At first thought, I want to say that my interests lie with last word art. There's something extremely daunting about making something that radically transforming from a medium or concept that most people already take for granted. At the same time, people around me are often very first-word oriented; looking at my recent work for this class, I believe that I've been drawn into the first-word realm of things.
Technology has shaped culture at almost every step of the way--of course, the obvious examples are things such as agriculture, industrial revolution, the internet, etc. But something I think that is very interesting happening in our culture today is the way the internet has shaped very different cultures in the West and in China. Technology today being tied up largely in software has also widened an intellectual + educational gap, exacerbating existing income/wage/socioeconomic gaps. On the flip side, I think small sub cultures can drive technologies as well. For example, niche music and art tech is drive by those who need it and make the case and perhaps build it.
The phrase technologically novel immediately brings to mind countless examples that exist in today's world. AR/VR, blockchain, etc are examples of technologies that people are working immensely hard to try to find uses for, but 99% of what's made/exists will not be remembered beyond the year its made. However, I do think that this kind of research will influence the 1% of products that are the last word, and that the last word wouldn't have existed without the first word. In addition, obsoletism has never been more pervasive than today, and software changes so fast that the foundational value of products can't be based purely on its technology. I think last word stuff is not only technologically novel, but also conceptually, philosophically, and aesthetically challenging.
Michael Naimark brings up the idea of first and last word art. To him, first word art is that which forges a new path in a new direction, whereas last word art takes already existing knowledge and presents it in a new way. As an artist myself who has taken part in both of these forms of art production, I can say that I don't have much of a strong preference either way. I see the benefit of both, as it is necessary for art to go in new directions sometimes, yet other times it's important to take something that has already been done and expand on that. Art is a personal dialogue with the piece, and either first or last word art brings the opportunity for that. Specifically with last word art, it is sometimes necessary to change the conversation that already exists around something, and only last word art is the place where it is easy to see the changing dialogue in progress.
This is a similar kind of question to that I've been asking myself for a long time. I believe there is often a dichotomy between hi-tech and low-tech that divides form of practice, people's tastes, and even school curriculums. I wasn't sure which of two I should side on, (I felt that both groups of people were often disapproving of each other) until recently when I started programming, and found out this was something I wanted to do.
And I very much agree with how the author closed his essay. I believe newer tools should be harnessed by more finesse. An unconditional endorsement of established tastes and rules bares some risk of falling into mannerism. And a careless collection of "novel" expressions often has a low signal-to-noise ratio, or seems to have wasted good resource. I think, by staying self-critical at the same time as being inventive and progressive, one could achieve both first and last word art.
I found this page really interesting to me because up until recently I believed mostly in creating last word art mainly because that is simply what I had been told was art. To me art had to be a response, it had to carry a message or be the result of a plan, especially computer based art. Nobody in their right mind can code something if they don't know that they're coding right?
Since a few months ago I have been slowly leaning away from last word art and slowly I have started to gain an interest of art as an exploration of an idea or medium. Why do people have to have an end goal in their projects? What happens if i start a project with a specific medium or the seed for an idea and simply let it direct me where it pleases. I now think that art can be a language with which to share an idea with the world, but it can also be used as a vehicle for exploring new feelings and ideas.
I found Naimark's short essay on "first word art" and "last word art" interesting and novel as I had never previously considered why it mattered when artworks are deemed experimental and new or just a continuation within well-known territory. Personally, I'm not quite sure where my interests lie along this spectrum. I think it's daring to create something entirely new and although it may be exciting, the fact that nothing else like it exists seems to pose a challenge within its creation. To me, it seems that the world has been inundated with "new" ideas and paradoxically, nothing seems truly "new" anymore. Although the author mentions that some believe that "last word art" must not really be art because it is nothing never-before-seen, I would have to disagree because I think artists can always find ways to evolve an existing idea, adapting to our ever-changing environments. Our society constantly demands artists and designers to create something novel yet this request is nothing new. Quick, bold ideas that change every quarter seem to be most desirable within technology whereas the art world generally likes to cling onto the work of the past. Thus the middle-ground between these two worlds must be an environment in which we are heavily influenced by past ideas while at the same time, being driven to create something entirely new.
While I agree with Naimark's claim, I don't think that it can should be used as a scale to evaluate work. Between every first and last word is an always-growing, still-significant body of work. If the first word is determined chronologically but the last word is determined by comparison of importance, then there is no definition for what else is notable. The general public may best remember the first and last word artists best (e.x. Beethoven, Pollock, Warhol), but that doesn't void the value of other artists.
