Another Gutenberg Effect..
The irony of too much of a good thing. We love something so much that we saturate our world with it. Through its oversupply, we lose the value we found from which our love grew in the first place.
When Sawidji first began, one of the motivators was the need to revive a true creative spirit. Amidst the despondency brought about by pandemic, the economic standstill and years of diminishing art value due to hyper commercialisation. We were keen to be creative and go back to the roots of fine arts. In a localised context, such as that of Bali, this has specific challenges that is layered by many factors. There is a strong contradiction that is taking place here.
On the one hand, it cannot be denied that Bali is a haven for creativity. For the free spirited, adventurous and creative nomads this is an ideal environment. The micro communities emerging are flourishing. Fuelled by the international flavours that come through our island. On the surface, the charm and seduction of this eclectic free and expressive world is intoxicating.
The Altar of Commercialism
When you take the time to look at things more closely, there are several things that often get overlooked. The co existence of art and tourism is one that may be potentially rewarding but also destructive. Tourism is a transient culture. One that is filled with temporariness.
The economic stability of Bali island has been through the tourism industry. But it has left its mark. From the overdevelopment of real estate, to waste management and sustainable environmental practices as well as long term effects this has to traditional cultural practices.
Even spirituality and art have been sacrificed on the altar of tourism. They both are not small victims. In the case of art, whether it be traditional or contemporary, the meaning and spirit of art is always difficult to articulate. But, in ways we can define, we can see how tourism and commerciality has changed the fabric of the Balinese Art community.
Commercialism has insidiously coloured many pieces of art even at its point of conception. For many works are painted for the sole purpose of order fulfilment or driven by the successful market trends. It is not the question of ‘good art’, it is the question of ‘how good does it sell?’
Art has been one of the most flourishing business commodities exploited beyond reason in the past two decades in conjunction with tourism. Especially traditional art. Of course this is a reality equally chosen by Balinese artists and artisan community as well. And when true art spirit abides, the societal changes brought about by commercial tourism has been a whip which has made some artists achieve wonderful manifestations of their creativity.
However, as a point of reflection, we are asking a hypothetical question. If one day there was only art that was made to order, or produced in mass quantities to be sold at the ‘art market’, will we not feel something lost? Would we not miss the purity often found in a great painting. A painting that had the power to move you, even change you.
Art has had many manifestations throughout many ages. It was used for social commentary, political protest, psychological reflection, visual canons of theological interpretations. It has served as a mediation, platforms for propaganda and complex spiritual and philosophical ideaologies as well. Human beings express themselves. We express ourselves though all manner of tools. As a form of mass production and art for the sole purpose of selling is a relatively new manifestation in the past few decades.
Some of us may feel this climate change in art. Some may embrace it without struggle. The changes happening in our world are not coincidental. They are the direct results of individual and collective choices forming collective identities. Art is commercial because people are commercial, living in a commercial time.
However, life has changed. People have changed. Technology have changed. Our responses to our own artistic expressions have also changed. We have less time. We see a lot but we often don’t ‘see’ meaningfully.Tweet
Another Gutenberg Effect, Looking Back on History
Through hindsight we can see the changes in our relationship to the written word. When the Gutenberg machine was invented the world changed. It was a precursor of the age of modernism. Through the revolutionary impact of the printing press, societies and collective consciousness transformed as a result.
The letter of the word was no longer unique to the penmanship of one man only able to reach a handful of privileged individuals. The invention of the Gutenberg printing press set a whole future in motion shaping the world as we know it today. The accessibility of information and its mass distribution changed not only Europe but the global community.
Even with the later development of photography and print media, the impact on traditional fine arts is much slower to change. Perhaps the same revolutionary transition for fine arts is culminating now. The social media platform has made the transfer of art and the experience of artworks far more accessible.
The number of digitally connected people in the world are rising exponentially and this is where we start to see the changes in the role of art in society. You do not have to go to a certain gallery to experience art. With the tap of your fingers on your phone you may see all the art in the world at your fingertips.
Left: ‘Dewi Sita in the Fire‘ by Wayan Wangen. Wayan Wangen is a sculptor with decades of experience in one of the leading Wood Art Galleries in Ubud.
This change brings exciting aspects as well. On the one hand, knowledge and exposure of art you would otherwise never see in your lifetime, is readily accessible to more people. On the other hand, with this rise in visual saturation there is likely to be devaluation. It is far too easy to be over conditioned to the visual exposure and lose touch with the real experience. The real power behind an honest work of art. Understanding the impacts of our changing times is important so we do not simply get awash in the strong currents and lose our sense of purpose or identity simply because that is the direction of the majority.
Where Are We Now?
With some awareness of our societal, economical and technological landscape and their influences on our psyche and behaviours, we can exercise our freedom to choose our purpose. Perhaps we may find more reason to inspire each other to use our creativity for a collective purpose. To return a higher degree of appreciation. A return to conceptual thinking, reflection and critical thinking. Aspects of the process that had always partnered the fine arts. To make an effort where we can, to let art be the vessel to communicate greater knowledge. Perhaps to celebrate history, to inspire wisdom, or to protest against social injustices. Not just for a fleeting visual satisfaction.
Sawidji introduces Mind Frames. Short films of our group talks on YouTube . Coming together and bringing ideas and reflections in our world of Art. Here is our first episode on Social Animals Exhibition at Sawidji Gallery.