Networks have, in a lot of ways, affected a lot of aspects of human life. Since the boom of the internet era, for example, many people have started to exhibit shifting preferences and habits when it comes to making social interactions. As more and more social media platforms got invented, the number of people using such tools to interact and be a part of a larger network has demonstrated a steady and continuous increase. The thing with networks is that they tend to have vague and ambiguous definitions. Some people may perceive them as a mere system of connections that relates one entity to another. However, in the case of this paper, there is more to networks than that. Artistic practice, on the other hand, describes the way how an artist goes about doing his work. In previous and other art-related readings, it has already been established that it can take a lot of forms and manifestations. There is, for example, art in music, language (such as in poetry), ideas, materials, tools, and even skills. In fact, some artistic analysts suggest that anything that can be customized or subjected to modifications and variations can be considered art. This paper will focus on answering the question how networks have influenced artistic practice. The author of this paper will accomplish this by drawing on relevant readings and scholarly articles and reviewing literatures related to the topic, specifically art, artistic practice, and networks, and by providing examples.
Two Readings about How Networks Influence Artistic Practice
In order to arrive at a conclusive explanation to the question how networks have influenced artistic practice, it would be detrimental to arrive at a solid and consistent definition of some of the key terms first. Art can be anything from a diverse range of human products, services, activities, and practices that represents the imagination and creative skills of the one who made it. Often, art is represented in a visual form such as in the case of paintings, sculptures, and in a modern era such as today, motion pictures. Artistic practice, on the other hand, may pertain to any way or mechanism by which any specific form of art (such as the ones we have mentioned in our examples earlier) demonstrates his or her artistic skills, creativity, and imagination in his art. As an example, a painter may demonstrate artistic practice by drawing or simply by painting; a composer by writing new songs and restructuring old ones; or a writer by writing new novels and other literary works. And so what are networks and how do networks influence artistic practice? Networks, just like art, have also varying meanings.
A network can be an interconnected system of people or things such as in a wired or wireless computer network; an extended group of people that can be characterized with common interests and or concerns who may also behave and interact in many similar ways; a group of broadcasting stations that ay transmit the same signals and or programs at any specified period of time; a complex, interlocking system of material as in the case of veins, roads, and intersecting lines. Lastly, a network can be any independent but interrelated elements that can be collectively interpreted as a unified whole or a single unit. The human body, for example, can be considered as a network. It is composed of millions of cells that comprise body organs that in turn comprise organ systems which in turn comprise the entire human body. These cells, organs, and organ systems can be considered as independent systems on their own but may be collectively referred to as the human body (a single unified unit) as a whole.
Jacob Moreno’s Sociometry
Numerous theories exist that explain, either qualitatively or quantitatively, the different networks that exist. One of those is Sociometry. Sociometry is a method or a mathematical model that was developed by Jacob Moreno. Jacob Moreno specialized in the field of psychotherapy and psychology. He created the quantitative method which he later on called Sociometry to measure social relationships and to enable researchers, at least during his time and a few years after, improved means of studying the different relationships between psychological well-being and social structures. Moreno himself defined his creation as “the inquiry into the evolution and organization of groups and the position of individuals within them and as the science of group organization, it attacks the problem not from the outer structure of the group, the group surface, but from the inner structure” .
What sociometry specifically measures is the different dynamics that may exist or may have existed within a certain group of people. Sociometry can be applied in conducting various researches and studies in numerous ways. In the field of anthropology, for example, it can be used to examine the ethnic relationships and the mechanisms by which individuals identify themselves within those ethnic groups. One example of this research would be Joan Criswell’s research about White and Black American relationships within the context of U.S. classrooms . Sociometry is a relatively old model, old to the point that very few to no professionals in the field of psychology (and other related fields such as anthropology), use it as the outcome measuring tool for their researches. Nonetheless, it can be classified as an important tool in the history of networks. If not for this tool, we may not be able to have the understanding about networks that we have today.
