In the following article, published by the Guardian I discuss the potential future impact of the Internet of Things on the field of Fine Art. I also reflect on where the challenges for the subject of fine art might lie.
Art and the Internet of Things: a turning point in creative education
In the art world’s internal sense of time, the degree show is in many ways the equivalent of New Year’s Eve: a point at which to collectively celebrate the birth of the future, while taking stock of the events of the past year. Reflecting on the 2013/14 academic year, it is clear that one of the most pressing issues is that of value, and the need continually to defend the arts in this respect.
It is interesting to note the difference between making art for yourself – which holds value for you as an individual – and pursuing a career as an artist by studying for a degree in fine art or a related field. By doing the latter, you are implicitly deciding that your creativity also holds value for others.
Ten years ago, when it came to discussions of creative processes, the question of value for others was not on the table. Now, as a result of continued pressure on the arts to justify their worth to society, the notion of value is very much becoming part of art school rhetoric.
As this pressure manifests itself within educational institutions – the removal of government funding for all but STEM subjects and continual space audits of fine art programmes – the question must be asked: to what extent can these programmes and their degree shows persist in their current form?
My consideration of this matter is informed by an awareness of technology – I am not only head of fine art at York St John University, I’m also head of computer science and a member of the Internet of Things Council. The Internet of Things is an umbrella term used to describe a next step in the evolution of the internet: to augmented “smart” objects, accessible to human beings and each other over network connections.
Underpinning the Internet of Things is the proliferation of networked devices in everyday use, including laptops, smartphones, smart meters and so on. Their number is set to increase worldwide from the current 4.5bn to 50bn by 2050 and could even include personal implants.
Our lives are undergoing a multitude of minuscule but significant changes that are altering not only how we relate to each other and the world, but also how we conceive of ourselves as beings within it. If the Internet of Things is a dominant emerging social reality in which our graduates will find themselves, how will they contend with it, and what is the place of art within such a reality?
Four years ago I introduced computer programming as a core mandatory skill for all our fine art students. It’s interesting to see how, as they approach their degree show, some of them have been able to apply creative coding to augment their existing practice in other media. Installation art was a paradigm of 20th-century art, and one wonders what the emerging paradigm of the 21st century will be, and whether it will involve using code to enhance the already interactive aspects of works. Maybe this year’s degree shows will offer us some clues.
When considering art programmes and degree shows, I sometimes wonder if we are not witnessing the last throes of an old cultural order – one too confused by the enormity of the historical moment we are living through to engage effectively with our emerging social reality. Art, after all, is a material means of thinking about the world around us.
What makes art valuable is its ability to apprehend the conditions of our lives and articulate them in such a manner that they become tangible as propositions and questions. The extent to which our graduates can manage to do this will determine the future value of art and its place within society.