“From the start I was unapologetic about my work’s embrace of entertainment culture. As things progressed, entertainment became more deeply integrated into my thoughts and actions, moving me progressively farther from an interest in the internals of art. For a long time now I’ve not been addressing art in my work, but certainly I am addressing being an artist, and locating that role’s contemporary coordinates. I don’t think you find those, today, by considering the art context alone. When you’re young you identify the culture in the artists you admire. The culture is in them, they’re in charge of it. The years go by, and you keep working, and one day you understand that you’re the culture now. The culture was always in you, but now the culture is you. Once you realize that, you can take the culture where you want it to go. You don’t ask the permission of a museum or a university art program. You just do it.“
Changes ushered in by the digital revolution have only begun to be sensed and identified. Among them is one I’ve been terming high entertainment. A new category of imaginative production, high entertainment balances art’s emphases on form-discovery and experimentation with entertainment’s emphasis on accessibility. Born of the new production and distribution opportunities of the digital era, high entertainment encourages the independent imagination to apply art’s experimentalism to mainstream media formats such as commercial film and television. High entertainment is intended too as an alternative to thinking through the frame and concerns of the visual art context. Read the complete High Entertainment online book.
The following comments are adapted from a talk delivered on March 26, 2012, at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago.
“Each of us works with our imprinting. Artists especially must identify and understand their imprinting. As an artist your imprinting is going to play out in the freedoms you claim for yourself. If, like many modern children, you have been imprinted with entertainment culture, then it’s likely you will get ideas suitable for movies, TV shows, pop music and the like (along with whatever other kinds of ideas you get — art ideas and such). Regardless of whether or not you use these ideas you must acknowledge and permit yourself full access to your own imagination. It’s a basic right. From the earliest years of my public life I embraced my entertainment-culture imprinting without apology. In the early going, the mid-1980s, the art world was outright hostile to my attitude but because it seemed to me honest and authentic I stuck to my guns. It had an impact on how I position art production, and over the years, through works and writings, this has influenced some other imaginations.
I am interested in re-wiring entertainment to include ambitious or sophisticated takes on material culture, which culture traditionally has been art’s domain, and I am equally interested in expanding our idea of comedy. I’m working on two tracks, then, both of which run parallel to art. I am an artist but I work from more of a cultural location than from an artistic location as that has been defined by the art context. I’m not “making art” so much as I am integrating material culture into a theater which is organized around a wish to entertain. That’s the energy that drives my work. As far as human desires go, a wish to entertain seems to me sufficiently complex to act upon.
An artist such as Roy Lichtenstein made paintings, sculpture, drawings, ceramics, public sculptures etc., but everything he made was intended for a single context: the art context. His contemporary, Andy Warhol, went about things differently. Warhol made paintings and drawings for the art context, but he also made films for theatrical release. His films of the mid-1960s such as The Chelsea Girls and Lonesome Cowboys enjoyed theatrical release in uptown movie theaters. Warhol was an artist who made work for multiple cultural contexts.
The digital revolution has magnified and intensified the possibilities that Warhol was indicating, by making production and distribution of media-formatted work much easier. Today Author A can make paintings and television shows with roughly the same efficiency. Question: If Author A makes paintings and television shows, what is the location of Author A?
This question, and the opportunity it indicates, belongs to our era. The digital revolution has enabled anyone with access to a computer, camera, and microphone to create efficiently using the pop media — TV, film, music — whose distribution had been controlled heretofore by corporations. With revolutionary potential playing out both in the unprecedented ease of production of works which employ the grammar of mass communication and, equally, their distribution, today’s creative imagination can apply an exhilarating degree of real, practical independence toward achieving reach and impact. Digital technologies have liberated us from reliance on the production systems and economies of the entertainment industry at the same time that digital distribution, via the Internet, enable us to bypass the evaluative system of the art context. Able now to say what we want to say in the way that we want to say it and to deliver the result to an audience, directly and unfiltered, we are freed to develop cultural positions and forge personal paths that disregard two long dominant over-determined cultural systems. In their place we create and distribute pop-media work using new, still-forming systems. It now falls to us to take full advantage of this remarkable situation and to be generous with our imaginations. These new production and distribution conditions, since they not only permit but implement and encourage experimentation, are already influencing what’s being made — how it is structured, what it looks like, what it feels like, and what it has to say. Additionally, the relative ease of digital production today bestows a degree of personal creative control of pop media technologies that previously had been restricted to painting, sculpture, and other fine art practices.
Emergent is a new category of creative communication that I have termed high entertainment. High Entertainment synthesizes the best aspects of art and entertainment. We reject art’s reliance on a specialized language but retain art’s experimentation and emphasis on form-discovery — the idea that you discover the form in the process of making the work. We reject entertainment’s complacency but we retain its emphasis on accessibility. So: experimentation and form-discovery combined with accessibility: High Entertainment. It’s a sensibility that applies experimentation to accessible, popular media formats, such as television and movies. The natural home for much of this very new, just emerging work is the Web, because there are no curators. On the web, an indigenous high-entertainment value system is forming organically.
The digital revolution reinforces a cultural location I have taken to calling the independent imagination. While it’s probably true that any self-invented behavioral innovation which foregrounds communication in a personal way ought to be regarded as art regardless of form, medium, method or context, the independent imagination resists self-identifying as an “artist.” The independent imagination strives to treat communication contexts as the artist treats communication media, i.e. when needed. He or she prefers to engage the thought-structures of the visual art context only when doing so is appropriate for a particular goal. The independent imagination returns always to a position of independence. From what? From the model of success that any one system represents, promotes, reinforces, and maintains. The goal is to foreground freedom of action within history rather than within the record of history which is cultivated. maintained, and reinforced by any single communication system. The goal is to give oneself complete access to one’s own imagination.”
Israel, Alex, “David Robbins talks High Entertainment,” For Your Art.com