THE BLOG

Marlena Donohue: A New View of the Artist's Touch

Aug 11, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

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Marlena Donohue

Technology is a seduction that will not and ought not to go back in Pandora's seductive box. Because it is now and will increasingly be so very intermingled with representation, sight, desire and virtual worlds imagined by artists, technology married art in a raucous wedding where odd bedfellows will never quite 'get' each other and never quit each other either.

The more complex and imbedded in consciousness the images of ubiquitous technology become, the more this unholy and yet ever so luscious art + machina merger demands our careful sorting: as viewers (now users) of images; as makers of representations; as those of us who comment on same.

So, on NPR I hear that dozens of military recruiting stations located in, I am sure, the most economically challenged heartlands, where once a square jawed kid from the corn belt shook your hand and extolled the virtues of country, have been replaced by -- get this -- sitting rooms with comfy chairs where young men 13 and up can sit and challenge each other to endless computer games of combat and death. Killing without the stench nor the consequences. . .

I stopped writing about simulacrum when lines about hyper-reality and Jean Baudrillard were getting dropped as sound bites culled from "Intro to Theory I" by gallery assistants. I am reconsidering. I do not think this is an arc or a discourse we can ignore as voters, creators, thinkers, people.

To toss Baudrillard about as loose theory is one thing, it is quite another to sit down and consider the practical, moral, ethical and indeed aesthetic implications of a world that is coming. No matter what we do, machines will be the veil through which we know -- and I mean 'know' in the grand ontological sense of forming the very substrate of our awareness of self, of other, of community, beauty, the sublime, pleasure, desire, morality and indeed mortality. Here President Obama's joking comment that suitors of his daughters ought to watch out because he's got drones at the ready disheartened me -- such glib references only make an inevitable but critical reconciling less likely.

Our new world will require new codes of ethics, new formulations for the meaning of spiritual inquiry and more vigilance. As the marriage between machine and art gets more entangled with higher stakes for our species, I predict that the human touch of the artist -- regardless of what that actual touch produces -- will come to mean something quite different than it did for Kandinsky's 'universal mark' (now a megabyte), or Pollock's 'definitive actions' (the more 3-D, the more definitive). The artist's touch (or for that matter the mother's, or the lover's) might end up one day as the holding place for some simpler, yes cornier time that even those of us who cannot live without our iToys come to long for.

- Marlena Donohue

Donohue is the co-Editor of ArtScene and Visual Art Source, and Associate Professor of Art History at Otis College.