Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Navigaiting the PR Game

What are the emerging tools available to artists to get their work known? The traditional tools of art magazines ( i.e. Artforum, Art in America, etc.) are becoming more marginalized in a world culture which included creatives voices ranging from television to blogs.

Just as poiltics has become more and more in the hands of independent writers ( bloggers), and filmmakers , the various 'art-hoods' that I have previously written about should become part of blog culture and develop trends, nodes and movements independent of the traditional art critic.

Many scenes in Los Angeles, especially the dance community, has voiced deeply felt concerns about the state of art crtiticism. Dance critics are continuously seen as unqualified to state their opinions in pretigious newspapers, and a need to express a way of assessing the critics seems to me, to be necessary. No creative voice should be imune to criticism, and that should ultimately include the critics. It seems obvious that a review, good or bad, no longer has the power it once had in creating an audience. I recently saw a "pick of the week" in a major LA local paper. The metropolitan area of our regions is well over 10 million, yet only about 50 or 60 people showed up to the 'pick of the week' event. Clearly, nobody cared, or even noticed the critics acclaim, and almost all the audience who attended would have attended no matter what. Is the time and expense of courting traditional PR attention through the media still relevent? Perhaps not.

I think that just as people have turned to their favorite blog writers for keen new insights, these same people are turning away from traditional critics. Perhaps yet another award show should created, an award not for best critic, but for worst critic. The qualifications that a critic brings to an article should be disclosed, just as stock brokers appearing on cable TV news stations, have been forced to disclose any conflict of interest issues. If a dance critic has never danced professionally, or an art critic has never made his living as an artist, or a film critic has never released a film, that should obviously not disqualify the critic from writing, but it would be helpful if the reader was aware of what source of expertise is being read. Controversal? Certainly, but also a step towards the transparency that media needs to better serve audience. Think about it. What would it hurt if we knew more about the backgrounds of our experts, just as they are constantly asking for ours?

Navigating the PR Game has always been about creating news channeles that did not exist before. Sure, send out your press release to the papers, print postcards and mail them out. But mopre people will know about you through blog-style approaches, and are more likely to show up to your event.

contact Masucci at mmasucci@eztvmedia.com or mmasucci@aol.com

Thursday, January 27, 2005

What Future for the Non-Profit Art Scene?

contact Masucci at mmasucci@eztvmedia.com or mmasucci@aol.com

I am concerned that something has unexpectedly happened that is damaging the morale and resolve of independent artists both in the US and abroad. More and more I hear stories of the desperation of artists who have committed themselves to relying on the funding of their projects through the system of grants, foundations, awards and other increasingly dwindling sources of non-profit funding. Many of these artists I have worked with over the decades, and some I believe to be truly significant contributors to the Southern California artist's movement. Make no mistake, I fundamentally believe that we should live in a society that embraces public supporting for the arts. I do however, find little sympathy for those who are not deeply in touch with their chosen professions, and that includes an understanding of the prevailing trends in methods for production fund-raising. At this point in time, despite what we would wish, it is simply unrealistic to assume that one can sustain a career based on grants. That dose not mean of course, that there are not those fortunate souls out there who continuously receive generous grant awards, but their numbers are few, and each year, art schools from around the world are turning out more and more competitors for fewer and fewer grants. But art is not going to go away. True artists continue to produce work through a variety of methods, and would do so under any conditions. True artists cannot help but make art. It is simple what they do. Recently, newly discovered venues for art, ( i.e. animation sites based on Flash or other accessible digital tools ) created an arena and audience unexpected by the leading 'experts'.

In 1991, at the first CyberArts International Conference, the pioneering digital artist David Em surprised his audience when asked the question "do you really believe that you can make art with computers?". Em, not missing a beat, looked at the questioner and said "you can make art with mud". Yes, resouces are never a problem for true artists, only for those whose ideas are intellectually and creatively bankrupted and whose sensitivities are mundane. Artists will continue to explore the process of art making with whatever tools they have available, even inventing them when necessary.

Sometimes, EZTV has been mis-understood, by some who believe that it is 'anti-grant'. This could not be further from the truth. We simply do not rely on grants ourselves, although to this day, we serve on various grant apnles to give others funding support. EZTV often works with artists who receive grants of various kinds, but it does not in itself apply for, and therefore receive, grants. This has, oddly enough, forced EZTV to become full-time professional videomakers, and not full-time professional grant-writers. EZTV has built a career path that is ever changing, according to the trends which effect all working professionals in our fields. This has not only made us stronger, more adaptive and resilient, it has perhaps, made us wiser. We do not jump at every fashion that emerges, and select those options which seem at the time to present the most long-term growth and sustainability. Yes, sustainability, for just as ecological concerns must influence our every decision, so too the ecology of an artist's career path must consider sustainability as an aspect of it's process.

