… In the context of the monolithic and standardized taste of the mass-media products, I believe these [small audience] objects will become more not less important, in response to deep human needs.
This is from the essay ‘Is Technology a New Form?’ found in Nature and Art Are Physical: Writings on Art, 1967-2008 by Rackstraw Downes (2014):
… Artistic form comes, I believe, less from facilitating tools than from the resistance of the materials to the artist’s imagination, and the artist’s ingenuity in exploiting this; it is a source of the unforeseen and the untranslatable, qualities which seem to be essential to art. In the paintings that were shown at the Paris Salon in the late nineteenth century the medium was a tool, a codified and learnable method.
[line break added] This meant that the idea and the object were separable, and the intended message of the work, no matter how noble, was trivialized by the lifeless servility of the technique. (One sees this also in the late work of Salvador Dali.) Concurrently with the Salon and in contrast to it, the Impressionists were experimental and exploratory with regard to the medium, and there is no gap between intention and execution because the former is contained in the latter.
The government sponsored Paris Salon attracted huge audiences, and the artists who showed there competed in making works which would create a public sensation. These works — “machines” as they were called — are the ancestors of the Hollywood extravaganza movie. Immensely laborious and technically sophisticated, they are both consciously directed at, in TV lingo, the ‘end-user.’ The Impressionists, who eschewed or were excluded from the Salon, exhibited their works with small independent dealers, in improvised spaces and in private auctions.
[line break added] Their art put exigency concerning the form-demands of its own internal nature first, and made no attempt to address a mass audience. The fact that it eventually, and so conspicuously, reached one is a paradox nicely articulated by Gertrude Stein who, when asked how she got to be so famous, said: “By writing for a very small audience.”
These are the roots of our present situation. George Orwell, who believed that modern prose writing was essentially the prose of personal conscience — he described it as “Protestant” — foresaw (with horror) the novel written by Committee, in which the individual conscience played no part. Hollywood and television have given us the equivalent. The mass circulation magazine, homogenously edited for a targeted audience, is another example, as is the ‘blockbuster’ museum show.
[line break added] At the same time these phenomena have given rise to their opposites: the underground movie, the small publishing house, the alternative exhibition space, all of which foster what I call the high exigency, small-audience art object. In the context of the monolithic and standardized taste of the mass-media products, I believe these objects will become more not less important, in response to deep human needs.
The power of technology to produce what appears to be exactly the same image, on any scale at any time at any number of places, is impressive; but the sacrifice in terms of lost specificity is enormous.