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Is all art the same?

Posted in Manifestos

There are different levels to same-ness. Different ways two things can be said to be “the same.”

Some examples, each being different:

- Two different songs. But we call both of them songs.
- The same song, but two different copies. Different instances.
- The same song, but listened to at different times. Different experiences.

One time I was discussing art with some people. Someone said, “Art made with new technology isn’t really doing anything new. All art is getting at the same thing.” Relationships. Mystery. Love, life, death.

Is all art the same, really? It’s incumbent upon artists working with technology to know whether they agree with this or not.

I disagree. It’s a poetic idea, but it’s ultimately not the most useful.

Take the example of film. First photography was invented, then the movie camera. Because of technology, a new medium and a new art form came into existence. Over the next 100 years, you have great filmmakers making statements that could have not been made with live performance.

Some might argue that the themes are the same. With film and theater, aren’t we still talking about fundamentally the same things – relationships between people, the human condition? Yes, but the experience is different. And that’s the problem with saying “all art is the same.” It’s placing knowledge over experience, and that’s the wrong approach to take when making art.

Great art is predicated on the close study of experience. That’s aesthetics. It’s about seeing what is actually there. Yes, your art contains ideas. But first people have to see it. It’s this space - between raw experience and the body of ideas that’s already assimilated into culture - where there is room for artists to expand upon how we understand the world.

So yes, you and I were both born and will both die. We both have parents, friends, lovers, struggles, triumphs. But we’re ultimately living different experiences. New media is worth making art with because it gives us new types of experiences. New sensations, new forms, new relationships.

If you still don’t see things the way I do, we could talk about how John Lennon said some days a given song would sound fast, other days slow. Or about how when you read a piece of Shakespeare as a parent midway through life, it’s going to say to you different things than when you read it as a teenager. Or about how right now the artists who are not white males are still fighting just to have a seat at a table. How the ideas contained within the sphere of art are all impoverished in want of different points of view.

We don’t have to talk about those things though. What I know is that with experience and knowledge, knowledge comes after. Experience comes first. Art’s radical conviction – that beauty is worth defending from other forces in society – is based upon this fact. Experience is worthwhile in itself, and rewards exploring. Being comes before measuring. Even in the measuring, it is always there. And you can’t say two things are the same without holding a stick up to them first. If you’re saying all things are the same, you’re not really seeing them as they are.

I want art that shows me something I can’t place. Because only then will I take the risk of really looking. Only then will I feel the exhilaration of really looking. Only in that struggle will I make a new box for that thing to go into. Out of this challenge we will form new words. Only with these new words will we share what we can’t explain.

Josh Peterson is an artist, web developer, and creative technologist based in NYC. Site-specific interactive art is his favorite art.

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