Art for Art's Sake
Money for God's Sake
Copyright © Paul Brown 1997
This is an expanded version of a presentation given at the Australian
Commonwealth Department of Communication and the Arts (DCA). The Forum was called
Australian Culture Online: Online and new media access to Australia's cultural
resources and was held on Thursday 9 October 1997 at the department's offices in
All Rights Reserved
"Good afternoon everyone. Today I'd like to address three
"fineArt forum is possibly the longest running art `zine on the
internet. It was established in April 1987 and specialises in news and
information about art & technology. Over the past decade its main format
has been a monthly email digest. Most of our back issues are online and so we
also provide a primary research tool for anyone interested in the history of
art & technology.
- I'll start by discussing how artists are using internet;
- then express concerns about how artists are used and abused in the new
- and finally reflect on the fact that new media are emergent.
"fineArt forum is primarily a data resource with two sets of clients: those who
provide information and; those who consume it. For our email digest both those
clients come from the same group and are mostly creators and theorists with a
professional interest in the field. Currently the email digest has about 1500
subscribers and this figure has remained pretty stable since I took over as
editor in 1992.
"In January 1994 we launched as one of the first web-based art `zines. Our
readership quickly grew and we now estimate that we have upwards of 15,000
readers each month. So our information consumer client group has grown and now
includes a majority of people with a more general interest in art &
"Our content has diversified and been modified to reflect this change in
readership. When we launched on the web we included a gallery space. Although
it has lain fallow for some time it hosts the international indigenous art site
Trophies of Honor (which featured in the Australian Embassy in Washington's
newsletter last year) and Neil Degney's Mail Art Archive. Both of these are
independently curated and maintained.
"We recently established a relationship with the Communication Design Department
at QUT. This offers the opportunity for young people to work on the
publication. Our current student interns range in age from 16 to 30 years old
and they bring a wealth of lateral skills to the project. They range from
computer science undergraduates to mature students with experience in broadcast
"The department itself was recently established (within the experimental ethos
of QUT's Academy of the Arts) in order to specifically address the paradigm
shift that will be generated by the increased assimilation of digital
communication technologies within society. The Communication Design field is
also refreshingly free of the pretentious avant-gardeism that still epitomises
much of the fine arts.
"It is an excellent home for FineArt Forum and I remain optimistic that this new
relationship will enable us to remain at the leading edge of the communication
revolution during our second decade.
"With this new support we have launched a reviews and features section. In the
long term we have an ambition to become a online art and technology magazine.
A major problem is how to pay contributors. Currently all fineArt forum
workers are voluntary. Although this is fine for the news and information
section I believe that for commissioned features and curated gallery shows we
must pay professional level fees.
"Like many internet `zines subscription is free. We want to keep it that way
and so have to find alternative ways of funding our activity.
"fineArt forum's most popular section is Web Resources which is
moderated by Jeliza Patterson at Carnegie Mellon University in the USA. It's a
listing of art sites on Web. Although it's certainly not comprehensive it's
nevertheless very useful. Organisations like Christies and the Getty
Foundation use this resource and refer it to others.
"It provides an interesting window on how artists use the internet. Apart from
use for research the two categories are pretty obvious:
"In the first case it's very easy to put a web site together. All you need is a
one day short course or one of the many tutorial books that address the area.
For the most efficient solution ask your kids to create your web space.
- artist who are putting work online to attract audience and;
- artists who are using the web as a unique creative medium
"Currently internet accounts are cheap and most include a "free" web space of
between half and five mbytes. Alternatively many artist are using web hosts
like Geocities who offer free space.
"However, just putting your page up on the `net is a bit like publishing 10,000
colour catalogues then leaving them in the spare bedroom.
"It's not easy to get an audience to see your work. Sending announcements of a
site to online listings like fineArt forum will help. Our monthly Web Spaces
section features up to 60 entries each month and is probably just the "tip of
iceberg". Just like in the "real world" it's marketing and promotion that will
get your site the hits.
"So now we are seeing a new service industry. People who market web sites.
Some call themselves "galleries", others are just promotion agencies. All of
them cost money. Typical fees range from US$50 to $500.
"From what I see I believe that very few of them work in terms of a return to
the artist such as increased sales or offers of exhibitions. It concerns me
that artists are being exploited in this way.
"There is a rapidly increasing use of the internet for both
regional and national promotion. As some of you know I was the IT consultant
(working with Helen Tyzack) to the Mackay Regional Heritage Network Project
funded by this Department in 1996
"As part of my research I discussed tourist promotion with several local
councils. The Mayor of Mirani had flown down to meet me from Cairns. He
commented that planes leaving Cairns that morning for the Islands were full to
capacity whilst the Mackay flight that he had caught was mostly empty. He
speculated that if just 10% of the tourists decided to rent a car and drive
down the mainland before catching a boat out to the islands the economy of the
seaboard towns would improve dramatically.
"We discussed promotional web sites which would include local cultural
industries and heritage organisations who could add significant value and would
directly contribute to the promotion.
"This is not without it's problems. Many of the regions heritage museums are
housed in insecure properties and a web site could offer a "shopping list" for
criminals together with an indication of the best time to break in.
"Nevertheless I believe that there is a significant chance of success in these
cultural tourism initiatives. That success can be measured in different ways
like national prestige or increased tourism.
"But here again - who benefits?
