Something about McLuhan’s ideas really resonated with me as an artist and as a creator. There was a utopic optimism in his words directed at artists and the purpose of their work. I don’t know if what he said can be applied to all creative thinkers and artist types, but I do agree that there is a role for artists to question and to be critical off media, culture, and what can be called the common discourse. He wrote: “No society has ever known enough about its actions to have developed immunity to its new extensions or technologies. Today we have begun to sense that art may be able to provide such immunity.” I would agree with this sentiment and gesture to artists, that it is their responsibility to be critical of new technology and the affect of new media on the society who uses it. I would also probably extend that the artists’ role is not limited to only questioning new media, but also the content and ethics around media and the role it plays in driving people and their ideas. I would hope that for all artists, their work is a gesture to motivate society in a more positive direction for the betterment of society and the civilians within that society.
I did struggle, and have struggled at ITP, with one provocation. McLuhan says that, “(e)lectric technology is directly related to our central nervous systems, so it is ridiculous to talk of “what the public wants” played over its own nerves. This question would be like asking people what sort of sights and sounds they would prefer around them in an urban metropolis! Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left. Leasing our eyes and ears and nerves to commercial interests is like handing over the common speech to a private corporation, or like giving the earth’s atmosphere to a company as a monopoly.”
Although I agree with his sentiments. I do find that commercial art and design is capable of appealing to larger groups through popular aesthetics. I wonder how aesthetics can be used to target larger audiences with less popular sometimes antagonistic ideas. I liked this quote which McLuhan includes from Bernard Lam’s The Art of Speaking. He quotes, “A Discourse cannot be pleasant to the Hearer that is not easie to the Speaker; nor can it be easily pronounced unless it be heard with delight.” The notion that aesthetics as a vehicle can offer more to the digestion of an idea than the idea alone is something I would like to continue to explore. How can an idea which maybe adverse to popular thought be delivered in a way that is pleasing and more tempting to swallow?