Adding my voice to the people who have a whole lot of nothing to say about today's surprisingly vibrant digital 'youth culture', I have to say I find it kind of mean.
Today's popular art seems to be guided by the instinct to defy corporate cliches with slightly repulsive, usually digital, images. This continues the theme of irony which fed contemporary art for at least as far back as the surrealists, and continued through the 1950s in forms such as collage, such as Richard Hamilton's iconic muscleman lifting a lollipop.
Ever since, art has set itself the task of beating expectations, to appeal to our sense of irony, humour, or delight.
But I think what makes it different today is that, in this populist online art movement, people are doing it with video and digital images online like Andy Warhol in a bad mood gone viral.
Tougher-to-beat expectations for what will reasonably offend and shock the public, as well as the digital medium which provides a whole new way of discovering and artistically exploiting intimate thoughts and images from the lives of others, means that people have taken a no-holds barred, race-to-the-bottom approach on designing art's new "irony.'
No gentle mocking of Warholesque screen sirens with bright punk makeup, or some light-handed, wry take on consumer culture, a la Duchamp. This goes beyond the cultural 'dirty laundry' of today's kids into posting of outdated computer graphics, badly designed corporate advertisements, and other corporate artistic fuck-ups.
You'll get people taking the dirty laundry of the common people, you and I, our neighbors, our kids, the online dirty laundry, out to dry for kicks, and ironically curating it as 'art'.
They're saying, forget corporate jazz, let's go right to the antithesis of popular culture: real people. Fat people, people with diseases, poor and suffering people, disfigured people, plastic surgery failure victims, and people with mutations. Online neologisms or behaviors exhibited by marginalized social groups, like the young, the unattractive, the very old, prostitutes or black people are display in an ironic way. People of all classes doing stupid things mainly, but generally without any intent of posing as subjects of speculation beyond their circle of friends. Particular interest is paid to people who post, tweet, or text in unusual, or upload images in unflattering ways.
It's as though, already jaded by the aggressiveness of digital reproduction, the public is revolting against the machine reproduced art by artistically disfiguring it or posting its polar opposite in a defiant proof of human superiority: our instinct to pinpoint the weirdly real. A permutation of reality that, just because it is real and reality is weird and unexpected, a computer could never reproduce.
The public retaliates against corporations, tries to restore its senses, dulled by repetition, by plunging to new depths of the ironically weird. The wonderful has gone sour and now people crave destruction of culture, not just defaming of traditional art, but defaming of traditional consumer culture, in the form of non-sequitor that is intended to disgust and delight, because it is weird.
This means an exciting new premium is placed on the purely visually weird, if not straightforwardly iconoclastic. That's good news: aren't we all getting bored?
However, while I wouldn't normally have a problem with this - that's all part of freedom of expression - I kind of draw the line at mutiliated children and personal tragedy put on page with Gatoride or Nike wallpaper intended for ironic cultural criticism.
On the one hand, people doing this are not all that iconoclastic, as by classing outcasts by their appearances and online behaviors and shaming corporations with their own ugliness, they perpetuate the popular culture that places a premium on attractive appearances and consumerism. on some basic level, disadvantaged (poor or diseased) people who find the honest presentations of themselves curated as ironic art are likely to find it insulting, hurtful, and politically incorrect.
On the positive side, it allows us a means for having an interest in ugliness or disadvantagedness in ways that glamourise and popularise it through sheer reputation. It has the potential to make us aware, or maybe less ambivalent, towards margilaised people.
This kind of art poses a deeper ethical and social problem: If consumer culture isn't true, and art, as counterculture to consumer culture, is just gross, does it mean that we have no outlet to positively reflect our values through art in any way other than 'Not this'?