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Increased access to art changes perceptions

On April 7, 2014

With the growth of the Internet over the past two decades, the way we as a society operate has changed dramatically.

Small facets of everyday life, everything from talking with friends to shopping, have evolved using the Internet as a sort of catalyst.

One of the biggest changes is our societal appreciation of art. Now that the Internet has a presence in most of the world, more people have access to art than ever before.

Imagine wanting to experience a masterpiece such as the Mona Lisa 75 years ago. You had basically two choices.

You could choose to take a quick trip to the local library and see a small reproduction in a book at the cost of reduction of beauty of the art, or you could fly to Paris and visit the Musee du Louvre. Neither option seems both sufficient and practical.

These days, a quick Google Image search of “Mona Lisa” will yield a slew of high quality PDF files whose beauty is enhanced on a retina screen. While this experience may not equal a trip to Paris, it certainly beats any technique available decades ago.

Music has also been affected in a big way thanks to the Internet. What could once only be experienced at a live performance, then on vinyl, is now available to every student with a few taps of the iPhone in iTunes.

The abundance of good art is increasing exponentially with Moore’s Law. The constraints that once kept the average person from enjoying a work of art are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Even cost as a constraint isn’t a problem; most students on campus probably didn’t pay for a lot of the music they listen to.

This abundance of art creates fundamental problem with the idea of art itself. Perhaps the reason that art holds a special place in our societal heart is the relative scarcity it has had in the past.

The degradation of art due to abundance is best exemplified by the Internet meme. First we have to establish that the meme is art.

Memes can easily be considered art because they are a medium used by one person to convey thought or feeling, and then quickly passed along to others as a way to share these thoughts or feelings. “I know that feel, bro.”

While the first three or four Harlem Shake videos you watched were probably creative and funny, the novelty probably quickly wore off.

Most image macro memes have a lifespan of only a few months to a year before they fade back into obscurity because the Internet community grew tired of them. “Old meme is old.“

This is the slippery slope we face as a society when technology creates an abundance of something that was formerly scarce. While it is nice to have an increased exposure to something good like art, too much is too much and overexposure could make it a meaningless fad rather than a masterpiece.

It is still undetermined whether or not music and art will quickly burn due to the Internet as memes do. Perhaps true art is iconic enough to survive the technology.

Regardless of the outcome, it is important to appreciate the wonderful art that we have, and try to preserve the beauty and meaning for future generation.

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