essays and articles for study and research

Vita-More, Natasha. Content  As A Candle In The Dark

Content As A Candle In The Dark


She struck the match across the torn edge of the box to rekindle the diminishing flicker and turned the page of her soiled book to read, “It is a systematic analysis of the content rather than the structure of a communication, including the study of thematic and symbolic elements, that determines the meaning of the communication.”


How many artists can dance on the head of a pin and still miss the point?


The attention deficit of society trickles down from reading and mathematics to comprehension and appreciation of new mediums of art to understanding science. Carl Sagan’s moving style in addressing society’s blind spot to science is shown in the chapter “House On Fire” (The Demon-Haunted World). He begins by quoting a Buddhist story about a burning house where only the father escapes while his children play inside, oblivious to the circumstances around them. Sagan then brings to light an article he wrote for Parade magazine about society and education’s attention deficit toward science. Responses received in letters from students surprised him. The feedback was that many students saw no problem with being ignorant to science, and if there is a problem, there’s not much to do about it. A similar cultural attention deficit clings to the artists while the museum burns around them.


Of current consequence is the direction of the arts and our place as artists in the emerging new media of digital and Critics, museums and individuals have their  favored artists who stand above the rest in digital flashiness and java scripting. But this is not sufficient criteria for discerning the digital landscape of the arts nor artists. While the Internet is a fluid environment spawning ideas, it is also a symbiotic medium that invites a flurry of link-to-link shared public information. The interactive way information is absorbed and mutated indicates that the genuine author can be lost in the shuffle. Pitting artists against one another in a competition for importance would be like saying “my left breast is far more important than my right breast” when the two work quite nicely in conjunction.


The museum is the known, traditional exhibition and storage space for art, yet the question of how museums will handle new modes of art is still unanswered, especially in regards to the Internet and new media. From a global perspective, the issue of museum vs. appears trite. However, in perspective, the issue of museum vs. is really an issue of subject matter and is just as important as the issues of extending life vs. overpopulation, or ethics vs. somatic genetics.  These issues are integral to culture and require careful thinking about the goals of the parties involved and whether they are in conflict or not. These issues create content.  Yet, who thinks about these issues? When discussing the content of art, I attempt to wear my hat squared neatly on my head and then hang it carefully on the art/science hook of my net-atelier.  Perhaps the art community might consider issues other than where to hang its hat—museum or Internet!



Hungry for Content


The most valuable and profound artistic ideas are the ones that create 1000 times their weight in new questions and answers. Artists who cherish any ignorance they encounter and face it head on, square their own curiosity. 


The poet John Keats voiced a complaint about Newton who he claimed single-handedly destroyed the magical beauty of the rainbow. Thinking that a rainbow must be a mystery and unexplainable, Keats claimed Newton took the mystery away by his dull and unimaginative scientific explanation.  Yet, Keats missed the physical natural wonder of the rainbow as explained through science!  For the rainbow—a shape of an arc of spectral colors created by refractive dispersion of sunlight in rain or mist—is in itself wondrous and awesome.

The content of art need not distract from the poetry of art, but dazzle and inspire by observing history, anthropology, science, nature study, visionary projections, and by metaphor.


It is imperative to realize the direction of the arts as they mesh with science. I have engaged in many debates on science and art over the past few years and my focus at the rise of the millennium is the blending and synthesizing of ideas across domains. One might say, she is an artist who advocates optimism but what is the content of her optimism?  Answering such questions was my intention with “The Aesthetics of Memetic Evolution.” ( The content is about the wastefulness of death, the beauty of knowledge, the necessity of kindness, and the spreading of memes. The reality is that every three to six  seconds a person dies and every three to six seconds a meme spreads.  This piece in itself encodes a memetic visual across the Internet.


There are many concerns and theories about the future of the arts, but if the focus over emphasizes theory, content is neglected. Theory is necessary to assess content, but content must arise out of culture. Content is the pulse. It can reflect culture as a cultural portrait or it can steer culture by presenting a vision. “The brain is hungry not for method but for content, especially content which contains generalizations that are powerful, precise, and explicit.” (Frederick Turner).


How do we engage new technologies?


We have to relearn the computer as it evolves past our understanding of it today. How we engage now in near-new technologies and science centered interests might affect our future roles as artists.


Designs for the human body and enhancements to our senses; neurotechnology to alter moods by inducing chemicals in the brain with gene therapy; new generations of computer programming; full telepresence realities with extremely high bandwidth; Internet 2 prototypes that are consortium Internets using bandwidth 1,000 times faster than the current Internet; nanotechnology to build and assemble structures; spontaneous organisms such as the “worm”  digital life form copying itself and appearing, although uninvited, in many computers; or advanced computing are content-suitable technologies.


How do we achieve/maintain direction with technology as artists?


By checking and rechecking the barometer of society and planning for the long range. If the pioneering technologies are focusing on extreme life extension and biotechnology as well as brain augmentations, then this is where the technology is headed.


Content that drives art is concerned with a need or desire to convey an idea, value or world view.  In this regard, the artist chooses the most appropriate technology to get the job done, rather than the most elegant or cutting edge technology. 


Technology driving content is exemplified in collaborative computing, such as astronomy’s recent use of computing in the SETI collaboration.  At-home users volunteer spare background cycles of their own computers to participate in sieving vast quantities of radio-telescope data for signs of extraterrestrial life.  The Internet is a new medium, so a great deal of attention tends to be paid to the mechanics of the tools, which are relatively independent of content in their functioning.  


A lot of technological art has less scripted content drive than it has interactive play and advanced engineering tools.  New tools keep amazing us and making it easy to get involved with the latest news breaking technologies rather than our stories (content), which become stale.


What can  we do with all this new stuff—this new technology—instead of repeating stories of pain and hardship, gods, and old myths? 


Why not focus on new possibilities—new ways of improving our lives and living longer, as well as viewing the universe around us. Why not create art that deals with the most important issue of the 21th Century—extending life and overcoming death?


Most stories that touch us deeply are ones we sympathize with—a similar experience in our lives, a similar pain, a similar loss, or a similar joy.  Artists have an opportunity now to take advantage of the advances of science and biotechnology and apply the information to our art as we visualize what it might be like to live for hundreds of years (and longer) with less time for disease and more time for creativity.