A discussion related to the September 2012 In Print article:


by hellorinis (09.01.12 07:34 pm)

excellent piece.
I can think of Helen Marten and to an extent, Seth Price. Both are able to bring digital into proper material contexts.
Art has been “behind” the times for years. It is mistaken about the scale of its relevance to non-art audiences.


by marc_garrett (09.02.12 09:22 am)

As someone who has been a practicing artist and deeply involved in media art culture, since early 90s, and also co-founder of Furtherfield (, an on-line arts community which also has a gallery in the ‘Park', in Finsbury Park, London ( - Where at each opening we get well over 350 visitors, and over a 100 a week at the space. I find it strange that those whom propose that they know about art and its culture, are still finding it difficult to take on this 'very’ contemporary field. The audiences are there - we know this as 'real'.

Yes, there is a divide, and Media Art has its specialization, but just like all different forms of skilled practices - each field possess its own, particular and variant levels of artistic and critical engagement. But still, there are many cross overs culturally. The divide is institutionally related, and I would say that many art magazines and galleries are behind the times. The public we engage with every day are more open and interested in discovering what this stuff is all about – they are more clued up. The art world is stuck in a rut, and it can only remain relevant to others, by expanding and letting in new ideas beyond its hermetically sealed silos.

It is happening, but slowly. In the future we will look back and see that digital art, and media art, like any other critically engaged or challenging art practice; was not accepted during its flourishing period. Not because, of its quality, but more because of the limited imaginations of those in control of the dominant culture at the time. This not necessarily an unusual situation, many people are already aware how the art elite rely on privilege and celebrity status to define what’s worthy of interest, for others to ‘see’. This will pass, even if the ever expanding Media Art field just takes it over or becomes, as equally as big as the ‘officially’ prescribed, art culture.

The Media Art field’s use of open networks has introduced an autonomy that has brought about a deeper understanding of the medium, and how to exploit it creatively. Appropriation of the software and the hardware has shaped how media artists interact with each other. Peer critique and shared ownership of ideas have enabled individuals, small groups and communities to learn and initiate projects together on their own terms. This has created an alternative art ‘universe’ out there. This also means there are different traditions, such as hacking software, the networks, and influences Fluxus and Situationism. There are different histories and values guiding many artists whom are involved in media art practice. Much of it includes essential critiques about the art establishment’s relevancy and role in governing and gatekeeping of what is allowed to be seen as the ‘correct’ type of art.

Personally, my own view regarding up and coming art whatever its function and reason, in its process of understanding what it is has to question what was before, by comparing its differences, sense of place, values and its own particular voice. This can take place amongst, contemporary peers as part of its critical sensibility, and as part of wider culture. Remember, ‘if’ we are not seeing it in the main press, it is not down to it not being out there. There are reasons why a prevailing hegemony decides to opt for easier modes of information to describe its already accepted forms of culture, and it is political – unfortunately.


by honorharger (09.02.12 09:54 am)

This is a very timely piece, and beautifully written.

However, one of the central reasons contemporary visual art hasn't come to grips with digital, is that it explicitly disavows the visual art that has, and Bishop's article is emblematic of this.

Bishop begins by rightly saying that “contemporary art [has] been curiously unresponsive to the total upheaval in our labor and leisure inaugurated by the digital revolution”.

But then somewhat alarmingly states that she will not be addressing contemporary art that could be considered “new media”. She writes, “there is, of course, an entire sphere of ‘new media’ art, but this is a specialized field of its own” ...

It is this so-called 'specialist sphere', which includes many artists who exhibit widely within contemporary art forums - such as Rafael Lozano Hemmer, Trevor Paglan, Cory Arcangel, to name but a few - that has consistently produced works which do address the “total upheaval in our labor and leisure inaugurated by the digital revolution” with acuity and intelligence. To rule out a discussion of this practice perpetuates the very problem Bishop is attempting to address within the article.

This becomes clear later in the essay, where Bishop makes awkward statements such as, “the digital, by contrast, is code, inherently alien to human perception”.

Code is written by humans. It is a little absurd to describe something created by people as “inherently alien to human perception”. It's certainly not alien to the humans - who are, it should be noted, often artists - that write it.

