From the Editor
Much has been written about our dwindling attention spans in the face of the digital deluge. Our brains are apparently in a permanent state of jet lag—caffeine addled and unable to focus for more than thirty-seconds at a time. Pop music’s catchy hooks, the internet smorgasbord, a landslide of TV news pundits, politics, and reality television amount to a jittery information glut of monumental proportions. When combined with the pressure to maintain a constant state of ‘productivity’ is it any wonder we feel a constant and steady tug at every one of our synapses? There’s a tendency to romanticize our analogue past—the smell of a book, the feel of a newspaper, the power of a muscle car, the warm crackle of a vinyl L.P.—and the slower pace it seems to offer. While nostalgia may indeed be king (see Clint Eastwood’s bit of propaganda that debuted during last Sundays Super Bowl) it doesn’t do us any good to wax-nostalgic about our material past. Arguments on both sides of the divide are often overblown anyway. However, our ability to devote time to looking at art is an important consideration that’s directly effected by the widespread profusion of media and the distraction that results.
All art requires some measure of time to produce and see. How does art compete for our attention? Should art more directly adopt pop music’s strategies, hooking us in the first ten-seconds and then, unlike pop music, lead us somewhere more rich and complex? Or, perhaps risking a smaller audience, should art maintain autonomy from popular forms of media and distribution, embracing the role of counter-point provocateur? While there’s certainly no hard and fast answers or strategy, the fact remains that it’s difficult for artists to get time out of a viewer. There’s a minority of art-interested viewers who’ll sit and watch every video in an exhibition, or spend an hour contemplating a group of paintings. This doesn’t strike me as anything new, nor does it diminish the importance, communicative ability, and power of an art object. When it comes to art, unlike where popular media and culture is concerned, quantity isn’t the gold standard of quality.
There’s the hook. Rather than a question of diminishing attention and competition with other media, perhaps it's simply a matter of reevaluating the characteristics, our expectations, and the terms by which we gauge our experiences of art objects. Art offers a distinct experience that we can’t apply the same rubric to every time (if we could even arrive at a definition of what it was); and why attempts to do so, as in let's say Bravo’s Work of Art, are bound to fail. It’s all too easy to generalize and make assumptions about the aforementioned items, when in reality each art viewing experience demands something different from us. This is one of arts real strengths—it doesn’t reproduce the same sugary-sweet experience over and over ad nauseam, and instead epitomizes variation, potential, and as a result, inclusivity. These attributes move us beyond the typical questions of materiality, measures of quality and time bound up with our ingestion of popular culture and into something more specific to visual art. If our attention spans have indeed hit the skids, amidst the avalanche of contemporary stimulants, than seen in this light (and with these terms) than art needn't worry very much. It’s place is solid and it’s position nimble.
...might be good has received my attention for ten issues now, each with its own set of challenges and rewards. #183 is no different. Much of this letter's topic was inspired by a brief but fruitful conversation with UK-based artist Andrew Kerton, whose video for the Project Space, based on an obsolete model of perception, raises engaging questions about how our brains grapple with objects, time and thought. Questions of objecthood, curatorial reductionism and tangentially, the time we spend with objects, pervades writer and curator Rachel Cook’s considerate examination of Sherrie Levine’s recent exhibition, Mayhem, at The Whitney Museum of American Art. Personal history and identity is a thread running through Houston-based artist Michael Bise’s work currently on view at Fort Worth Contemporary Arts. U.T. Arlington Assistant Professor Benjamin Lima addresses these issues and more in his thoughtful review of Bise’s exhibition. From San Antonio, writer Wendy Atwell thinks through “pharming”—the pharmaceutical industries manipulation of chromosomes—in her review of Jessica Halonen’s exhibition currently on view at David Shelton Gallery. Finally from Austin, writer Kate Green looks at Jill Magid’s Failed States currently on view at AMOA + Arthouse, and finds an artist thoughtfully engaged with laying bare the dehumanizing mechanizations of bureaucracy and politics in a poetic and non-exploitative fashion.
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Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.