The meaning of art on a grand scale was reinforced after a recent visit to an art museum after months of COVID-19 isolation. Having spent so much time viewing art through a smartphone or laptop, I was reminded of the impact large-scale art has when experienced in person.
The art world is in distress: we experience less and less in person, creating a disconnect between the artist’s intent and the viewer’s experience. Galleries who survived the e-commerce of Etsy and e-Bay are now being sunk by a virus. I’m hopeful they’ll return, and just maybe, post COVID-19, appreciation for the arts will increase. A silver lining. For many, the arts have sustained us during this time of isolation. Yes, even Tiger King is art: it’s storytelling. It’s like watching a car crash, but you have to hand it to those filmmakers, you couldn’t look away. All art is storytelling.
For the arts, the Internet has been a double-edged sword: democratized access to a world of art previously only seen in museums or books; but at the same time, viewing art has shrunk first to the size of a PC screen, and now further to an Instagram post on your smartphone. We experience more art, but not in the intimate form for which it was intended: personal immersion. Viewing art digitally has diminished the impact we experience standing in front a Rothko at MOMA or a Titian at the Louvré. Viewing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel online isn’t much different than looking at a cartoon. Rather than feeling enveloped by the scale of a grand Rothko, we see online instead what looks to be test color paint spots on a bedroom wall.
Is the medium the message?
“It seems there is no area in our culture that is not touched, changed, even swallowed by the Internet. It’s both medium and message, mass and personal, social and solitary.”
If the Internet is the medium of experience, it can’t help but shape the viewer’s observation and therefore the message. The medium isn’t exactly the message, but it has overwhelming impact. Perhaps we should create two kinds of art from the source medium of our choice (e.g., oil, watercolor, whatever): online or in person? Today I’m painting for an online audience, tomorrow, a gallery or collector where scale matters. That’s a fundamental change to art making that most artists aren’t thinking through.
In my growth as an artist, I was progressing toward larger works—usually based on plein air paintings. My collectors always would ask, “do you work bigger”? But now and even pre-COVID, 99.9999% of people who see my art see it online, where scale doesn’t really matter. Seeing art digitally destroys scale. The question of working at a grand scale is based on commerce: is your intention to create something that thousands of people will view online, or is it for a collector’s wall? Is the art to be viewed or experienced? I suppose this is a false choice: we need both. As artists, working large stretches us in new ways. Tring to scale up sketches drawn from plein air or live model sessions requires artistic alchemy.
I, for one, will continue to push art to a grand scale, but I’m being driven less by medium over message, but more so because it’s a skill every artist should explore and one I want to conquer because in the end, I’m the first message recipient and the message is mine.
I’d love to hear what you think. Leave a comment.