Later, in Bishop's analysis of contemporary research driven art, she concludes that there's a turn away from examining “the social, political, and economic conditions of the present”. Where does that leave the work of Trevor Paglen, for example, or Marko Peljhan, or many others we might cite who create rigorous research-driven work that examines how our contemporary human experience is being shaped right now by (for example) covert military technologies?

The problematic point of the article resurfaces at this juncture. Perhaps Bishop deems these artists too close to the specialist “sphere of new media art” to warrant relevant consideration.

Towards the end of the piece, Bishop asks, “is there a sense of fear underlying visual art’s disavowal of new media?”. A somewhat ironic, or perhaps obsolete, question given that Bishop herself has disavowed it right from the beginning of the article.

Bishop concludes by perhaps providing a reason for both the fear and the disavowal:“at its worst [ the digital revolution] signals the impending obsolescence of visual art itself”.

I greatly enjoyed reading the article, and respect Claire Bishop enormously, and am grateful for these issues being raised in Art Forum. But I think it's highly problematic to dismiss the practices of so many visual artists who do address the fundamental societal shifts brought about by the proliferation if digital technology. It does tempt one to wonder if that obsolescence Bishop alludes to is really the worst case scenario.

Honor Harger
Director, Lighthouse
Brighton, UK


by mariuswatz (09.02.12 11:32 am)

It's hard to disagree with the basic tenet of this article (i.e. that contemporary art largely ignores the digital.) But to exclude the “specialized” field of media art misses the point completely. Media art is what contemporary art becomes when it does in fact engage with technology.

The “digital divide” is a fact, although this article fails to mention the growing number of artists that manage to straddle the two worlds. The notion of a media artist having a gallerist was unthinkable 10 years ago, now not so much. Media artists are getting shrewder about exploiting art world mechanism, maybe they'll get there yet.

But there are a few key points that will remain hard to overcome:

Bishop's article heavily implies but strategically avoids saying what should be obvious: The contemporary art world is not only disinterested in digital art, it seems to abhor the very notion that such work should be considered art. Lay audiences have historically shown great enthusiasm for media art, but the deafening silence from curators and museums is telling. Gallerists, when approached, are at least honest about where they stand, ranging from sarcastic rejection to commiseration about how the work is interesting but sadly the gallery couldn't sell it to its client base.

Media artist fail to speak about their work in a way that would make it compatible with contemporary art. Even worse, they often insist on a jargon that, while often appropriate, is willfully alienating. Those artists that have made the crossover (and there are a growing number of them) have learned to walk the walk.

The funding boom for new media art in the late 1990's and the 2000's led to an unfortunate ghettoization of media art. It was convenient to claim a specialized status in order to be funded, but ultimately this led to isolation from the art world at large. There is no easy way to end this tendency. Media artists depend on the infrastructure of specialized festivals and conferences to develop their work, failing to realize that they are simultaneously painting themselves into a corner.

Galleries feel comfortable with what already works. Why change it when it isn't broken? Painting and sculpture with a smattering of video and mixed media will do nicely. The only way to break the embargo on media art would be for collectors to show a genuine interest in digital work. (Btw, the idea that digital work is uncollectable is a myth.) The market moves instantly to meet any demand. Sadly, the arrival of a generation of millionaires that grew up with computer games has done little to increase the collector base. Startup CEO's invariably buy Warhols for their shag pads.

ps. There has perhaps never been a more appropriate time to link to the 1967 letter from Philip Leider, Artforum to art historian Matthew Baigell:

“Thanks for the enclosed manuscript on CHuck Csuri; I cant [sic] imagine ARTFORUM ever doing a special issue on electronics or computers in art, but one never knows.”


by 160B (09.02.12 06:20 pm)

the question i would like to ask here, which is probably a naive one, is: why do you (new media critics, art historians & other specialists) keep creating borders / frames where artists need to be in a camp or the other?


by jonippolito (09.02.12 07:05 pm)

You're asking some good questions, and uncovering some subtle connections between analog and digital art. But new media art as a “specialized field”? I'd say a little broadening of perspective is in order:

Metropolitan Museum of Art
2 million artworks
5 million visitors per year
2.5 visits per artwork
600 artworks
4 million visitors per year
7,000 visits per artwork

(Source: the museums' Web sites, 2003)

Shift to today's mobile platforms, and the discrepancy is wider. Art world insider Amy Sillman made some prints drawing on an iPhone. New media art “specialist” Scott Snibbe created an artwork that was the top free app in any category in the Apple App Store. 500,000 people are walking around with his work on their iPads.

