Art as a Spectator Sport

West Coast0131. We are now confronted with new and constantly shifting terms in modes of criticism and sharing of cultural capital. Therefore the proliferation of smaller and faster-travelling narratives and anecdotal evidence of physical experience.

2. The simpler a concept, the greater its velocity. Hence why #love as a radical simplification of data occurs with the greatest frequency on online platforms—approximately double the incidence, six hundred million—of its closest neighbours (#instagood and #me, at ν300-million ) on image sharing platform Instagram.

3. How quickly does information simplify on the Internet? There have been few investigations into reverse-engineering how long content requires to pass from academic peer-reviewed journals to meme-level infographic sharing.

4. As information simplifies, so it speeds up, and so its payload—the work done to interpret it—is lessened. This is what is called a “false gift”—the illusion of sharing a unit of cultural capital which has been synthesised beyond its original content.

5. As text speeds up, it becomes clear that we are in flight from thinking.

In reading a text we are also already evading—or in flight from—other texts. Our distracted reading means that we are anticipating other texts even as we are engrossed in something—our reading practices are always gesturing somewhere other than where we are. We need to consider duality or polyphony in our modes of writing to counteract this—multiple data streams within the same text as an alternative to reading multiple separate texts, suitably captivating our distracted minds.

Text is always already gesturing out of itself, and—as one might have expected in typical accelerationist mode—this characteristic of writing is proliferating. The footnote has made way for the hyperlink. Text now exists more outside of itself than within itself. What are ways to capitalise on this? How can this be co-opted for use as a productive tool?

Evasive reading becomes evasive writing. This is already a characteristic of many writers, particularly in the areas of theory and philosophy, where a text can sometimes only be understood in relation to other texts. On the one hand, a text is always already incomplete: on the other hand:

6. “There are, you see, two ways of reading a book: you either see it as a box with something inside and start looking for what it signifies, and then if you’re even more depraved you set off after signifiers. And you treat the next book like a box contained in the first containing it. And you annotate and interpret and question, and write a book about the book, and so on and on. Or there’s the other way: you see the book as a little non-signifying machine, and the only question is ‘Does it work, and how does it work?’ How does it work for you? If it doesn’t work, if nothing comes through, you try another book.” (Deleuze 1995: 7-8.)

In the face of overwhelming proliferation of information, resistance and rejection become equally valid responses.

7. It is impossible not to acknowledge that our reading practices have changed. We have gone from reading to scanning, in the face of a wealth of unlimited data. This is why the circulation of information is speeding up.

8. One of the ways to embrace our fractured thinking could be to allow time for it. Speeding up also becomes slowing down.

9. Recent years have seen the alleged resurgence of long-form journalism. Films are getting longer as something of a resistance—perhaps with recourse to the fact that a film theatre is a constricted environment that inhibits distraction.

10. Therefore, one considers the potential of constructed environments in the transmission of art and discourse around art. The enforcing of limits in our entry points into text is a productive mode of enquiry, but is only one possibility of many.

11. The error lies in assuming the straightest route is the most worthwhile. The struggle for coherence in communicating ideas is a worthwhile one; but to minimize tension in conceptual opacities frequently becomes about removing nuance for the sake of easy transmission.

12. Information, in this context, becomes commodified. The commodity is legible, as opposed to the object (gift), which never quite reveals its secret.

13. With tension resolved, information becomes more efficiently absorbed. However, this leaves us—in Baudrillard’s teleological (and slightly hysterical) scenario of the limitless instantaneous availability of information which can be straightforwardly consumed—with vast leisure time as empty terrain left to fill, which is ultimately futile in its unfolding.

14. Time, in this way, can be likened to Bataille’s accursed share—the excess which is unavoidably produced by the system, and which must be knowingly surrendered or squandered. Failure is built into the system. (Gifts are a sort of accursed share, in that they cannot be retained but must be passed on.)

15. The game of cricket is played with an approximate schedule of around six hours a day. Play is halted for rain and when there is bad light. Without a fixed time-scale, games of cricket can run on for a number of days before reaching a natural conclusion.

16. Cricket is usually pretty boring, unless something interesting happens. Spectators of cricket can therefore pay close attention or let their attention wander as needed.

17. Like cricket, favourable conditions for the viewing of art rely on good light, not being rained on, and a state of play. This is not to say that the viewing of art requires enforced tea breaks, but more that the conflation of these two modes of spectatorship could suggest an interesting alternative to the incessant scanning of artwork for useful data.

18. Heidegger had it right when he advocated Gelassenheit, a state of unexpectant waiting: to view and discuss artwork with all critical tools to hand, but without the expectation of a consolidated outcome. This is a way of entering an object’s sphere of influence while remaining open to the object’s internal laws.

19. In this aspect, cricket diverges from art, in that there is a winner and a loser; in art, there is no need for such a dichotomy. The notion of productive failure can be applied not only to the making of art but also to the attention, or inattention, it is afforded. Failure to create cohesive or satisfying responses to artwork allows for the production of interesting alternatives and subverts the deceptive coercion of superficial interpretations and popular narratives.

20. Allow me to end with a polite recommendation that spectators should refrain from walking in front of either the art or the batsman. The view is already obscured enough.


[1] Instagram Anonymous, #Love Conquers All? (Waking Up From Instagram), 2014,
[3] Baudrillard, Jean (2012). The Ecstasy of Communcation. Semiotext(e).