Blog Post

Reports on the Death of Art History are Premature and Greatly Exaggerated


Presentation for the Conference by the same name, into which was accepted a paper abstract, the paper itself and a presentation that we didn't have enough money to go to London to make in person

Slide 1 -- Title

1 Mark Twain, The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated

I wish to thank the conference organizers for the opportunity to make this presentation.

2 Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod, and Jeff Bronman, remixed.We live in Exponential Times


2 Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod, and Jeff Bronman, remixed.We live in Exponential Times

Life during times of exponential growth in technology requires special consideration.   It requires historical perspective.

Growth of the Internet 1995-2008

This is one of those pictures which show exponential growth.  Computers and the Internet are the phenomena most often referred to in connexion with exponential growth.

Lynn White, "Medieval Technology and Social Change"

Ours is not the first period of exponential technology.  I am one of those who believes that we shall see a new Renaissance once the dust has settled.  And it will settle.   Exponential growth is unsustainable.  If society is to survive Exponential times, it will have found a sustainable steady-state condition.  And, therefore, there will be a cultural history to look back upon.

Three-dimensional computer graphics has existed for a generation.  I think that the only reason to imagine that there may cease to be a history of cultural artifacts such as these is information overload in the flush of these exponential times.

How do you get a handle on copious, exponentially-growing data?  You do so by creating meta-data to describe it.   The anatomy of the Internet is published in the Requests-For-Comment the RFCs.   Just for illustration, this is the Metadata describing RFC1766.

MetaData Analysis -- Google Trends: Lady Gaga Meat Dress

Most users see the Internet as a way to keep up-to-the-minute.  I see the Internet as the accumulation of human knowledge a public library, the Nosphere or the global information layer.

Google Trends: Mathematics

If you examine metadata trends for something timeless, like Mathematics, you begin to get a picture which is different from the  meme of News Story lifespan.

Google Trends: Mathematics/Regions

You'll see that only America seems to have the short attention span Older cultures, India, Pakistan, Maylasia, the Philippines Exhibit interests which span a more significant time than the flavour of the week.

Demotivation: CyberPunk

Americans are good at imaginative literature and novelty.  Novelty only fades when you have no memory.

SteamPunk Laptop By DataMancer

But, I think that it takes this reflecting of influences back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean to fully develop these ideas.  This demonstrates an audience which is actively engaged with its culture and which actively responds to cultural stimuli.


The culture of a society does nothing if the audience is passive and illiterate.  Is everyone here familiar with the acronym RTFM?  If not, Google it.   It was originated by those who created the Internet.


Title: Competition vs. Disengagement


Competition is the imperative to keep abreast of the Flavour of the Week it is only a centralised economy which requires this.   Sustainable society requires disengagement from exponential times and re-engagement with locality.

Dr. Timothy Leary: Turn-On, Tune-In, Drop-Out

And there is nothing new about this idea -- disengage from a centralized politics, economics and culture and to re-engage with localised economics and art.

Anne Hayes, Glenn Davidson: ArtStation.

Anne Hayes and Glenn Davidson of Artstation, Cardiff, Wales are really quite brilliant in their monumental, computer-designed, inflatable paper sculptures:  The sculptures are assembled with the participation of the audience and thebirthing of the sculptures is grand, like a barn-raising.  Each participant in the event becomes personally invested in the outcome.  The event builds a self-sustaining audience.

Non-Volatile Media vs. Dead Media

Our exponential times have brought an interesting dichotomy Moore's Law, the doubling of density and halving of cost every eighteen months, brings obsolescence of archival storage media;  Rendering storage media not archival at all;  While, simultaneously the Internet brings Non-Volatile Media.

Centralized Broadcast Media

This is a model of centralized broadcast media.  Media transmitted via the radio-frequency electromagnetic spectrum through air evaporated as soon as it had been transmitted, never to be accurately referenced again, prior to the advent of home video recording.  This is very convenient for those who profit from a short public attention span and short memory.  History can be conveniently revised under such conditions.

Bruce Sterling's Dead Media Project

Simultaneously, we discover that the lifespan of recorded media is extremely limited decades at best.

My Own Dead Media

The doubling of storage density every eighteen months causes the obsolescence of data archive media.  I no longer have hardware to read tapes of this kind, and I have found that the device drivers for this sort of hardware have ceased to be supported on many, if not all of the more popular computing platforms.

Compact Disk: Not Quite Dead Yet

The most hopeful thing you can say about the CDs in your backup data vault is that the ISO9660 CD-ROM File System standard is published and may continue to be supported into the future.  The foil will delaminate from the plastic disc and the disc will become unreadable within one hundred years.

Sounds of Earth

Here is recorded media which was designed to survive for a very long time.  The Voyager unmanned spacecraft left the Solar system in the 1990s and it will be forty thousand years before they approach the nearest planetary system.

The Clock of the Long Now

In Texas, there is being built a Clock which is designed to keep time for ten thousand years.   (I did the CAD modeling for the Equation of Time Cam in the tenth-scale prototype which is in the British Science Museum.)

Nickel-on-Glass CD-ROM Press Master

There is no reason not to imagine that the Nickel-on-glass Compact Disc press master will not survive for forty thousand years, particularly if you have a nice Titanium CD case to keep it in.   And it will be a good idea to save the ISO 9660 CD-ROM file system specification, in case the device drivers stop working.

The Internet Archive

The Internet Archive contains 150 billion pages, which is, of course incomplete, but it at least shows that people are thinking that there will be a history of all of that is going on today.


On the left is a modern-day depiction of a medieval scribe.  On the right is a computer workstation known as the Scribe which is used by the Internet Archive.  But, the significance goes further than the name.  The task of maintaining on-line content is very much the  continuing work of a modern-day on-line community of scribes.  It is the active task of these scribes to make backups and archives of on-line data onto media which is under constant evolution.  It is their task to maintain on-line content which must be viewable on the latest web browser platforms.  Modern Art, created for these platforms will be maintained by these scribes.

Title: Ubiquitous Broadcast Transmission

Today, an individual can broadcast video from her cell phone.

Desktop Media Production

Networked computers are not receive-only devices.  They contain the capability to produce the same kind of content as they consume.

Title: The Nature of Viral Memes

My thesis is that modern art which contains robust memetic material will be perpetuated and will therefore survive for historical posterity.

Andrew Newberg, MD: SPECT Images at Baseline and During Meditation

Some of human history must be viewed physiologically.  The reason that religion is such a tenacious meme is that our brains are hard-wired for spirituality.  Temporal-lobe epileptics have religious experiences.  The physiology of prayer and meditation can be observed in functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Title: The WikiPedia is not written by experts


I submit that the experts are not the ones who will sustain our culture into the future.


The Wikipedia is Accurate (citation needed)

I submit that our culture will be maintained by the same scribes who maintain the Internet and who archive its content.

Amish Barn-Raising

Sustainable culture will not be centralised, it will be local.  Culture will be sustained because of the active participants who are invested in it.  Here ends my presentation.   If our network connections are workig, I will entertain questions.   Thanks again to the Conference Organisers and for your attention.


No comments