The Internet and the Arts

Social Media, Twitter in particular, is something which I am in fact very passionate about. It all began in my final year of university when I was putting super-focus into everything and decided to start blogging about art as a productive form of procrastination. I quickly learnt that I could find a much wider audience for my writing through Twitter and could even connect with the galleries I was writing about.

Anyway since then the internet has continued to be my friend and I have found myself interested in watching the rise of internet art too. Philippa Found’s feminist exhibition on the Body in Women’s Art finished with a group show of works which explored the possibilities and virtual realities of the internet. I also did my first ever artist interview with Daniel Kelly about the power of Twitter in affecting social and political change.

My article for the CAN journal was opportunity to think a little more deeply about how far I saw the benefits of the internet stretching.

Helen Carmel Benigson, Twitter Print

While the internet might not sound like the obvious bedfellow of a bohemian artist, writer or photographer, there is a growing crowd of creative professionals who are turning to the internet’s democratising powers to increase their exposure.

It’s no longer enough to be networking at launches and private views while you sip strange brands of free beer, your online presence will also help with massive amounts of kudos and it’s even possible to network-tweet.

The internet is more than just a means of instantly accessing data and information which it might take us hours to source in a library or archive, social media has also made it an invaluable tool for connecting with real people and institutions, whose paths we could never dream of crossing in the real world. Out on the streets Katy Perry might be escorted by a crowd of impenetrable heavies, but on Twitter all you need is the ‘@’ symbol to manufacture an intimate encounter.

The same goes for the art world, while the richest collectors might remain elusive, it’s not hard to suck up to the biggest and best galleries by casually throwing a compliment their way or becoming their biggest retweet sycophant. Conversations and debates initiated through social media can easily be the beginning of a real life affinity when you meet at a private view.

Although it may sound more than a little cheesy, the possibilities available to us in virtual reality begin to seem infinite.  If I have any kind of voice as a writer, I have it because of the internet. It’s where most of my articles are published and it’s also how I reach my audience. This audience would probably consist of just my mother and my grandmother if it wasn’t for social media. This is why so many artists and writers would consider the internet their friend; obscurity isn’t quite so obscure when a casual retweet by a celebrity can send you global.

“Conversations and debates initiated through social media can easily be the beginning of a real life affinity when you meet at a private view.”

Leaving my Twitter obsession aside, there’s one issue I have with the internet and its relationship with a growing cultural apathy. I once knew of a very rich art collector who did most of his art-shopping through online picture galleries and bulk packages shipped over email. If an online gallery was a suitable substitute for real floor space many could save a small fortune on rents, maintenance and staffing. But there is a difference between seeing a work of art in the flesh and browsing for the highest resolution reproduction on Google.

The internet’s power to induce hypnotic states of procrastination and periods of utter laziness scares me because I am a prime suspect.  I have retweeted articles I have never read because 140 characters have convinced me that I do in fact agree. I’ll tweet about exhibitions I will never get to and I agree to attend events on Facebook which I have no intention of going to.  Sometimes I like to think of this as a show of solidarity but the truth is that I’m just spoilt – spoilt by the incredible wealth of data that passes rapidly through my Twitter feed every day.

There’s an odd little website called Klout which likes to flatter everyone by analysing their social media reach and declaring them ‘Influential’. According to the site I’m influential on a range of topics including ‘coffee’- in this case I’m definitely not, I’m just an addict.  This is the thing which worries me, while my ever-growing following on Twitter might sound impressive, and my WordPress blog stats suggest a growing engagement, how much of this influence is real? How many people give my articles more than a cursory glance? Or don’t just mindlessly click through the picture galleries of an artist’s work without really looking?

If you’ve paid £10 for a magazine you probably will make sure you read through some of the content properly, equally if you’ve paid to get into an exhibition or have made the trip to a gallery you will be spending some time looking at the work.  My fear is that so much of what we do in the virtual world literally just disappears into the ethernet.  So I guess, the only thing left to say is don’t forget about the real world. The internet is still only supposed to be our ‘Second Life’.


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