Oh, and what's this about photography and video gaining instant acceptance by the mainstream art world when they emerged in the 1920s and 60s? As a fifteen-year curator at the Guggenheim, I recall it took until 2000 for the chief curators to admit that the most interesting thing happening in the art world was video. So, at that rate, the “mainstream” art world should catch up to the rest of us by 2040.

See you then.


by Domenico Quaranta (09.03.12 05:58 am)

Reading this article was a pleasure, and a pain. Some of the points made here are really good, and I also felt a lot of empathy for many of the examples raised, such as the use of obsolete or dead media, or the “archival impulse”, which have been the polar stars of my curatorial and critical work so far.

The problem is that Bishop fails in formulating the main question, that is: contemporary art should respond to the digital age - why it doesn't? In my opinion, this question should be reformulated this way: “why the mainstream art world, the small niche I belong to and I'm talking to hereby, doesn't respond to the digital age?”

To put it simple: there is the new media art world, which is a niche- true; there is the mainstream art world, which is a niche as well (a couple of magazines, and a few dozens of galleries, collectors, institutions, curators and artists); and there is the real art world, which is comprised of all the people who recognize themselves as artists, of some who don't (but do something that can be understood as art as well) and of all the people working around them. In the real art world, there are not five, but legions of artists responding to the digital age. Some of them are really bad, some are really good, but just a few became successful in the mainstream art world: the ones Bishop named, and some of the ones named in this discussion. These artists are neither new media artists nor mainstream contemporary artists: they are artists that sometimes use digital media, sometimes don't; sometimes do unique objects for galleries, sometimes spread their work on the internet; they work with second level galleries, and with curators that aren't art stars yet; they don't sell out at art fairs, but they have a market and collectors; they are rarely featured in mainstream art events such as the Venice Biennale and Documenta, but they have an increasing presence in a big network of institutions, despite the fact that Claire Bishop doesn't know them. This is the background where mainstream artists such as Thomas Hirschhorn and Thomas Ruff go fishing to find ideas like the ones displayed in Touching Reality, or in the Zycles series. The true innovation takes place there, and not in the mainstream.

And - I think - it couldn't be otherwise. To ask with mainstream contemporary art is not reacting to the digital age would be like to ask why William-Adolphe Bouguereau and the French Academia weren't reacting to the industrial revolution and to photography. At the time, to see true innovation you should make a visit to a photographer's studio in Paris; now, dear Claire, I'd warmly recommend you a trip to

Domenico Quaranta
Artistic Director, Link Center for the Arts of the Information Age


by cdelutz (09.03.12 09:11 am)

Clair Bishop's article insightful in pointing out that the ‘mainstream’ art world has an active disinterest in the technological changes of the last 20 years. Her critique of the current ‘retrogeist’ fashion for analog media (e.g. 16mm film) is also correct. But these are symptoms of a larger art world malaise.

By and large the art market, museums and festivals have a backward looking focus - almost an obsession with the 1960s and 1970s. The quickest path to success for a young artist, born in the 1980s, is to imitate ideas, styles, media from a period before their birth. Meanwhile a plethora of new collectors from the finance industry (with of course little, if any, training in art history or aesthetics) collect exactly what resembles what they see at MoMa or the Tate Modern - further discouraging artistic innovation in favor of a cynical nostalgia.

Of course, this has happened before. In Paris of the 1850s-1870s most art - the academic style that filled the salons - was a pastiche of neo-classical finish and romantic themes: Gerome, Meissonier, Cabanal, Bouguereau are the examples we remember today.

The art historical narrative of the day (read T. Gautier, Freres Goncourt) held that these were the great artists of their time. Courbet, Manet, Degas were marginal figures, as often as not maligned as poor artists. Of course, by the early 20th century this view had been revised and reversed.

