Is there anybody out there?

Illustration by LaSimo

Is there anybody out there?

La(S)imo: So, we left off with the question of impact — what if our work is unseen, or it does not matter to others. I see art production as a personal language of the author to speak to the other. If the author is compelled to production by its intended meaning, I would say keep going, keep tuning, like a radio scratching because you have not found the right frequency yet.  But perhaps there is more?

(C)arcazan: Well, I think we were also looking more at how an artist effectively deals with rejection, or at least with the feeling that their work does not seem to have the intended impact, like it was not even out there.  We usually pour heart and soul into our work — even commissioned work takes a part of us with it — but authorial work particularly of a personal nature getting no apparent audience traction can be very hard to take… unless one is just happy with having made the work in the first place.

S: If it is not a personal journal, if it is intended to be seen or read by others, there should be an effort of self-leadership, a dissection of all the sites of the work — was the language not fit for the purpose, is the artist’s message too cryptic, was the issue in the selected distribution process or channel, how long before the potential impact may be observed?  We should not see self-expression as something that is self-referential in its entire lifespan.  A growth mindset is crucial.  One who is not prepared to study the root causes of their failure to connect with the audience perhaps did not really make for others, or perhaps shared for the wrong motivation — vanity rather that making an impact?  Of course, there are always the cases of those appreciated by future generations only… but there is a key difference between being unseen and being unappreciated.

C: Why are some visuals unseen — this is resounding question.  But failure to connect with an audience is not necessarily something lost in the visual language translation, or that the work “missed” — when I watched Searching for Sugar Man, it was incredible to see how an artist’s work meant nothing to the apparent “world” but everything to one specific country.  Perhaps spurred because of political context and the freedom their work enabled in certain confines, (spoiler alert) it never occurred to me that an artist may be a hit without even realising.  There, the artist thought there was no audience connection but it didn’t stop him making work as such.  Do we need a particular lens nowadays to be shone on our work as proof that it is “seen?” Is social media or major commissions that lens?

S: If social media is involved in the distribution process, one cannot ignore its physiology — algorithms, reach, propagation, type of users excluded from the dialogue.  Fact remains that your work may be meaningful to an audience that you will never meet or know about — the case of Sugar Man reminds me of the popularity of George Orwell’s work in Burma/Myanmar — his work was (maybe not anymore?) prohibited but well known and smuggled. Perhaps one work’s meaning has to take unexpected journeys to find its calling.  You were the one to remind me that our works are living creatures — spiders spinning their own webs.  You can never really predict how your work will touch others, but practising empathy is a good tool to keep your soul muscles capable to embrace different readings of the same artifact.

C: Yes, and with the spider’s web: in so doing, it captures what it captures, like a waiting open embrace yet dedicated to its own craft of being…  And I think this is what sets us apart from AI art: our choices.  Choice over delivery of demands.  Intention over notoriety.  What we see when our blinks are closed, versus repeating what appears obvious from looking.  Artists by nature need an audience, so indifference or rejection can be particularly painful, then our choices are: do we change our ways to be seen?  Are we wanting to be seen by the right audience or any audience?  Does change mean authorial compromise?  Maybe we hope to merely provoke audiences too — maybe, as with me, a lot of work is just a vehicle for autoethnographic outlet.. so choices in the face of apparent oblivion, matter.

S: I agree with a lot of what you wrote… but not the part about “intention over notoriety” (a human may want and pursue both, whereas AI, by nature, has neither).  I also disagree that an artist by nature needs an audience.  Either they seek an audience (for the meaning to propagate) or they need an audience (and that could be because the nature of the work demands the audience’s active participation, but also, possibly, because of the artist’s own vanity or their external locus of validation).  Whether we seek to provoke (short-term rejection vs long-term impact) or be embraced, as with every complex mathematical function that seeks optimisation, we have to deal with constraints and the inability to attain infinity.  Seeking to identify where compromise will not corrupt the work’s identity — that is my answer.

C: So with me for example, developing my skills and voice by trying methods outside of my comfort zone was not a compromise.  But years ago I used to think that the only way to be seen was by making really “flat” images via digital pen, and that got me nowhere — my work was soulless.  The interesting thing about the word “audience” is that it imbues an etymology regarding being heard (audio), so maybe being “seen” is not the only thing artists hope for but more so that their artistic voice is heard — and this ties in with the linguistics around visual “language”, which goes back to your point about communication.  I’m always interested in how artists recover from their work “missing” reception or when they’ve put something out there which was largely ignored… one writer and designer/director suggested you just grieve and then move onto the next project — remind me, LaSimo, did we not muse over whether we are also our own audience?

S: I am my first and harshest audience.  Both my creative process and my reception of the completed work have a purpose of self-healing — your “Film One” echoes my memoir writing voice in that.  We should, for intellectual honesty, always be our first audience before hitting “Send”.  Numbers (and impatience) play a big role in the assessment of a work’s successful reception — number of views, of clicks, of visits, sales revenue, public recognition. However, it is the ramifications of the work’s distribution and availability — the hardest to assess in my view — the most interesting: did I impact or help even one person?  Did I make someone feel less alone?  Did I inspire the next world-changing leader?  Did I anger someone or push them over the edge?  AI (art application, but not only) is the mirror of the saddest aspect of the current mores: yearning for infinite speed in all aspects of life and business — data processing, time-to-market, response time, travelling time, consumption, availability — attempting to erase the limits of time and space is enemy of meaning and value, one of those goals that indeed compromise to corrupt one’s identity.  Perhaps, our next question could explore this: aside for the established need for regulations, shouldn’t we honestly ask ourselves what is an ethical use of AI in relation to its attempt to reach infinity?

C: I agree with your précis about numbers, and impact is really what counts in the end, what counts for us first before quantifying appreciation. Any discussion about ethics should start from here.

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