Below is a statement and explanation of my interactive painting entitled "Painting.com".
First of all, I should say that the initial conception of this piece can be attributed to nothing more than simple observation. I believe artists are simply observers of our world who communicate those same observations back again using various media. The better ones are often the most perceptive in that they have the ability to communicate observations that most others seem to overlook. I believe, more often than not, societies’ lack of awareness is honestly unintentional (for various reasons). But, I also believe there are still many cases where what we "see" taking place in the world, is more or less chosen – perhaps we are subconsciously selective? (again, for a multitude of reasons).
I would also like to give ample credit to the great conceptual painters of the 1940s - especially those who felt process should take precedence over product. This philosophy of stressing purpose to such an extent always seemed a bit confusing to me. But I developed a better understanding and appreciation for this way of communicating after my experiences with just this piece.
Firstly, it’s obvious to all of us that our use of personal and professional electronic communication has been steadily growing since the mid-1980s. But, since the year 2000’, our extreme dependency on this "tool" has become almost frightening. And for many, its extensive use has become nothing more than an addiction!
There is no disputing that computer technology has bridged many gaps, making interaction with others physically far away possible like never before. In fact, some believe, because of the Internet, people are now "reaching out" to others and developing relationships much more than they would have otherwise! In some cases this is true. But, I have to ask - are we really interacting with others more this way? Or, are we simply replacing one form of interaction with another? I’m afraid it may be the later.
I will never forget how in the mid-1990s there was a flood of advertising on the airwaves encouraging us to take advantage of this revolutionary new medium and conduct virtually all of our personal and professional business via the Internet - how "convenient" it all is - so we were told! Web companies such as Petfood.com, Drugstore.com, and Netflix.com promise to make our lives so much efficient by spending more of our time ordering everything we want (or need) Vs getting out of the house and buying it in person. Apparently, we never need to leave our home again! From now on, only 10 minutes on the computer, 3 days of waiting, and a short stroll to the mailbox is required. Shipping companies would surely benefit from this, but this made me think; how does this affect ourselves, our societies, and more importantly, our interactions with others?
If we only thought about the physical aspects of this scenario, it is widely documented that nearly all the industrialized countries of the world (obviously the ones making most use of technology) are the countries with the highest percentage of health problems and obesity! This is no coincidence, and it’s quite easy for anyone to understand most of the cause. I cannot help but wonder, if driving to the video store to watch a movie in the convenience of your own home is too time consuming and requires too much physical effort, what are we becoming? I have even seen Internet proponents prove to the rest of us how one can live at home for an entire year without ever leaving it – ever! Wow, that’s "great"! But these same people seem to forget this is not such a revolutionary way to live. In fact, millions live very much like this every day! I believe this "lifestyle" is referred to as "incarceration". I believe I’ll pass.
This now brings us to the topic of human interaction. Perhaps we take just one example of conducting a daily task over the Internet Vs making use of our physical world. Let’s assume we need some information that could be obtained by either the Internet, or by our local library. In the first case, you sit in front of a computer monitor (alone) bring up your search engine, and spend an hour or so scrolling through websites until you find the information you need. You may view many sources rather quickly! But hopefully the information is actually credible, you stay on task while on the net, and you don’t get any computer viruses. This may burn about 20 calories, requires absolutely no social skills, little or no spelling skills (Google has that covered), and in most cases, little cognitive ability.
On the other hand, using the library, one must physically drive (or maybe walk) to the nearest library and you will most likely interact with several people along the way. The people we may interact with may include one or more librarians, maybe the security guard, other patrons at the library, a gas station attendant, etc. And by physically being near others, when you’re really only intending to find some information, people often meet purely by accident. An endless array of personal or professional relationships and outcomes could, and often do, result. None of these same interactions would have taken place had we conducted the same task alone on the Internet. To meet with (or actually type with) anyone on the Internet, you really have to make an attempt to do so. And, unless you have the programs and technology, it’s not easy.
Lastly, with this same single scenario, we also raise the issue of economics. There are the hundreds of people (and the jobs they hold) that would be completely eliminated had we not used this physical alternative. Those eliminated would include the people who designed the library, those who built it, insured it, maintained it, worked in it, etc. Also affected would be the people who trained, educated, employed, or worked with, this first group of people. The implications and the people directly, or indirectly, affected go on and on. But, with our first Internet scenario, only a few researchers and website designers would be required to provide us this same information? Unfortunately, these are people we never personally meet, get to actually talk to, or ever get to know.
This piece is not an "attack" on our use of technology in daily life. It would obviously be quite hypocritical of me to conduct this website and proclaim that the Internet is the "downfall of modern society"! But, we simply cannot substitute people for technology. And I adamantly believe this is a serious societal concern. Unfortunately, those who rely on the Internet too greatly don’t even realize their own personal consequences. Drastic negative changes can easily affect a society, as long as these changes, or "cultural norms", occur slowly. By presenting this piece of artwork to the public, I hope it serves as a reminder to us all (including myself!) that technology should simply aid our existing real-world experiences, not completely replace them.
This is a concept painting entitled "Painting.Com". It is intended to be "interactive" with those who view it. The painting is divided into left and right hemispheres for a reason. This visual placement communicates the idea that "technology" can, and has done, wonders for the world. But, it can also have social ramifications if the world relies on technology too much; eventually replacing the personal contact and interaction between us; keeping us uniquely "human".