It is ironic that Bishop decides to exclude 'an entire sphere of “new media” art'. It is exactly the artists she excludes from her essay who will most likely be the focus of art (and media) historians in the mid 21st century. Or perhaps someone can make the case that in 2040 young artists, scholars, the general public will be more interested in early 21st century artists whose work neglected the transformative changes of their own era in favor of a nostalgia for the previous century.


by preeves (09.03.12 10:51 am)

I think one aspect of the new media that is overshadowed by the Web/social media aspects is a discussion around the fact(oid) that (in general) a generation of Artists has yet to properly emerge with a craftsmanship of, in particular, the 3D technologies for design and fabrication/manufacture– both CAD and CAM as they exist in their engineering/commercial form. Knowing one’s ‘working materials’ in the form of how to ‘design’ or sculpt in 3 (or more…)D beyond the design of a practical component is key. Having a good enough technical understanding of a medium (geometry) and higher level mathematics/algorithms to be able to programme software (rather than just using existing CAD software), to produce a design of beauty either in the virtual world – or moving into realizing a design as sculpture – either through CNC machinery or 3D printing (for me the former produces artifacts of greater inherent beauty). Of course this needs to be extended to a proper understanding of how the new digital methods of manufacture relate and interact with the materials used, which will be different to those for hand crafting – look at a CNC machined surface to see not only geometrical cusps – but surface marks caused by machining speed and tool deformations.

Too many digital pieces today are often simply assemblies of reused ‘fractal’ algorithms (and so fitting in with our age's obsession with nature and the natural) – rather than confidently exploring the artificial and creating beauty rather than always looking for it in organic ‘nature’


by golanlevin (09.03.12 11:45 am)

Massive irony loss here, IMHO. And a little willful ignorance.

To summarize Bishop: “Contemporary art has disavowed dealing with the upheavals wrought by digital existence. Except for, uh, ‘New Media’ art, which, naturally, I disavow from the present consideration.”

Also, “New Media art uses a medium called ‘code’ that I have absolutely no idea whatsoever how to understand, so I'll dismiss this entire area of cultural production as ‘specialized’ and this ‘code’ stuff as alien and inhuman. I'll pretend to ignore that code is a human-created language, that digital life is constituted through code, that there are artists who work natively with code as an artistic medium, and the possibility that those artists who perform cultural operations with code might have something to add to the conversation.”

One observation that Bishop gets right is that computers are now indispensibly used in nearly all areas of contemporary arts production. Bishop, correctly, has the intuition that these proverbial fish are unable to discover the water around them — but then, oddly and sadly, through her dismissal and ignorance of those with the understanding she seeks, reveals herself to be a member of the school.


by mariuswatz (09.03.12 12:44 pm)

I realize that this discussion is increasingly moving away from the scope of Bishop's article, but just for the record:

Domenico is correct, artists like Carsten Nicolai and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer would in all likelihood reject the label of media art, yet their work owes much to the discourse (and funding power) of the media art “niche”. Meanwhile, it would not be hard to compile a significant list of other artists whose work fit all the qualifiers of media art, and who have achieved recognition in the mainstream art world.

The distinction between the “real artworld” (i.e. anyone making art or otherwise engaged in art) and the “mainstream” (as represented by art fairs, high-end museums, etc.) In the former media art is doing fine, thank you very much, still reaching audiences and thriving on a vibrant online community. (By which I don't mean pristine portfolio sites, rather artists actively engaging each other and the public, developing their practice out in the open on blogs, Twitter or Github.)

So why should media artists even care about the mainstream niche? Why not reject it and find alternate markets? I know plenty of media artists who do. Some go into academia to support their work (and their families.) Others claim an anarchic underdog role, embracing a nomadic lifestyle of residencies and exploiting new funding sources like Kickstarter.

But I can still think of some reasons why media artists would care about the mainstream art world:

A. Pride aka desire for recognition. Being ignored does get tiresome, particularly after a decade or two of hard work. Pride may not be a very helpful instinct, but it's hard to resist.

B. Money. Selling work allows you to make more work, which is the ultimate goal. But collectors or museums won't buy anything that has not been vetted somehow by mainstream art world indicators, hence the need for artists to hustle their way in somehow.

C. Posteriority. A good friend once asked: “Do you want your work to be forgotten?” The mainstream art world might not be the only game in town but it does have a serious choke hold on the writing of art history. Maybe media art can hope for vindication 20 years from now, but I wouldn't count on it. There is already 30 years of media art history that has all but been erased. Cybernetic Serendipity might have been a milestone exhibition, but ask any art historian you know and you'll probably get a blank stare.

D. The media art world has plenty of disadvantages:

- Everything you do is a group show. There's little space for an exploration of an idea, except through a single grand gesture.

- Conditions for exhibiting work are often poor, whether due to ad hoc locales, lack of art handling experience or the fact that there is a noise concert going on next door.