I look forward to a more elightened time in the future, when art, just as other cultures acheivements such as education, health-care, nutrition, and a clean enviornment, are considered essential elements of a 'great society'. But I have no delusion that this goal is far away, and that I and my creative collegues may not live to see it occur. THis will not deter me, and should not deter any artist from the gift of creativity, a gift that is both taken in and given to others. More communication between working, teaching and student artists will result in a more effective distribution system for the exchange of art, and for the economic realities that we all are subject to.
resources vailable to all

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Invisible Video Artist

Every spring for the last three years, I have taught a course in Digital Motion Graphics to the Foundation students at the Otis College of Art and Design, considered by some as one of the finest art schools in the country. The presumed prestige of the student body would lead one to think that the familiarity with many aspects of modern art would be commonplace on campus. I continue to be surprised how selective information has become.

My first class is usually a three-hour discussion about the trends in the field, an overview on the various career options, and some examples of leading figures in current practice. Curious to see what is on the minds of these talented young people, I question them about what they watch and listen to, and about their awareness of the contemporary art world. To my surprise, I find a very disinterested attitude about the current so-called leaders of the modern art scene, and very little interest in what academics call "video art".

Every semester, I find an appropriate point in the semester's discussion to mention the name Bill Viola, no doubt the most famous of the video artists. I ask my class how many of them have heard of Viola. The first two years I taught the class, only two or three of the students knew of him, this year, no one had. I found it fascinating that those most likely to be aware of a particular artist had no interest in this area of contemporary art work.

Whose fault is it that art students are unaware of this work? Certainly the educational system, and also certainly, to some extent, the curators, museum directors, art critics and even Viola himself. All these people have, according to these students, created an irrelevant system, which they feel cater to the elite, the pretentious or the deluded art speculator.

Is this the future of art, that even the most supposedly famous individuals of a particular filed are marginalized so that only the aficionados recognize a leading figure? Perhaps, and that may not exactly be a bad thing. With the diversity of world cultures continuing to evolve in every possible direction, more and more local, regional and genre-specific stars will emerge.

Bill Viola certainly does not lack for admirers in the museum, curatorial and high-end gallery and art collector culture. He may however, have to work harder to gain the recognition of the general public, even within the professional art community. Since he is a MacArthur Fellow ( and therefore a "certified genius") I wonder who the people are that select the Macarthur Awards, and what concerns they have towards having the population as a whole benefit form the people they select. Obviously, one cannot benefit form an artist's work if the artist is generally unknown.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

When Independence Becomes Dependency.

Conventional wisdom in Independent Cinema states that the film festival circuit is the best way for new work to get seen. While there are no doubt numerous examples of this actually being the case, far more examples of this not being the case are surely in evidence. Conventional wisdom is rarely wise. With over 1500 film festivals in existence around the world, and many more on the horizon, festival participation has become more like playing a local club, then playing in the major leagues. Currently with so many film festivals, (some happening simultaneously), being in a festival typically gives little chance of 'being seen'. And very little opportunity to make the money so vitally needed to produce one’s next film. Often, just like a rock band playing in their local bar, the audience of one’s screening at a festival is small, and unless a specific publicity campaign is staged ( at considerable expense) by the filmmaker personally, the festival screening can be made up of only of the filmmaker’s friends. For many observers to the film festival scene, the stars that rise from the festival industry are more often the festival organizers and not the filmmakers. They create for themselves the professional contacts, economic opportunities and
various perks that rightfully should be going to the filmmakers.

Film festival directors, curators and programmers from the larger festival may hold year-round, full-time jobs at their festivals, and often travel the world ( at festival expense ) visiting the other major festivals around the world. Often, a filmmaker who participates in a festival will be paid a miserly $100, and often is paid less ( or nothing at all). This is surely not a way to become a full-time paid filmmaker. The ego of ‘being in festival’ is often payment enough for far too many people, and de-values the economic worth of independent film & video.

