On The Web, New Conceptual Art

Commentator Andrei Codrescu says the real conceptual artists are working on the Web now. He compares what is being done online favorably with the best museum pieces that went up and then were dismantled.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The porn industry is just that - an industry. Few would argue that it's high art, or even art at all. But then again, the boundaries of art have been stretching at a blinding pace in these days of Web 2.0.

Commentator Andrei Codrescu says the Internet has given artists an enormous venue for fresh, inventive work, marking a return to the original idea of conceptual art.

ANDREI CODRESCU: A classic example is Sol Lewitt's "Wall Drawing #263." Lewitt only drew the idea and had others do it, and then the work was dismantled after the show. This was a bit of Tom Sawyer's fence act, but it was followed by three decades of lovely, disposable art, of which only fading pictures or videos remain.

There was a slight contradiction at the heart of this activity, which was that the museums shelled out big bucks for this stuff, and it couldn't be collected, resold or reproduced.

Well, money is itself a kind of conceptual art. So that's no big deal, except it made a lot of artists unhappy. Most artists don't get paid for what they do, and they are lucky if they can persuade a friend to let them show something at a kid's birthday party.

But all that was before the Internet. Now, everyone who likes to play can make art. On Facebook alone, there are tens of thousands of conceptual artists. I have a Facebook friend called Gene Kelly, for instance, who sends me pictures of himself having lunch with President Obama. Yes, that Gene Kelly, the famous actor. He Photoshopped himself inside a diner having lunch with the president. Other photos on his page are from his classic movies. Of course, he's dead, but not as a Facebook artist.

Another notable conceptualist, whose name I forget, asked to be my Facebook friend, and came clean right away by stating that he was not human but only a piece of code that intended to send me every week messages cut up randomly from different texts. Did I reject him? Not at all. On Facebook, I, too, am a piece of code, although I try to be myself as much as possible, given that only 3,000 people are watching.

Now, there is a slight problem with being a conceptual artist these days: You won't get paid. But this levels the field, and takes the art of money out of the field of serious art. The only conceptual artists who would conceive of making money on the Internet are a lowbrow species known as hustlers. They are to art what painting by numbers was to the high-minded painters of the 1950s. Real artists free of the tedium of money can use, now, all of society as an idea factory.

SIEGEL: Andrei Codrescu edits Exquisite Corpse, a literary journal online at corpse.org.

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