- There are very few media art writers who will write about the work in terms of being art. There are plenty of blogs who will discuss the technology or cool factor involved, but they wouldn't touch your artistic intent with a 10 foot pole.

- If your work is formalist or concerned with aesthetics you'll usually be asked to do party entertainment. I say this somewhat facetiously, but it's basically true. Your work will not be the focus of theoretical discourse, except as a part of historical reviews of computer art or live cinema.

My own concerns about the media art world span all of the above. Pride I can overcome, the other points are harder to ignore.


by littlecurator (09.04.12 06:30 am)

Thank you to Claire Bishop and ArtForum for publishing this essay, and to the commenters who have posted already, as I think this discussion will be useful for teaching, especially for teaching my curatorial MA and PhD students who already know that the art they should be paying attention to is the ‘art after new media’. Without getting bogged down in the very legitimate questions of why new media art emerged in its own scene and why contemporary art has ignored it, this essay asks a broader but still useful question – why does contemporary art ignore our digital condition?

It is unfortunate that Bishop ignores the sector (even the philosophy) which is best placed to refute the basis of this question and thus I think it is telling that Bishop’s first evidence of the works she “can count on one hand” which to her mind do address our digital age are three videos works – not remotely commenting, to my mind, in form and behaviour, on the digital in terms of means of production and dissemination, with no disrespect to those artists and works. This is one of Bishop’s many confusing contradictions as to what kind of work might comment on the digital, and her stated wilful ignorance of the work, that other commenters have mentioned, which actually does.

As a curator, academic, and writer (both art criticism and art history), as I read the article I kept wanting to insert examples from the missing field of new media art to round out her argument given that she had said she wouldn’t. Indeed I almost just did a Steve Dietz-ish rewriting of her article (, swapping all the examples for different ones (for instance, for the postcard example she uses I’d suggest George Legrady’s Slippery Traces from 1995 and for the archive examples she uses I’d suggest Olia Lialina’s My Boyfriend Came Back from the War from 1996 - both works as much a comment on their form as on their content).

It is curious, this disavowal and where it comes from. The wilful disregard for new media art itself I would argue has been far more on the part of institutionalised curators, gallerists and art critics/art historians, including herself here, than on the part of artists. It could be looked at, in retrospect, as laziness, as lack of capacity, as ignorance of opportunity to engage with it. Bishop’s case of techno-fear is thankfully not as severe as some other art historians I shall not mention here, and so I am glad of this article. Bishop characterizes the fear as one that arises when, “faced with the infinite multiplicity of digital files, the uniqueness of the art object needs to be reasserted in the face of its infinite, uncontrollable dissemination via Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.”

The need to reassert the object of course is only important if you are playing in the Art World and seek to control the boundaries of it, and not just practicing art – if you fear that something is not unique or original enough to be Art, rather than multifarious enough to be a shared art experience. This is one thing my book (co-authored with Beryl Graham) Rethinking Curating: Art After New Media ( tries to unpick further. We’ve discovered that the fear driving the disregard on the part of curators and other Art World professionals is not just one of the loss of the original art object or the surety of the single author, but one of not knowing, as Bishop herself exposes, how technology works, what code is, what interaction or participation in networked new media entails.

Bishop writes,
“If the digital means anything for visual art, it is the need to take stock of this orientation and to question art’s most treasured assumptions. At its most utopian, the digital revolution opens up a new dematerialized, deauthored, and unmarketable reality of collective culture; at its worst, it signals the impending obsolescence of visual art itself.”
This is to my mind a good thing. As we all know there is no chance that art will become obsolete, but there is a good chance that Art and the trappings of the Art World could, and for some in the new media sector, that’s what we’ve been working towards – not getting included within Art’s boundaries, but obliterating boundaries altogether, seeing art not as a noun but as a verb, as something one does, one practices, not something that is. And here I would refer readers to Caitlin Jones great article in the Believer Magazine about Cory Arcangel, “My art world is bigger than your art world” (

Other comments about this article and its implications for the practice of writing art history and curatorial work can be found on the CRUMB new-media-curating discussion list at or

Sarah Cook


by littlecurator (09.04.12 07:32 am)

Further to my earlier message, I am very glad that ArtForum has pullied together a great issue with many articles about media art aside this one; I am glad that ArtForum’s editor is one who is familiar with Media Art History, having undertaken PhD research about Experiments in Art and Technology, her introduction is spot on, so if you've read this far and not read that, click over now:

Otherwise, to add to ArtForum’s own archival response, here is a curated selection of readings about new media art published in ArtForum as sourced from the online archive, in no particular order: - Nam June Paik - Trevor Paglen - review of Younger Than Jesus - Rafael Lozano Hemmer - review of Predrive: After Technology - review of New Document - Ant Farm - Christiane Paul’s Hotlist - Jon Ippolito’s hotlist - Barbara London - Variable Media Initiative - review of Superlight - review of Untethered - Sylvere Lotringer - Claude Closky - Rachel Greene on web art - etoy - The Yes Men - on service aesthetics in art - Dara Birnbaum and Cory Arcangel - review of Seven on Seven - Maciej Wisniewski / Open_Source_Art_Hack

Sarah Cook


by isabeldraves (09.04.12 03:38 pm)

What a perfect introductory conversation for our panel discussion “Software Art and the Art Establishment” at the 2012 Leaders in Software and Art Conference on 10/16. That's our last panel of the day, featuring Christiane Paul and Amanda McDonald Crowley and a couple of other panelists yet to be confirmed, moderated by Ken Johnson of the New York Times. For those who wish to get a glimpse of the year 2040 right now, we open the conference with a panel on “Collecting New Media Art” with Bryce Wolkowitz of Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, Michael Spalter, a computer art collector who is Chair of the Board at RISD, and Asher Remy-Toledo, an avid collector of media art. Sandwiched in between is an eye-opening array of talks and presentations of cutting-edge interactive, crowdsourced, social media, net, digital, generative, and software art, complete with keynote address by Scott Snibbe AND a specific panel addressing the friendly side of that intimidating “code” with which many art historians are completely unfamiliar. Please join us:


by pauwl (09.05.12 04:52 am)

I think we must all thank Claire Bishop for generating such an intense debate with her article.

At this point, I find the comments posted here and on CRUMBs list more interesting than the article itself, yet I must also admit that Bishop, despite quickly dismissing the entire sphere of new media art in a single sentence, presents some interesting arguments about the way in which new technologies are actually an indispensable tool for producing art nowadays. It is a shame that she does not want to mention examples made by artists who “really confront the question of what it means to think, see, and filter affect through the digital”, and instead comments on how an artist has bought postcards on eBay.

Of course, as the author explains “the mainstream art world and its response to the digital” are the focus of her article, but then my concern is that it can be possible for an art historian to simply address this issue from the limited point of view of “a” mainstream art world that surprisingly does not include the work of artists that are actually participating in the mainstream art world, whose work is exhibited in major museums and art fairs and reviewed in contemporary art magazines such as Artforum.

This consciously narrowed perspective on the subject is what broadens the divide between the new media art world and the mainstream art world, a divide that does not make sense in the light of the fact that contemporary art is nowadays being produced both with analogue and digital media.

So probably the point of this discussion is that it should not take place anymore, that the divide is a fiction supported by a model of the art world that is getting old fast. As Richard Buckminster Fuller once said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

This does not mean, as Ms. Bishop states, that “the digital revolution […] at its worst, […] signals the impending obsolescence of visual art itself”. Visual art will not become obsolete, the digital divide already is.


by michael.wenyon (09.05.12 06:06 am)

Claire Bishop is reporting that new media art is not accepted by mainstream visual art, the same sentiment being expressed by many commenters here. New media artists should be encouraged by her warning that visual art risks obsolescence because of its disavowal of the digital nature of modern life.


by dariadorosh (09.08.12 10:35 am)