So what are the alternatives? Certainly some form of "direct to audience" system must be developed, a network of informed film-lovers, willing to pay a reasonable amount to view new or classic work which is not in the 'IDBN' database. Actually, with trends in fashionibility so fickle with today's audiences, there may come a time when being mainstream is so "un-cool", that film-makers will flock to alternative sites in order to retain or regain their artistic credibility. Such a direct-to-audience system would create a de-centralized and on-going 24/7 festival where interested audience could see work whenever convenient.

Those talented individuals interested in building such an alternative distribution channel are already underway and are currently exploring which technologies will mediate the process most effectively. No doubt, multiple formats will co-exist and be tested, and whether one dominant software platform emerges is not yet certain.

Audience “buzz” is ultimately the most potent way to expedite this process, for as it is clearly demonstrated that “eyeballs” are out there, then the engineering and software programming necessary for functionality will emerge. Various business models will be tested. Many will fail, and some will survive, and a few will flourish.

Film festivals will not go away anytime soon. There are too many entities and individuals who benefit directly from them. From rental of screening venues to those who supply the catering, from catalogue printing to public relations, an entire cottage industry exists on the entry fees that film festival submissions pay. All these expenses, while helping the local economies of the venue, take away the profitability from the creators of the works that festival attendees come to see, namely the filmmakers. The ‘independent filmmaker’ becomes dependent on the acceptance of a small group of insiders, and is marginalized even further than before.

The idea of the film festival as ‘blog is here. Already music is exploiting this notion, and ‘podcasting’ ( where subscribers are introduced to new musical choices on a daily basis ) is becoming more routine.

It is imperative that those who truly love independent media serve as cultural ambassadors, and applaud, encourage and support the efforts to build a truly independent media network. A network where the audience serves as festival director, programmer and curator, as well as those that simply fill seats.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Revisiting The Congress for Cultural Freedom

Who decides which works shall be declared as great works of art? And who then benefits from such decisions? Throughout recorded history, rich and powerful patrons, either the nobility of the past, or the business titans of the present, have commissioned, supported or elevated to international posture, those artists that they deemed in keeping with their tastes, interests and politics. An upcoming project being produced at EZTV will explore the controversy, examine the conspiracy theories, and create a producion about one of the most fascinating chapters of the history of the so-called "Art World"- the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

I have always laughed at the phrase "The Art World", a phrase whose very arrogance alludes to the notion that human creativity is some sort of homogeneous entity, with unanimous beliefs, tastes and agendas. No, art is not like a "World", but more like a contiguous stream of "Neighborhoods", which like the neighborhoods we are used to, sometimes inter-relate with others, and far too often do not. These Art Neighborhoods ( "art-hoods" )manifest themselves most influentially as a consortium of commercial galleries, influencial private collectors, university galleries, auction houses, municipal governments, specialized magazines, festivals and most importantly, contemporary art museums. This consortium self-legitimizes it's art choices, and leaves little room for alternative opinions in its dogmatized 'official history'. The 'Art Neighborhood' that is most associated with the politically connected and powerful has become the official art currently taught in universities around the world. Art-hoods are as much an example of the prevailing culture, as are other cultural forms, such as film and music. Also, like film & music, the prevailing 'art-hood' culture is as much as part of the mainstream entertainment industry, as it is part of some fine-art aesthetic. It is no coincidence that Andy Warhol created Interview magazine, as a venue for pop culture.

Like the conventional neighborhoods that we are used to, some 'art-hoods' are affluent and most are not. Some have access to the politically pwerful, and most do not. Clearly those artists who are embraced by the previaling system are no real threat to that system, even if there exists the pretense that these artists are 'challenging' the system. Most are doing nothing more than decorating the prevailing culture's agenda. It is true that some of these artists are not doing this merely out of greed or ego, but in the belief that they are protecting a specific culture form demise.

In the pop culture mythology of conspiracy theories, one stands out as having possible evidnece to support the claims. There is intriguing evidence that in the recent past, the U.S. government conspired to promote some forms of contemporary art at the expense of diversity. It is difficult to demonize those whose decisions were based on a belief of protecting the world from an impending peril, yet the outcomes of these decisions, no matter how well intended, needs continuous review.

There is clear evidence that following the end of World War Two, and throughout the early days of the Cold War, U.S. government operatives, mainly working out of the CIA, deliberately and decisively influenced the writing of art history. With the CIA's support, exhibitions, and publications about certain contemporary artists, mainly those who became known as the "Abstract Expressionists" began to flourish. The taste for this work replaced the competing aesthetics of the time and became the official style of corporate America. Clearly some sort of an initiative was planned to annoint these few individuals with a historical priviledge that was not based an a thoroughly researched determination based soley on artistic merit.

