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CyberArt & Visual Praxis

"Passive consumption of visual culture was shown to contribute to the production and reproduction of class and status groups. Active comsumption was shown to contribute to production, reproduction and transformation of class and status groups. Therefore visual culture is more than the context in which society is produced, it is one of the ways in which society is produced.."
- Barnard, 1998, p. 196


Praxis refers to reflection applied to action, meaningful and intentional activity grounded in "theory" and knowledge yet expressed through activity and purpose. In this context, visual praxis is intended to mean both the creative act of art making and art display within the cyberspace environment. It also relates to the purposeful appreciation and experience of cyberart viewing - of witnessing.

Van Laar and Diepeveen (1998) wrote that artists create within intentional social constructs, within specific social roles. These authors described five roles occupied by artists, roles that can be applied to the praxis of cyberart: the roles of skilled worker, intellectual, entrepreneur, social critic and social healer.

Artist as Skilled Worker

The artist as skilled worker or artisan dates back to ancient times, specifically Greco-Roman to the medieval periods. This sort of role stemmed back to the notion of commissed work, created according to conventional request and rule, thus contributed to the maintenance of the status quo, and reinforced social consensus. This sort of arrangement is still alive and well in cyberspace under the auspices of hired graphic design. This kind of art is done to serve other's interests.

Artist as Intellectual

In Western art, the Renaissance marked the era of the intellectual artist - artist as hero, and art as the educator of humanity. Examples of such heros are Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and so on. This view of the artist has some merit and gives evidence to the use of art as a deliberate psychological tool in learning about higher order thinking, aesthetics and morality. But this view also smacks of elitism - it leads to what Van Laar and Diepeveen named the "artist as genius". "The artist as intellectual remains a relevant paradigm in contemporary art" (1998, p. 57).

Artist as Entrepreneur

This model became prevalent in the Baroque period, and signaled the rise of the middle class in society. In essence, it colours the artist as an independent agent making a living from the sales of his or her artwork. In this context, a personal style is important, and the artist is free to develop new unique ideas and products. Yet there is still control in this role of artist. "Instead of having to please the church and aristocracy, artists have to please the market" (Van Laar & Diepeveen, 1998, p. 57). Thus, commercialism becomes a factor, the tailoring of aesthetic decisions to please the taste of potential buyers.

Artists who choose to be independent yet refuse to cater to the tastes of the market, run the risk of serving in the somewhat romantic role of "the starving artist". The advent of cyberspace has helped the role of artist as entrepreneur rise to a new height. Multitudes of individual artist websites, artist communities and portal type galleries abound on the world wide web. Never before has the market been so diverse, global and easily reached. Artists can touch people in a new way, perhaps finally being able to show their own unique style without having to conform to current trends and fashions in art. Through the medium of the internet it is more likely that every artist can find their own custom audience. There is no need to be accepted into a major gallery or museum to show one's work. The online environment allows any artist to show their work to the world. A phenomenon beyond match for the entrepreneurial artist!

Artist as Social Critic

In the 19th century, a new role emerged for artists - that of social commentator and critic. "In this model, art is a means of human liberation, a tool in the struggles against injustice, a way to transform the world. This model developed out of the French Revolution and the romanticism of the early 1800s. By the end of that century, many artists were taking the role of alienated expatriate, a kind of prophet who stands outside society" (Van Laar & Diepeveen, 1998, p. 60). Artists began setting their own values, values that were in stark contrast to society at large. This thread is seen in the defiant bohemian artists of the early 20th century as well as in the postmodern social activist artist of the present. "These artists create new visual languages in order to reject particular social and aesthetic conventions" (p. 61).

These artists view their work as vehicles for change, they perceive art as a powerful cultural entity that can affect how people see the world around them - a strong psychological tool.

Artist as Social Healer

The final paradigm suggested by Van Laar and Diepeveen, are artists seen as leaders of social, political and spiritual healing. "Some artists believe their work can express transcendent truths that accomplish social healing. They try to operate as priests, mediating between people and the harshness of the physical, social, and spiritual environment" (1998, p. 63).

This model is rooted in the ancient practice of shamanism, where leaders combined the roles of sorcerer, healer, priest, psychiatrist, magician and artist. The artist uses his or her creativity to attempt to reveal mystical truths. To spark an inner chord in the heart and soul of the viewer. The abundant mass of mystical art work available online is a tribute to this role of artists. Countless artists create artwork that reflect their own vision of a more spiritual, mystical existence and share these with viewers in the online environment of cyberculture. They work to both move and inspire their viewers, to cultivate a thirst for the metaphysical and spiritual aspects of life, to touch the heart and widen the mind.




References

Van Laar, T. & Diepeveen, L. (1998). Active sights: Art as social interaction. Toronto: Mayfield Publishing.




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