I love a mystery, and Claire Bishop has started a great discussion on a topic that is central to two questions I have been asking myself - what do artists want, and where does art belong?
These questions didn't come up for me before the digital age, and so her article opens the door and looks deeper at uncomfortable questions. Many of her perceptions echo what I have also found when researching my thesis (2007) on operational patterns in art, fashion, and digital culture. The key essays that informed my theory were by Walter Benjamin and Rosalind Krauss, but I wanted to know how big these patterns were so I also looked across the fields of science ( Wilden), math (Wolfram), fashion ( Martin), economics (Hardt & Negri), anthropology (Bateson), feminist theory (Haraway) and early digital writings (Kelly, McLuhan) to name a few.
And that's when the patterns showed up! So when I consider what is central in Bishop's rich essay, what comes up is the issue of PROPERTY - and all its implications. We have been living on an edge between analogue and digital ever since the desktop appeared in the 1990s and continues to crash every institution we know. Perhaps our job is to figure out how to make a new relationship between the ephemeral coded way of being and the tactile gift we have as physical beings. We can't go back and yet we can't seem to move forward either. An oppositional either/or world is no longer an option, but we don't have an economic model for a world of abundance, so we impose the old scarcity model (limited editions) on it. How romantic, but I don't think it can work! This is a global paradigm crash in an information age and art is caught in it along with everything else. But I believe the good news is that as creative thinkers and makers, we have a chance to imagine a new future if we are willing to ask the hard questions - which Walter Benjamin wrote about in the 1930s - that the last and hardest thing to change will be the property system.


by chongthamhn (09.09.12 12:02 am)

This is a very timely piece, and beautifully written.
However, one of the central reasons contemporary visual art hasn't come to grips with digital, is that it explicitly disavows the visual art that has, and Bishop's article is emblematic of this.


by marc_garrett (09.10.12 05:44 pm)

Hi all,

Some may be interested on Robert Jackson's take on this discussion...

Claire Bishop's new essay Digital Divide, asks why the contemporary mainstream Artworld has, for the most part, continued to disavow any critical dialogue with the 'endlessly disposable, rapidly mutable ephemera of the virtual age'. While the questions Bishop poses are welcome and expertly framed for the mainstream art world, Robert Jackson argues that her call for confrontation has no relevance, when measured up to the sphere of “new media art” (Bishop's words) which is in a more advanced stage of critique with its messy materials.


by Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe (09.24.12 03:19 pm)

I think it would have been better had the essay been titled “Why Late Social Realists Aren't Very Interested in the Digital”.


by KRYSTLAXE (09.29.12 07:24 am)

In preparation for a panel discussion at the ICA on Monday on the subject of trends in contemporary digital art and more generally, the convergence of art and technology, I looked to this essay as a source of research. Apart from the obvious plug, (although the talk is now entirely booked :D) it's worth mentioning to point out the relevancy of the subject, under discussion in large, public, art institutions. Unfortunately, there is an overbearing sense throughout Claire's text that it was written at a very great distance from any real understanding of how practices engaged with technology have proliferated and developed “since the 1990's” or of contemporary practices that are engaged with technology or harness and deploy digital technologies in a critical way. I thought this was exemplified by almost all of the examples given and in particular by statements such as “While many artists use digital technology, how many really confront the question of what it means to think, see, and filter affect through the digital? How many thematize this, or reflect deeply on how we experience, and are altered by, the digitization of our existence? I find it strange that I can count on one hand the works of art that do...”. I think if this statement can actually be taken seriously, then the reason Claire finds it strange she can count examples on one hand is because she hasn't done any thorough research, isn't at all engaged with the subject generally and apparently seems experienced in only a very narrow field of artistic production, which incidentally is also the most visible sphere of production, only surfacing at the core of the contemporary art-world. I think these oversights say more about the target readership of Artforum (biblical for the worlds art elite) and by extension, assumptions Claire seems to be making about who she thinks her audience is and what they think...

There has been such a significant and major shift toward artistic practices which deal with technoculture and “the digital revolution” (yuk) that, to me at least, three of the worlds major art scene's, namely London, New York and Berlin (I'm tempted to throw in L.A and Amsterdam as well) are so heavily dominated by this production at their cutting edge, I feel confident in generalizing like that (and yes, geographical boundaries do still exist). How this seems to have totally escaped Claire's radar, or indeed how it could pass by anyone engaged with contemporary art, is beyond me! Yes, the market takes a very long time to catch up at the high end...look at painting sales on the secondary market, or similar figures from any major auction house etc etc...but that bears little relevance to Claire's text.

These fundamental problems crop up in the first two paragraphs and run throughout... However the core failure of the essay, which I find simply bonkers, comes in the third with the dismissive statement (ringing true through the entire text): “There is, of course, an entire sphere of “new media” art, but this is a specialized field of its own...”. The title of this essay, if I'm not mistaken, is “Digital Divide: Contemporary Art and New Media”. When it comes to this divide, I think there is a fairly strong case for suggesting Claire and her essay are part of the problem... There's a fairly good, critical response to the essay here:


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