These artists were, almost without exception, decidedly male, decidedly white and usually without affiliation with any organization. Although there were clear exceptions, these artists were stereo-typically represented as hard-drinking, womanizing and short-tempered individuals, who were easy to romanticize about in popular publications of the time, including LIFE and LOOK magazines and other periodicals. Many died before their time, by accident or suicide.

Internationally respected literary journals, such as ENCOUNTER, which presented modern American writers, were also later found to be venues supported in various ways, by the CIA.

It is alleged that an organization called the Congress for Cultural Freedom, funded and controlled by the CIA, acted throughout Europe during the Cold War, as a way to promote American Art values as a politically safe asthetic. Following the U.S. and corporate patron's displeasure with many European artist's tolerance of left-leaning political ideologies, a shift away from narrative, figurative, (and often political art) was fostered. Those few that could afford to purchase fine art, shifted their collecting tastes to work that would not be found embarassing if hung in the lobby of a large corporation, university, or other public space. Nelson Rockefeller's embarassment ( and ultimate destruction )with the overtly-leftist mural created by Diego Rivera for Rockefeller Center, would never be repeated. For an interesting take on this story ( and the cultural climate of that period), see filmmaker Tim Robbins' excellent and much overlooked film "The Cradle Will Rock".

Among the impacts of the CIA-run popularization of Abstract Impressionism, was the further decline of influence of Paris as the world's de facto art capital, and it's ultimate re-location to New York. This relocation to New York was no doubt already in process prior to the second world war. Powerful American families, who were already avid collectors of recent European art, became the brokers, and commercial beneficiaries of the shift to American artists. Just as the recent "dot.com" era, during which investment speculators greatly inflated the monetary value of seemingless worthless companies, a similar action took place in the rise of American Abstract Expressionism. Large collections of formally worthless paintings by unknown artists, became priceless collections controlled by the already rich families that declared these works as historically important.

The Rockefellers, the Guggenheims and the Whitneys all created temples for the new art, with their newly founded museums, either egotistically named after themselves, or in the case of the Rockefellers, simply called "the Museum of Modern Art". These museums initially ignored multi-cultural accomplishments, and fostered the promotion of a single style of artist- rugged, individualistic, decidedly American, and almost Ayn Rand-like in demeanor. While, no doubt, these kinds of artists most certainly existed ( and in fact were nurtured by their rich patrons ), many other forms of artistic expression were ignored. This over-looking of the many other contemporay forms of expression, make the art histories of that time almost meaningless.

The implications for creating a more accurate pluralistic and de-centralized art history is critically affected by the alleged actions descibed above. What really happened, and what do we really know about it? Many diverse cultural communities are creating teir own pieces to an art puzzle that is barely recognized as yet. Not just ethnic or political minorities, but also discrimination based on technology is also involved. For example, recent projects undertaken by digital artists, to create there own version of their history is a most promising step. Many of us believe that digital art is the most important innovation in art in many hundreds of years, and that its significance has been kept away from the general public by supporters of the older "object based" and "collector-oriented" aesthetics.

Of course, recent decades have seen a greater diversity displayed in our public museums, as well as in private collections. Still, very strong remnants of this Cold War- era thinking continue to influence the entire field of fine art. However, the culture- manipulators of the Cold War, who believed that by controlling visual art was to control culture, fortunately got it wrong. They never anticipated the cultural impact of the automobile, the portable radio, and Rock'N'Roll. It was through Rock music and its multi-cultural roots that American culture exported an unexpected philosophy, or tolerance, of peace and of understanding.

In 2005, EZTV will embark on a multi-media rtwork exploring these issues, as well as questioning the official art histories presented as de facto truth. We will be seeking collaborative involved from a variety of artists, performers and thinkers interested in exploring this fascinating story.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Hacking the Timeline

On December 19th, EZTV in collaboration with Crazy Space Gallery, hosted a panel discussion by four major digital art pioneers- David Em, Tony Longson, Michael Wright and panel moderator Paul Brown. THis was part of an exhibition called "Hacking the Timeline- a non-definative history of digital art". Because of the success of this panel, EZTV will make Hacking the Timeline an on-going series, curating exhibitions, staging panel discusisons and videotaping interviews with digital pioneers. These events will take place at EZTV and other venues.