This leads us to the question what relevance does this network characterization tool have on artistic experience. Considering how old this tool (Sociometry) is, it can be argued that its introduction in the field of psychology may have contributed to the current notions and principles that we know of about network and network models today. There are also numerous ground-breaking researches made about networks using this tool in the past. Some famous examples of which are Weimann’s research about the relationship between ethnicity and acquaintance networks in Israel which was published in the Journal of Social Networks ; and Dr. Page’s work on the relationship between ethnography of intra-ethnic and inter-ethnic affinities published in the Journal of Intercultural Studies . Art and artistic practice per se did not magically evolve overnight.
It has always been subjected to a lot of discoveries, changes, and reforms that have happened in the past. And every time a population, or a new ethnic group, for example, discovers something that may be associated with art, someone who wants to dig dipper into such phenomenon may always have the option to choose which tool he wants to use in his research from the arsenal of tools we have, which by now, can easily range into hundreds. One of such tools is Sociometry. But then again, as mentioned earlier, regardless of how big a contribution the discovery of this tool on how we perceive and understand social networks today is, it is an outdated tool and few to no researchers in the field of psychology today use it.
Mark Buchanan, Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Theory of Networks
Mark Buchanan is a popular and seasoned scientific writer and physicist who graduated from the University of Virginia in 1993. Some of his most successful and widely read articles have been published in credible international journals such as the Scientific American and the New Scientist. One of his most notable works is his book Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Theory of Networks. So what makes a person specializing in physics and other applied science’s work relevant to the topic of the influence of networks on artistic practice? The answer is simple and it lies on the multidisciplinary characteristic of Buchanan’s work.
Apparently, his theory cannot only be applied in disciplines related to exact and applied sciences but in other disciplines and fields as well such as biology, ecology, politics, computer science, economics, and psychology, among others. One of the fundamental principles of Buchanan’s book about the groundbreaking theory of networks suggests that any structure of social networks that may have been formed by some kind of interaction of parallel similarities, regardless of the cause, can be classified as a connection that automatically creates a small world.
One good example of which would be the social network where actors and actresses from Hollywood belong. It can be argued that since only Hollywood actors and actresses and perhaps some other key and relevant personalities would be allowed to enter such circle, it can be classified or described as a small world network. Now, we do not know whether this was an accidental use of Hollywood as an example in Buchanan’s work but there can be a lot of activities that can be considered as artistic practices in Hollywood such as singing, dancing, acting, and music writing, among others. Based on Buchanan’s social networking theory, it can be argued that the artists or the people living in Hollywood have their own perception about art or their own artistic practice which separates them from other mainstream artists.
This phenomenon of separation is made possible by the fact that every social network can be considered a small world in itself; and that another separate social network is another small world in itself. Another popular idea about Buchanan’s work is the idea bout strong and weak ties. Basically, an individual’s family member, a close friend, or a co-worker can be considered as a person with a strong tie with the main individual while an unusual or unfamiliar person is considered to be someone with a weak tie. Buchanan claims that one of the secrets of the small world network is the presence of at least six degrees of network separation characterized by a huge number of weak ties. These weak ties act as a crucial connection, or more like a social bridge that practically tie those networks together. So suppose an individual who is a music artist who writes song for a living (song writing is his artistic practice) belongs to a small world network of people who do the same thing for a living; based on the strong and weak ties principle, there is some good chance that the small world network that those music artists belong to could be connected to another small world network, perhaps one that is membered by people who has a slightly different artistic practice.
On a micro scale, Buchanan also argued that the way how the brain works can be the best example or representation of a small world network. He thought of the brain as an organ that is composed of different modules and that each of those modules are responsible for a different basic function, or a set of functions such as perception, emotion, vision, speech, and language creation, among others.
All in all, Buchanan’s model of groundbreaking theory of networks is a great way to understand how networks work and how one small world network, or simply networks get connected with each other. These connections between different small world networks, the author of this paper reckons, could be the answer to the question how networks influence artistic practices. Without those connections formed by strong and weak ties, at least based on Buchanan’s model of groundbreaking theory of networks, it would be practically impossible for members of individual networks to influence or be influenced by members of other separate networks.
