The Art Canon and The Digital Era walk into a bar…

The digital era has brought forward an enormous change within society, a change of how we use tools, how we share and how we learn. It has primarily shifted the focus from textual to visual aka we are bombarded and confronted with images ALL THE TIME. As a result, I started thinking of the effects these images can have, especially for my field of study: art. Which focuses primarily on visual culture. I started thinking about how these images can contribute to writing history, to teaching the viewers new things. Thus, this blog will be about the ways digital media can contribute to broadening and expanding the art historical canon.

What is the canon?

The canon is the standard. It is a body of works and a range of artists that together ‘form’ the narrative of art history. But, this standard is very selective and very exclusive. As a result, especially in the 20th and 21st century, there has been a lot of debate regarding broadening, expanding, or changing the canon to be more inclusive and diverse. Especially to disregarded groups, like women artists or artists outside of the Western world (whom history in general loves to ‘forget’). Therefore the canon must be dynamic, it has to change constantly and sometimes needs corrections or expansions. Linda Nochlin discusses many of these issues with the canon in her article ‘Why have there been no great women artists?’ (1971) where she challenges ways of efficiently changing the canon. This could be by adding to the canon, expanding and broadening it or the last option is that the canon is systematically a wrong design.

How can digital media contribute to the canon?

The ways to change the canon in an efficient and realistic way is primarily to bring counter-narratives to life. Thus, to tell the stories of those who have not been represented. This is where digital media comes in. Digital media, especially social media but also podcasts and series, give new and varying ways to bring these counter-narratives to life. Social media can shine a light on new and smaller artists that make the art world of today. It is a fast, easy and accessible way to show art of artists on social media, hereby showing and sharing the constant growing artists in the art world. Making room for representation and expansion.

Is the canon still relevant?

Digital media is a place where many artists are able to experiment and to present their works in a way that is more approachable than a museum or a gallery. Also, in regards to last weeks discussion, social media is a great way to build a portfolio, to reach out on different platforms and to reach a bigger audience. But it is also harder to be ‘one of the greatest’ because there is already so much out there. As I have stated before visual imagery is all around us 24/7, which means the standards and ideas about beauty, but also art, have changed as a result of the digital era. This means being the one to stand out has become a lot harder. This puts the canon and the conceptual idea of the canon, this standardized body of works, a lot harder to actually solidify. Maybe the canon is outdated in today’s digital era.

Of course, there remains this selection process when it comes to art history or any history for that matter. But it is a fact that digital media has changed the way we process information and therefore the way we judge this information. Especially when it comes to visual imagery and visual information. The canon is harder in today’s era because of the constant flow of visual information. So maybe the canon is outdated, I am not entirely sure yet, but it is certainly not fast enough for today’s digital era.

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