I'm going to give you a stream today. Something I haven't worked out yet, so my opinion is probably going to change. If you haven't watched Kanye West's 90-minute interview with Charlemagne, you should do so right now:
In the interview, Kanye returns frequently to this idea of "streams" -- streams of ideas, consciousness, feelings, art. Expression as present. Unfiltered, honest, pure. It strikes me as an exceptionally modern approach to art in the context of our technological ability to stream ourselves online. We are in the unprecedented position as artists of being able to put out our work to an audience not just as soon as it's done, but as it's being created. This is both thrills and terrifies me. It's thrilling to connect with a fresh way of making art and spreading it to people, but it's terrifying to feel the pressure of this new paradigm. When is a piece of work ready to be distributed to the public? How soon is too soon? Am I being precious by wanting to revise a film edit just one more time, instead of releasing and moving onto the next one? The ability to stream entirely changes the way artists are expected to work. Gone is the safety of an artist's privacy, their retreat from the world in which they can place their ideas and emotions into a crucible, to find the elixir that will be a book, painting, film, etc. Artists are much more exposed now, especially taking into account social media accounts, which now often blur with distribution platforms. Kanye could conceivably release a song on Twitter, if he wanted to. I release photographs on my Facebook, in the knowledge that at least some people will appreciate them, though they will likely get lost in the infinite other streams of consumption on Facebook and the rest of the internet.
And this is our problem. It's a big problem. It's such a colossal shift in art that I think we're still in shock. Imagine being in a gallery with endless rooms, all stuffed with art. And the rooms are constantly expanding, constantly replicating. The gallery curators are scattered, unreliable, few and far between. The blurbs that usually rest tastefully beside the art are now scattered all around the works, not just one but thousands of them... That's the Gallery of Internet. Never before have we consumed so much art. Never before has so much art been made and made accessible, often for free. Never before has it been easier and yet harder to "make it" as an artist whose name is actually recognisable. And never before have artists been so expected to self-promote -- if you aren't on the Twittersphere, do you exist? (How does one even become relevant online anyway?) The question of longevity is a huge one -- your work may be popular for a week, maybe even just a day, but rest assured, it will be forgotten within a month. Should that matter? Should lasting impact be intrinsic to a work of art, or should we simply move our attention from one piece of art to another? How much is this streaming paradigm liberating, and how much is it materialistic consumption? Is this art even freaking going into the people who interact with it?! Maybe it is! Maybe the pace of human consciousness is increasing, our ability to process and internalise keeping pace with our technology... who knows.
I'm a slow guy. I like taking time with things, connecting with their process, their character -- being intentional. My own stance is that this streaming paradigm is a classic Spider-Man case: great power, great responsibility. Audiences have to discipline themselves in how they consume art, and artists have to discipline themselves in insulating themselves from the crowd's opinion. Audiences are so much smaller and more niche now... Maybe in the end, the solution to staying sane while streaming is what Idris Elba suggests: when you're swimming laps in the pool, you keep your head down. If you don't, you're going to get disheartened and give up from all the other swimmers. Some artists, like me, will always need solitude. We just have to keep our heads down, make exceptional work, and hope that its beauty will cause an audience to reflect. In the end, it still comes back to trusting in your Self. Which, I think, is what makes Kanye's streams so rich.