Everything fresh and new will grow stale over time. The larger quantity of a thing that’s consumed the duller the taste of it becomes. It’s important to recognize these changes as movement toward change and, with hope and hard work, evolution.
Early last year I began focused consumption of specific visual artefacts. Ruined buildings, concrete structures, transhuman forms and their associated accoutrement. I collected and collated my findings in endlessly scrolling folders and gorged myself on a previously-undiscovered universe of architecture and artwork.
It took months to start recognizing patterns and artists, but with the intensity of my focused activity it wasn’t long before I started picking up on patterns. I mean, the brain’s always doing that as it is, but here with a the specific task of overwhelming consumption and analysis it first had to compensate for the amount of input. But compensate it did. I began to recognize a photographer’s eye from the way their cameras had been placed, or how much light they’d let through their lenses. I could tell a painter’s hand by the brushes they used, and the palettes they dipped from. The recognition wasn’t perfect, of course, but this started to reveal other trends that I’d previously been ignorant to, such as how many pretenders and imitators there were out there. Many of them aren’t even doing it intentionally, they’re simply using the work of those who’ve come before as templates for their own, and in doing so infect their own work with the ghosts of the past. I suppose you could argue that that’s inevitable in any evolved artform, that everything is a combination or iteration of what’s come before, but I was finding plenty of things that seemed new and unique, at least at first blush.
This became even more apparent as time went on, the separation between who was doing really “new” work and who was tracing and regurgitating. Which artists were unafraid to reinvent themselves, take chances, and really push their boundaries, and those who’d reached a level of comfort with their tools that satisfied their creative needs. And then that observation revealed the range of hunger present in a given artist, or how exhausted a certain way to portray a certain subject was. The world of art blossomed before my searching eye.
And then the boredom started to set in, a very unique form of tiredness that came from the mass-consumption of what in ages past would have been restricted by the limited abilities of the information dissemination systems. We never had the ability to consume data in the past the way we do today. Now there’s an infinity of content available to anyone with the wherewithal to get online and search. Mastery of the search tools gives a dedicated explorer the keys to the world, or at least the portions of the world that have access to and the willingness to post their work to the ‘net. But the boredom was real, and it was different from the boredom I’d felt in the past. I hadn’t been specifically bored for years, not since discovering art for myself, and while I hadn’t yet found boredom in production here was this creeping disinterest starting to crawl out from my habit of consumption.
It’s not that the work I was looking at was bad. Good and bad are always going to be subjective, and the fact that someone’s taken the time to create something “new” using the tools at their disposal makes most anything “good”, but there is undoubtedly a scale of quality, a gradient curve where on one end lies the newcomer’s amateur fumblings and the other the master’s touches. And in oversaturation of masterworks (what a condition to have!) there was inevitably a weariness. “Oh wonderful, another figure that’s as perfectly executed as the last ten.”
How to describe this with any kind of accuracy to someone who’s not into it, or hasn’t experienced it? It’s like being tired of watching your favorite television program because they’ve run out of ideas. It’s like recognizing the formula behind a thing that’s been engineered to grab your attention. Seeing that wiring under the board. In the refinement of taste comes the realization that so much of what’s presented is sub-par, based on how high your own bar’s been raised.
The point here is that the boredom that comes from concerted effort is a symptom of real evolution, and it’s what comes after that makes all that effort worthwhile. The new ability to see the true excellence in things. And then to take those new eyes, that new vision, and apply it to your own work. Without that step it’s all in vain, because you only have to look 10-deep in any comment or critique thread to realize that there’s a dearth of qualified criticism out there, and that people are starving for new things to knock their socks off.
This is the blessing and the curse of the current age, and it’s not going to get any easier any time soon. Consider this an important part of the new artist’s training, where overconsumption of a target aesthetic is absolutely key to becoming better.