Internet, Interactivity and Power: Theoretical Reflections on the Online Encounter of Art Institutions and their Audience
Communication sciences Vrije Universiteit Brussel Belgium,
Communication sciences Vrije Universiteit Brussel Brussels, Belgium
This paper deals with the theoretical question whether the interactive Internet articulates the encounter of art institutions and art consumers more fiercely and, as a result, enhances the hybridisation and the equalisation of the power positions of both actors. The arts can be conceived of as a place of encounter between the work of art and the beholder and, as a consequence, as a sphere that is embedded within power relations and structures between the artist, the art institution and the beholder. Departing from Dewey's analysis (Art as experience, 1958) of the chasm between the act of art production and the act of art perception it could be assumed that the interactive Internet is a means of reconstructing a complete and comprehensive aesthetic experience. According to Dewey, this type of experience needs to be based on a mutual recognition of the act of producing and the act of perceiving and should be characterised by an impassioned occupation of the human mind with the world of objects. In order to construct a theoretical framework that can be helpful to understand shifting power balances in the field of the arts, this issue is approached in an interdisciplinary way. In this context, two theoretical approaches to power relations in a digital and interactive environment are discussed. On the one hand, several scholars (Jenkins, Deuze') highlight that both producer and consumer are playing a vital role in the online creation of content. These scholars stress that a shift in producer-consumer relations is actually taking place. On the other hand, it is argued that this new consumer freedom is in fact a false freedom (Jarrett, Van Dijck'). It is stated that the interactive Internet does not imply a radical change that allows users to act freely and as such to wield power on a producer level. Rather, it is believed that existing power relations are being reinforced. As a consequence, it can be questioned whether the interactive Internet, which implies that everyone can participate, is a place in which art users are on an equal foot with art institutions.