The intent to develop first or last word art also creates a dilemma. If an artists attempts to create a last word art piece, then they will work forever and maybe never create a final work unless they are the next Beethoven. As Naimark's article notes, Beethoven's work has withstood the test of time. If an artist works to create as many first word pieces as possible, then their body of work will be rushed and never reach beyond a shallow degree of complexity.
Although I recognize the importance of first word art, I generally enjoy last word art more. I think this is because in many ways I'm comforted by its traditional nature and find it easier to appreciate the master of craft that is associated with it.
Technologies have an extraordinary impact on culture. One particularly interesting example of this is how modern technology shapes the way we absorb culture. The methods of consumption, instagram, facebook, youtube, affect how we interpret modern culture and therefore the content itself. On the flip side, culture has a tremendous affect on our technology. In particular, America's culture of capitalism and innovation has shaped Silicon Valley's endless drive to innovate, to both negative and positive effects.
I think that when work is technologically novel it ages poorly because work made in new media can't help but be scrappy. No one knows how to use the media yet so the craft is inevitably poor. Making something the second time around is bound to be better simply from learning from the original works' process.
Looking back on my past artworks and the concepts for each of them, I see myself more towards the last word art. That is, I never spend so much time on discovering and analyzing the medium. Instead, I am a user of the medium that has been created, and I recreate things upon them. One major focus of my art practice is to "redesign" things. I like to redesign and remake objects that are overlooked in our daily interactions to bring a new level of novelty and meaning. For example, one of my previous works involves designing a travel guide brochure and making the destination in the brochure a fictional place. Moreover, I redesigned labels on t-shirts to create a narration from the product. For all these practices, I do not actively recreate the medium, I follow the rule that has been created, following the instructions in Illustrator and Photoshop, and following the conventional way of thread interacting with the cloth.
From what I have experienced, I believed that there is a double direction between the development of new technologies and our culture. On one hand, our interactions with each other and our behaviors have been modified and distorted through new technologies. For example, communication as a vital part of forming culture has been changed through the development of phones and the internet. We communicate more online instead of face-to-face. We also abandoned many rules in face-to-face communication and moved on to virtual communication. On the other hand, because of the changes in our behaviors, we have more needs in changing the way we live. And this is why many technologies were developed. This relationship is like an ongoing loop. Art, in comparison, also shared this type of relationship with technology. However, I feel like no matter how unstable the technology may become during the time, the concept is the one that should be preserved and valued. I am a person valued less towards the medium. Unless there is a very specific way of doing the work that drives me to interact with novel technology, I won't risk to let my ideas travel with it.
Reading Naimark makes me deeply uncomfortable. It's not because of the complexities that arise in the definitions of "First Word" and "Last Word" art, I'm okay with that, it's the deep level of ambiguity between these two terms that hits the uncanny spot. I get it, Naimark is trying to argue that the very nature of the relationship between art and technology means that it's almost impossible to say what's "First Word" and what's "Last Word", and this questions my assumptions about technology as an artistic medium to a very fundamental level. I've always assumed that Real art is First Word, art that is not afraid to experiment, art that tries to expand the field and its definition, art that uses new media as exploration, or uses old media in a new way.
But, Naimark sheds doubt upon this whole worldview - isn't art done with high skill, in an established setting also art? And isn't art playing with technology just that? A form of play? I guess a conclusion for me is not about the medium, but about the effect of the art. Does the art make a comment on society and the way we operate? Is it aesthetic? Does it move people? If so, yes, it's both First Word and Last Word, but then I ask, why all this playing around with technology?
I think that categorizing things as either "First Word Art" or "Last Word Art" is difficult, if not impossible to do except in hindsight. I think every artist strives to make one or the other, but there is no real way to know other than to see what follows, and as such I believe most projects will fall somewhere in the middle.
Particularly the idea of "Last Word Art" is troublesome to me. It seems to require a universal understanding that the best of the best has already been created, and to attempt to refine the idea any further would be ridiculous, but I think that overlooks the fact that the most innovative ideas draw inspiration from the past as part of the process.
Since technology is constantly evolving, one might anticipate that a lot of "First Word Art" can stem from the development of technology. However, just because something is new and different doesn't necessarily mean it's valuable simply because it utilizes a new material or concept (though it certainly can be).