by Michele Bishop
Art is part of our everyday life. We read when we travel, we turn on the stereo after a long day, we coexist with art. However, even though we are strongly connected to art, we are drawing away from it by separating ourselves from the process of making art.
Let’s consider the word ‘digital’. It comes from ‘digit’, a finger or thumb. The idea is that we make technology function with the touch of a finger, allowing us to reduce any motion by simply touching a button or sometimes not even that. However, this can be a facilitation or a limitation, especially when it comes to enjoying any form of art, whether literature or music.
Compare a bonfire to a heater. A fire gives us heat but also a multi-sensory theater: the crackling, the different tones of colors and the sparks floating up to the sky. With a heater you turn the knob and the only result is heat. Let’s apply this analogy to the digital world and especially to literature and music. The digital detaches us from the source. There’s hardly any movement, either from us or from the technology that we are using.
Is there any beauty in the “digital substitute”? When we plug our headphones into our phones and press the start button, when we swipe right and the next page follows our finger, there it is, the next file ready to be read. There’s hardly any motion. On our smartphones the play button is not even that, it’s just an icon. Art is reduced to a file, the digital abstracting and hiding its beauty. Consider a book, how it feels in your hands, the smell of freshly printed or old paper, the subtle sound of turning pages, possibly the fear of ripping a page. Consider a record, placing it on the platter, making it turn, positioning the needle in the correct spot. You can even hear the music without any speakers, the needle reads the grooves and releases the music through simple friction. There is a magic behind all of these actions, made tangible and concrete through movement.
Art is such a multilateral body, it’s alive. It has to move and occupy a place in time and space. Digital technology has no moving parts, making everything abstract for our senses. A record and a book have a shape and form, they’re more than a file, they have substance. I believe that this is one of the main reasons why people, especially younger generations, are going back to books and vinyls (more than 3.2m LPs were sold in 2016). It’s not just about ‘looking vintage’, it’s about making things more concrete in an era where the abstract and elusive seem to be the way forward.