photographs.

Ars Electronica 2020:

Video illustration: Japanese robot at Ars Electronica 2010 -

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