"It `s obvious that hoteliers, car hire companies, petrol stations, restaurants,
bars, tour operators and the local council will directly benefit from increased
"But will the cultural and heritage sector benefit? It seems clear to me that
for most the benefits will be insubstantial or non existent.
"100 more visitors to the wonderful Greenmount Museum in Mackay represent a $400
per annum increase in revenue to the Heritage Society. Whilst such a sum will
be welcome let's compare it to the $7500 per night revenue that those
100 visitors represent to the local hotel industry. If we estimate that each
tourist is worth $150 each day to the community then the benefit to Greenmount
is less than 0.01% of the total. It's a figure that is hugely disproportionate
to the museum's value to both the local and tourist community.
"So here again we see the creative and heritage sector investing significant
energy in supporting a promotional initiative. They contribute something of
real value (if only their volunteers time). However this substantial
investment is unlikely to have a direct or proportional return.
"It's my opinion (and I speak as an ageing modernist socialist) that the way
forward is to tax those members who do make profits and redistribute this tax
revenue to support members who don't directly benefit.
"We should recognise that the Cultural Sector is an essential component of a
healthy society and, despite all rhetoric about Cultural Industries, we
must also recognise that many components of the cultural sector do not (and
cannot be expected to) directly generate profit. The inverse of this is
equally clear. We cannot measure the success of the cultural sector in terms
of its ability to generate profit.
"As I'm sure you, of all people, are aware this is not a popular message for
conservative governments with their rational economic "user pays" policies.
"Like many others I believe that the development of new media will
represent a major paradigm shift and introduce an entirely new way of recording
and commenting on the human condition.
"I have been searching for historical models since user friendly interfaces
first commercially appeared in the early 80's.
"The development of the wet plate process by Daguerre and Fox-Talbot was
followed by a forty year hiatus before the portraits by Margaret Cameron
establish a unique photographic aesthetic. In cinema the invention of the
motion picture transport by the Lumiere brothers in France and Edison in the
USA needed a forty year transition before `Russian montage' evolved and the
language of cinematography matured.
"In the early days of photography artists made pastiches of their academic
paintings. In cinema the camera was pointed at the theatre's proscenium arch
and the action was filmed from the audiences perspective. Improved lenses
allowed close-ups then conjunction by montage, or editing, completed the
`grammar' and the new language was, essentially complete. We watch feature
films of the mid 1920's and see complete works that are in essence little
different from today's cinema narratives.
"Now we see new media being used to mimic traditional ones. Are we within a 40
year process and, if so, when is it likely to come to term?
"Forty years is precisely the time it takes for the technology to mature and,
more importantly, for a new generation of artists to develop who haven't been
influenced by the previous paradigm. It would seem that this can't be
condensed. Forty years is it.
"The languages of computer graphics and hypermedia begin in the mid 1960's. So
I expect that somewhere in the middle years of the next decade we should begin
to see the new language, the new aesthetic, a new paradigm emerge.
"We are already seeing web sites that explore new concepts - things that can
only be done in this new meta-medium
"I believe that the goal we have set ourselves with Commonwealth policies like
Creative Nation and projects like Australia Online are rather like handing
someone cine camera on the day after Edison invented it and asking them to make
a full-blown feature movie - something they wouldn't be able do for at least 40
years. Although this is a major reason why these initiatives are not
fulfilling their goals I believe that a more important reason is the economic
imperative that underlines their expectations.
"You will have to forgive me but with so many bureaucrats in the
same place at the same time I'm unable to resist the temptation to get on my
soapbox. As some of you will know I have been very critical of the way that
recent funding for new media initiatives has been distributed.
"Historically between 1988 and 1992 the Australian Network for Art and
Technology (redistributing funding from Australia Council) and the Australian
Film Commission's New Image Research fund gave peppercorn grants to artists.
At that time Australia was one of the few countries where artists could get
support for experimental work in new media.
"This work was seen at international festivals like ISEA, SIGGRAPH, IMAGINA and
Ars Electronica and in consequence the global community was astonished at the
quantity and quality of work being produced in Australia. Several overseas
artists moved here to live and work (I'm one of them).
"It's likely that the total amount of money distributed by both those funds
over 5 years was between $1-2 million at most. A relatively small sum. And
just look at the return. In the early 1990's the international community was
looking to Australia for leadership in this new field and Australian artist
were being applauded everywhere.
"It's my opinion that the more recent Commonwealth initiatives have wiped out
that success. We are no longer at the head of the pack and our artists and
graduate students are increasingly going overseas to live & work.
"These more recent grants are much larger and are not "philanthropic" or
"experimental" but are part of a rational economic initiative intended to
ensure Australian participation in international new media developments. As I
have said elsewhere I believe these initiatives have failed or, at best, are
"Why is this?
"I'm pretty appalled that so much of the $84 million funding distributed under
the Creative Nation policy went to people in suits. People who look
"responsible" and who can write good business plans (and who can afford good
accountants and lawyers). They are also people who's sole or main interest is
how much they can personally profit from new media.
"I'm equally disgusted by the fact that so little of that funding has gone to
the creative sector - the people who are in this business because they love it
and who are not primarily concerned with profit. To people who are not asking
themselves how much they can get out of the process but how much they can
"To people who feel that they are part of this emergent process, the midwives or
gardeners who are planting the seeds of new media and then nurturing them so
that one day they will grow into a magnificent new species of which all
Australians can be proud.
"A species that can generate profit for our entire nation and not just a few
cowboys in suits".
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