Analysis of Two Relevant Artworks
For this section, we will discuss two relevant artworks which as mentioned earlier, can be basically anything under the sun; it can be a video, a song, a photograph, or a painting, among others. The first one that will be discussed will be the Kool Aid man in second life video and the next one would be art gallery called the White Cube.
The Kool Aid Man Second Life
This artwork was actually a voice interview session of a reporter with another person, the interviewee, who appears to be one of the key members of the team behind the creation of a game named Kool Aid Man Second Life. The entire video was all about the past experiences of the interviewee that led to the creation of the game, his perceptions of the game, and the different technologies, techniques, and even trends that are relevant to the creation of the online gaming game and environment that is the Kool Aid Main Second Life. There are two things that make this artwork significant to answering the question how networks have influenced artistic practice. Firstly, it is rare for video interviews to work the way how the video worked.
Most mainstream video interviews would show the face, reactions, and other things about the interviewer and the interviewee, just like in a talk show. In the case of this video interview however, it was different. Instead of traditionally showing the faces of the interviewee and the interviewer, the different features and environments present in the online game being talked about were shown. The second thing that makes this artwork so significant is the fact how the interviewee described the online gaming environment. He talked about how modern artists have become accustomed to the modern technologies that they use in their artworks.
In the case of the video game being talked about in the video, they were called internet artists. Internet artists or other related job positions were almost nonexistent some few years ago. However, according to the man being interviewed, it is the connections and interactions with people born in the internet era and those who were able to learn the vastness of the things that can be done on the internet—basically from the first ones who were able to harness the power of the internet, paired with the modern designing and integrating technologies that led to the creation of the Kool Aid Man in Second Life gaming environment. As in any case, without the network connections that existed between the ones who actually made the video and the ones who made them realize that they could actually combine elements of internet gaming and graphic designing, the Kool Aid game would not be developed.
The White Cube Gallery
The White Cube Gallery is not an artwork per se, but rather a place where artworks are stored. In a traditional gallery, the paintings are often set as the highlights. In the case of this gallery however, it is the white and often empty spaces that serve as the highlights. The purpose of the white and empty spaces was to force the gallery visitors and viewers to focus only on the art on the walls and the cubes in the middle of the room, basically to prevent distractions. At some point, it can be asserted that the gallery viewers would be the “network” that connects the different artworks contained in the white cube gallery; and that the white and empty walls are the ones that connect these networks because if not for them, there would be distractions (as in a traditional gallery where walls are usually painted and or patterned).
Conclusions and Other Interesting Points
In summary, networks influence artistic practice by helping them evolve. Without the different networks of artistic practice, the artistic practices that humans knew in the past hundreds of years would still be the artistic practices that humans of today are using. Networks help and enable artistic practices to evolve by combining the different ideas of the members of those individual networks or as Buchanan in his work would call it, small world networks.
Other interesting points to consider in this case would be the different ways how artistic practices have evolved. Because networks act like the catalyst to artistic evolution, through the connections that promote sharing and combining of ideas, as what the interviewee in the Kool Aid video suggested, artists basically become empowered to do just about anything, something which would not be possible without networks and the ties that connect them. Another interesting point would be the possibility of tracing the origin of some artistic practices. Because most modern artistic practices, such as internet graphics and design are products and or combinations of some older artistic practices, it may be possible to trace the origins of modern artistic practices by tracing their connections with other art networks.
Criswell, J. "Racial Cleavages in Negro-White Groups." Journal of Sociometry, 1937: 87.
Moreno, J. "Sociometry, Experimental Method and The Science of Society: An Approach to a New Political Orientation." Beacon House, 1951.
Page, J. "Education and Acculturation on Malaita: An ethnography of intra-ethnic and inter-ethnic affinities." Journal of Intercultural Studies, 1989: 74.
Weimann, G. "The Not so Small World: Ethnicity and Acquaintance Networks in Israel." Journal of Social Networks, 1983: 289.