Information society and the contemporary fine arts.

There has always existed a lot of barriers between the Russian artist and the potential audience. When this country was building socialism and communism, specific state and public bodies were established to stand guard over "the interests of society." These same bodies were "unofficially" used to promote corporate of personal interests of their leaders who single™handedly judged what was good and has the right to exist and what was bad and consequently did not have the right.

Those barriers were torn down as soon as the building of a new society began in Russia, but new impediments, mainly economic, soon emerged, their effect being much more serious than that of the earlier ones. Not only the artist's creative endeavour but one's physical survival have been called into question in an emerging market economy. Very few artists can now afford to mount an exhibition or publish a catalogue. Russia's pervasive question - What is to be done? - has risen again.

What is to be done by thousands of professional painters, sculptors and other artists who - for a number of objective and subjective circumstances - are unable to take up a different job and for whom artistic endeavour is the only acceptable way of life?

How can they make their work known both in Russia and in other countries?

How can they preserve their artistic heritage for the descendants unless it is recognised and adequately valuated by their contemporaries?

Some radical critics who insist that there are no more than 200 "genuine artists" in Russia, offer a radical solution to all these problems: they tell the rest to discard useless illusions and land a more timely job while practicing art in their spare time as a hobby.

Far from many devoted artists would be willing to heed such advice.

Unfortunately, no other, constructive proposals have been voiced. Despite heated debates in the media about the formation of a full-scale domestic arts market, there is little to expect as a well-established middle class has yet to appear in Russia. The vicious circle of sponsors, galleries, show-rooms remains in place with its ensuing misery for numerous artists.

It is at this point that we need to turn to the new prospects for presenting works of art to the domestic and international public, prospects offered by the latest information technologies, including INTERNET, CD-ROM, VIRTUAL REALITY. Many artists are either not aware of their potential or are victims of prejudicial interpretation of their role and potential on the part of champions of traditional ways of information support of the evolving artistic process.

The reader of these lines may naturally wonder whether Russian society as a whole and its artistic community in particular can afford the use of this technology in the present grievous situation.

One response to this natural question is that whatever its present difficulties, Russia cannot afford to ignore the on - going information revolution which is sweeping the whole world and is a powerful factor which can expedite the entire process of Russia's real renewal, including in the artistic sphere. It is generally believed that the bulk of information will soon be delivered to, and received by people with the use of computer technology. Even if the older generation in Russia fails to benefit from the process, the younger generation is certainly growing up in a new environment. Ask any youngster about a favourite toy or plaything one has or wishes to have, and most of them will tell you it is a computer. Computer games are already shaping their way of thinking and, consequently, their personalities. For many, a computer has even become a favourite means of communication, leaving little room and time for direct contacts with peers.

All this means that the new technology is already exercising a powerful influence on modern mentality by providing one with unrestricted access to information and the full freedom of choice, one the one hand, and, at the same time, influencing the choice on the strength of changes in the perception of the information retrieved. All this is true for the sphere of information support of the fine arts where new technologies cannot but bring about considerable changes.
Regrettably, this latter sphere can be abused by vested - interest groups seeking to manipulate the public to suit their specific goals which, as a rule, are associated with the powerful impact of the show biz and mass culture. The ends pursued by such groups are usually selfish. The resulting system of selection of works of art is unjustifiably biased and limited, drawing largely on the traditional means of information support.

It is quite clear that radical changes are already needed even in this emerging field of activity. The traditional forms of information support of the artistic process can hardly be instrumental in accomplishing the change. The new information technologies are much more promising not only in the perspective but already at this time for a number of reasons:

The emergence of information society creates a possibility for exercising an effective influence on the artistic process as a whole and radically changing the situation on arts market through providing greater access to artistic information to the general public which can benefit from it by shaping its tastes on the basis of a much larger amount of works of art, and by providing the artist with a much more extensive potential audience.

It would be naive to think that the new information technology can solve all problems in the field of modern visual arts. Nonetheless, it would be even more naive to ignore the real potential of new technology which can be tapped by all participants in the process of evolution of visual arts without delay.

The above is practically true not only for Russia with its current specifics but for many other countries as well, regardless of the level of their political and economic development.

Sergey Senkin,
ARTINFO Multimedia Publishers