The Eroding Value of the Image and Its Effect on Art

Essay by R.Cronk

While mass media has broadened the horizons of information dispersal and the entertainment industry, it has inadvertently contributed to the degeneration of cultural values in post-modern society. America is awash in mass-produced photographic reproductions and broadcast video imagery. As a result, from pulp discard to museum masterpiece, the visual image elicits a passive, impersonal, objective response. The representative image is perceived as data; as information. Only on the rarest occasion does the image approach having the ontological intensity it had before the technologies of mass production and the video broadcast saturated the visual sphere with imagery.

The utilization of the photographic reproduction in the mass media blitz of recent decades has altered the conditions surrounding the production of art. Fine art's retreat to the ivory tower is partially a reaction to the impotency of the image in a visually saturated environment. Many artists have rejected the representative image as vulgar, debased, exploited for profit and without iconic potential.

For the artist, the aesthetic experience is becoming increasingly difficult to evoke. Aware of the collapse of the Occidental philosophies supporting avant-garde art, and mindful of the capital invasion of culture, artists juxtapose media, motifs, styles and subject matter hoping to inspire an aesthetic experience. Artists shuffle the signs and watch first hand as meaning slips from the symbol. Where Jackson Pollock found spirit in the process of painting, today there is only mediated expression.

Current belief systems in Western society are limited to what can be derived from discursive logic and deductive reasoning. The symbolic and holistic knowledge associated with the plastic arts is no longer within easy reach of the desensitized public. It is not logical or tangible. It is not mechanistic or scientific. For centuries, society acquired cultural values through the heightened ontological awareness of the aesthetic experience. In recent decades, this tradition has atrophied under the influences of academic nihilism, the commercialization of culture, and the impact of mass media.

The photographic reproduction and video imagery have proven to be as significant to the course of art as the introduction of photography into 19th Century Europe. Just as the advent of photography freed the artist from documentation and opened the door for Modernism, mass media imagery has altered the conditions for making art by providing new opportunities for the artist.

The saturation of the perceptual realm with two-dimensional imagery has dampened the ability of the cultural symbol to inspire the integrating experience. But aesthetic symbolism is not dead nor is it in jeopardy of dying. Symbolism is other than the set of symbols currently atrophying from commercial exploitation in the visually saturated environment. As society adapts to changing conditions, new symbols will emerge to integrate the harmonious spirit of man in the pragmatic world (or will as soon as the media cartels release their choke hold on the American public).

As artists explore the opportunities provided by new technologies, the current fragmentation of cultural symbols will eventually give way to holistic experiences developing apart from the established venues of culture. A revitalized-garde will breathe new life into culture through alternative art forms and through new ways of reaching the art audience. The revitalized-garde will grow out of an eclectic mix of new technologies, popular culture, aesthetic theory, social discontent and art history.

Copyright © R. Cronk 1996 - All Rights Reserved

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