THE PAINTING CONCEPT
The left hemisphere represents our relationship with people, places, and things found within the "real" world - I.E. nature, industry, science, and all instances of human interaction. This might be one traveling and visiting the library, purchasing from live retailers, attending educational classes in an actual classroom, or participating in physical athletic events.
The right hemisphere represents our virtual "relationships" with or by the way of, inanimate
THE LEFT HEMISPHERE
Within the painting’s left hemisphere, I thought how could I visually represent the happenings only found in our "real" world? I was then reminded that this side should not only be seen as a painting, but it should also some how symbolize various real-world characteristics such as unpredictability, spontaneity, love, hate, miracles, beauty, life, death, and so on. I then concluded this side could offer viewers an opportunity to physically "imprint" their own identity on the piece by painting on it themselves. These personalized notes of paint would now forever represent one's unique identity, and therefore, also represent any relationships others may, or may not, have with them on any given day.
As the painting evolved, I also came to the realization that the oil paint itself seems to be "alive" - in a sense. Oil paint is simply made from natural seed oils and ground pigment, taken from nearly any biological or geological material. These natural substances also possess the characteristic of expanding and contracting with changes in temperature or humidity (this is why uncared-for paintings often develop cracks). So, one may conclude that a physical painting takes on a life of it’s own, as it actually "breaths" in and out for many months - until it becomes completely bone dry - and ultimately, "dead". However, I also realized that the life of the painting could be sustained indefinitely if viewers simply kept applying more fresh paint! This physical interaction would also symbolize the development of new, and ever-changing, relationships.
As things evolved, I realized that the meaning of the piece would be most effective if process took precedence over aesthetics. With this in mind, I decided that the left hemisphere would rely on as much human contact as possible. And accidents or mistakes were not only accepted, but they actually became an integral part of the final product.
Compositional elements were consciously kept spontaneous - relying more on instinct or emotional response, rather than calculation or theoretical analysis. For example, for purposes of cleanliness this left hemisphere was painted out-of-doors. As I was painting, I was quite pleased as I felt my brushstrokes and color mixtures were really capturing the painting’s mood. When suddenly, an unexpected gust of wind blew some neighboring tree flower pedals directly onto the wet oil paint. My first reactions were shock, then anger, as I thought this ruthless tree had the audacity to sabotage my masterpiece! But it only took a second for me to realize I should actually be thanking this tree! "This was perfect, and actually meant to be", I thought! I realized I had been granted a bit of inspiration directly from the source – from nature herself! It never came to me how adding natural materials to the paint would create shapes and textures never achieved by paint alone. I then quickly combed the vicinity for dried Earth, small sticks, bits of grass, and cut saw dust, etc. and sprinkled this over areas of oil-rich paint mixtures letting the materials fall where they may. Even a couple unfortunate insects reached their ultimate demise by landing into the oily surface. This reminded me of the once great dinosaurs who were also forever entombed in the La Brea tar pits - so many eons ago.
Finally, artists normally are very careful not to combine materials that may respond in unpredictable ways. But once again, this piece was most forgiving since it allowed for just about anything. The natural reaction of flower pedals, Earth, and so forth, to oil paint, was completely unknown to myself, and the unexpected results would only added more intrigue to the painting’s future. The combined materials may simply agree quite nicely and dry much like glue? Or, it’s just as possible that they react quite violently, developing cracks, expanding and contracting, or discoloration? This "natural", and possibly destructive, process is just what I was looking for since it more closely mimics the geological processes of our very own Earth.
THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE
With this hemisphere, I attempted to visually represent one's relationship with technology, such as an individual computer, or maybe prolonged Internet use. The icons within it symbolize the relationship between this technology and a person whom eventually very closely resembles the technology itself - emotionless, lacking in creativity, quite predictable in nature, calculated in thought, and without any meaningful social skills. Because of this, they may eventually avoid human interaction as much as possible!
When deciding what to do with this side, design decisions were carefully analyzed, then stubbornly adhered to. Great care was taken to avoid any form of human interaction, or dialogue with the painting. Instead of mixing any paints, commercially made spray paint was used to cover the surface since this required the least amount of artistic skill in order to color the surface. Also, the color gray was used since it seems to express the least amount of emotion from people then any other tone or color - including white or black, which often symbolize "good" or "evil", etc. In creating the technology icon, areas were specifically masked off with tape keeping the perfectly geometric shape exactly as planned.
When creating the second "human" icon (adjacent to the first), this was actually painted by hand, using hand-mixed black and white paint. This decision gave the icon a somewhat "human" quality. You might say the application even required a bit of previous mixing knowledge and physical skill – but not much. However, continuing this was did allow for a certain amount of unpredictability. Technology proponents often remind us how thankful we should be that technology makes us so much more "efficient" and "productive". Initially this may be true, but as technology keeps improving, our reliance upon it becomes greater making us humans less valuable, and therefore, more expendable. Our greater dependence on it makes us less independent, increasingly isolated and essentially "dumber"! Why bother to remember how to spell if we can always rely on Microsoft’s Spellchecker?
More and more, scientists’ ultimate "goal" seems to be to create technology that can take care of itself - without any assistance from us! Sounds "great", but what will this truly cost us?
With all this in mind, I hope this interactive piece encourages viewers to pick up a brush and state their voice, to not be forgotten about, to express to the world that their personal contribution to the world does matter, and that any real-world relationship with them is important. I firmly believe these are the real-life interactions and experiences that keep us truly evolving, as humans were meant to be.