Techspressionism: Digital and Beyond Foreword by Helen Harrison
In 1928, ruminating on the rapid pace and profound nature of change in the twentieth century, the French poet and philosopher Paul Valéry wrote: “We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.” This prediction so impressed the cultural critic Walter Benjamin that he used it as the epigraph of his famous 1935 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility” (as it was originally titled). These writers and others were pondering the same issues that face the artists who now, nearly a century later, self-identify as Techspressionists.
Thanks to digital technologies and the Internet, works of art have become, in Valéry’s formulation, ubiquitous; as he foresaw, “We shall only have to summon them and there they will be.” This level of accessibility requires us to adopt and accept new attitudes toward creative expression. As Benjamin observed, the debate regarding the artistic validity of new media, begun with photography and cinema in the late nineteenth century, centers on the so-called aura of the singular work of art. And the aura of uniqueness remains powerful. Yet a digitally-generated artwork is not a reproduction in the conventional sense—that is, a copy of something else—though it can be, and often is, reproduced in multiples that are indistinguishable one from another.
Hand-made versus mechanical. One-off versus duplication. Such binaries ultimately resolve in light of the works of art themselves. By whatever technique it’s created, Techspressionist imagery generates its own aura, deriving its authenticity from the artist’s intention. Expression is paramount; technology is merely the delivery system. Jackson Pollock faced a similar concern. Frustrated by the focus on his materials and methods rather than the content of his paintings, he insisted, “It doesn’t make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something is being said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.”
Helen A. Harrison
Sag Harbor, NY