4Chan And The Rethinking Of Art and Aestheticism

A brilliant new commentary suggests we can learn much about the intent and context of art through online social interactions and planning.

We have covered 4Chan’s influence on popular culture before. But what of its influence on aesthetics?

The modern day art world is so often defined by the public exhibition–museums, galleries and curated showings. And, traditionally, the key drivers of the exhibition derive from two maxims of external aesthetics: intent and context.

What is less often discussed is the idea of relational aesthetics (RA).  Its founding, by theoretician Nicholas Bourriaud, is defined as “a set of artistic practices that take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context.”

As ArtFagCity points out, online communities and culture promote the idea of social exchange and group think more often today than ever before.  And there’s no better example than 4Chan.org.

With complete anonymity, the online community boasts 700,000 daily users that work to “create, remix and and popularize” memes and imagery within, maintaining “a language, ethics and set of activities that would be incomprehensible to the unfamiliar viewer.”

“4Chan keeps no permanent record of itself, making an in the moment experience the allure of participation…In a digital environment equally defined by information categorizing and shopping, a case for surfing-as-art neatly falls between two historical precedents: Duchamp’s specification and 1980’s artists’ (such as Jeff Koons, Sherrie Levine, or Heim Steinbach) interest in consumption-as-art. Surfing-as-art and RA both enact Peter Bürger’s description of the avant-garde’s intention to merge everyday life with the aesthetic realm.”

4Chan’s /b/ message board culture is similar in many ways, though the circumstances are obviously different. While /b/ anonymously concerns itself with people and events popularized online, the individuals who manage surf clubs have social and professional connections to the art world, making their primary point of reference art archival.

“With this condition in mind, it’s fair to call /b/ a massive surf club whose conceptual language is determined by those without connections to the art world or the need for validation from it. As artist and blogger Eryk Salvaggio puts it, ‘The net can’t handle the pretense of art, or anything that seems manufactured, because it has a keen bullshit mechanism.’”

In other words, 4Chan’s /b/ and other communities depend on social interaction and commentary to exist–much like that of art. Not only that, but an important principle to Relational Aesthetics is “far from the classical mythology of the solitary effort”–it invites participants to possess the “greatest degree of choice possible when determining the course of their own experience.”

4Chan is all about promotion and production within the group–called raids–to influence and manipulate an idea or piece of information. This sets it apart from many “surf-clubs” in existence:

“While a surf club may screen capture and edit material in Photoshop to post to their board, /b/’s raids are concerned with bringing on an evolving change in the source itself, not a visualized hypothetical. Surf-clubs have a Relational structure of communication among members, but they still maintain the individual creation of static art within a designated space. In contrast, raids are a breach of boundaries—a way of altering the work’s ‘real life’.”

ArtFagCity: What Relational Aesthetics Can Learn From 4Chan

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