Below is the mainfesto Michael Masucci wrote for the series opening:

"The past fifty years have seen the creation, advancement and proliferation of digital and electronic artists' tools, whose emergence has forced a new vocabulary that is as different from the "artspeak" of contemporary museum culture as dance vocabulary is different from the nomenclature of theater. Long before the mass popularization of Photoshop and desktop video, artists have experimented with both high- and low-tech solutions to the creation of digital art, often inventing new applications in the process. Concurrent with these innovations has been the development of an alternative exhibition venue system, centered in the eighties and early nineties in Los Angeles at EZTV (www.eztvmedia.com). This exhibition presents a survey of some of the major artists associated with this community-based movement.The ability to document this history through a variety of media and ephemera has allowed for the possibility of a self-directed timeline, which, in addition to recognizing the contributions of the core digital pioneers, also takes into account the divergent and disenfranchised elements of contemporary computer and hacker culture.Some initial academic attempts to define a historical timeline have been flawed in a variety of ways, from excluding key figures and developments in the timeline, to ignoring the enormous contributions of alternative spaces in fostering a wider acceptance of digital and electronic art. In addition to the work usually seen in (and embraced) by museums, galleries, universities, and other "digerati"-type institutions, artists from rave and hip-hop culture, computer hackers, agitprop theorists and other digital dropouts have been paving as significant a historical path as their more mainstream counterparts. Several of the artists in this exhibition have already been acknowledged as critically forceful pioneers and advocates in the timeline, while others are emerging into more widespread critical acceptance. In any case, each of these artists is clearly making a difference in the general awareness of digital art as the most important advancement in contemporary visual culture".

EZTV Media

EZTV Media

2004 was another year of accomplishment for the group of award-winning media artists at EZTV. We are all very thankful for all the support from patrons, collaborators, clients and fans in making our work find its audience. We look forward to 2005 and wish all our friends the very best.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Thoughts on Independent Media

Michael Masucci

The creation of innovative, original work, in film & television, is unquestionably facing a most critical point. Widespread hype which appears in magazines, at equipment trade shows and conferences conveys the notion that a lowering of initial production costs will lead to a more egalitarian approach to media consumption. This opinion has certainly led to the sales of many relatively inexpensive DV cameras, editing software and personal computers. Wannabee filmmakers have flocked to weekend film schools, and have on rare occasion, created some
inspiring and truly interesting work. Despite the hype, it is both "the best of times, and the worst of times" for talented independents. The continuing consolidation of media properties, through massive companies (only concerned with the bottom line) is resulting in less choice, while the promise of an ever-inclusive, decentralized production paradigm continues to be more theoretical than actual. The proliferation of a more mainstream, "dumbed-down" product has become increasingly in the hands of ‘big-box’ stores such as Wal-Mart. These stores exacerbate the number of titles available and therefore stifle diversity. For the survival of truly independent work, a new model must emerge for financing, production and perhaps most critically, distribution.
An analogy can be made between Hollywood and Independent Media, namely, Independent Media is to Hollywood as Rock "n" Roll is to the Big Band era.. The so-called cultural ‘experts’ missed the boat entirely about the rise of new musical idioms, just as they are missing the opportunity of the new media. The media which will be emblematic of the 21st Century must be markedly different from the films and television programming of the 20th Century. Style, content and approach must evolve or else die. It makes no difference whether media is originated on film or digital formats. The distributions venues- art house, micro cinemas, DVD, cable, internet, will continue to develop along cultural, and often political lines, rather than on the production/manufacturing methodology. Just as the operas of the 19th Century gave way to the media of the 20th century, modern 21st Century media must also differentiate itself from its predecessors, or else there will be no viable economic reason for its existence.
In so many ways, the future of Independent Media depends more on the audiences than on the producers. It most certainly also depends more on these audiences than on the current studio education/production/distribution complex. For it will be these audiences that select those works that will become part of the cultural consciousness, just as they have done previously with the acceptance of such musical outsider artforms as jazz, rock and hip-hop.
Certainly there is no paradigm-shift that can substitute for talent, experience and vision. These qualities are rare in any medium, and will continue to be so for the independent community. Still, an effective way of allowing for those talents who would normally ‘fall through the cracks’, is a vital step towards the development of an alternative media industry, an industry where originality, diversity and minority viewpoints are considered assets, rather than liabilities.