Can Art Save Us From the Internet?
I had a period in my life, decades ago before the Internet, thank god, where paranoid thoughts took over…everything. I was driving my car down Pacific Coast Highway when I came to the realization that shadowy forces were out to get me. They had planted transmitters in my car and sewn them into my clothing so they could follow me. The only rational thing to do was drive my car into a ditch and take off all my clothes. I have no idea how They found me, buck naked, walking down the shoulder. But They did.
That my brain was on fire, making too many connections, was what a psychiatrist told me, later, was happening to me. Sure, cocaine was jet fuel for the burn but the jump from mere anxiety to a state of clinical paranoia always seems to involve a surfeit of thinking, no matter what is feeding it.
Modern day treatment for paranoia is that search for balance: life balance, food balance, sleep balance. If talking through these things with the therapists doesn’t cure you, they’ll use drugs to chemically balance you.
That’s better than before, when they tossed you into an asylum and threw away the key. A hundred years ago, the popular paranoias involved religion and the devil, and mental institutions were full of bearded men screaming about the devil inside of them.
Today, thanks to Fox and Co., most paranoia is about the deep state, and, as bad luck would have it, we have a poorly constructed Internet that can encourage this delusion. 4chan, QAnon and other bad actors take advantage of this and actually breed a sort of mass paranoia that often leads to a very bad conclusion – such as becoming a flat Earther or even a right wing extremist. It’s never been easier to sow this kind of discord, to take advantage of our natural proclivity toward a yin or a yang. Yes, we can also blame machine learning, corporate profit-taking, and Mark Zuckerburg – although I like to give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t mean for all of it to go to shit. But it did and does and one of the reasons we started the BRINK Foundation was our realization that we personally know people who are being manipulated online for nefarious purposes.
People often ask me, what’s the deal with the BRINK Foundation and art? Why do we show and encourage art?
My answer is this: Art is where it’s possible to make connections without destroying your mind. Contemporary art is actually about making these connections. The connections may be incomplete or unspoken, even sublime or profound, but they aren’t a definition of paranoia. They are the opposite: they can become form and beauty; they can actually connect things that matter; they help to explain the why. Art allows people to explore new ideas in meaningful ways that move us forward.
Art grounds our thinking in reality. Great artworks hold us inside our orbit rather than fling us out of it. Artists are not denying science or climate change or the physical world. Consider the respect that artists get from scientists: In the thirties, physicists credited surrealist artists with helping them solve the quantum weirdness in modern physics. Many contemporary artists continue that tradition today, through pervasive explorations of technology to create meaning. That’s what can happen when everyone starts with the same set of facts.
Art leads the way and art breathes life into life, and every other platitude about art is true all at once as we step back to contemplate the depth of our existential connectivity. Our 5 senses become fully activated the moment we realize that art has now allowed us to gracefully put down our devices. At least, that’s what art does to me.
We can regulate and fix the broken Internet, but we need willfulness to do so. We need to heal ourselves, find balance, and break the chains of desire and consumption. Living with art is one of the better ways to do this.
I’m not saying art will cure all the mass paranoia on the Internet, but hey, wait, maybe I am. Here’s my plan: 1) Tax Internet advertising 1% and give it to art institutions and artists, and 2) adjust facebook and google algorithms to deliver art, art history and Nichola Roeg films 5% of the time. Does anyone have a better idea?
Art helps us find a bit of harmony. As the world slowly descends into utter madness, it’s all we really have to hold onto… but maybe that’s just me being a little paranoid…
Read more about how the Internet is contributing to global paranoia and donate to the BRINK Foundation’s fight against it. Then head over to our sister gallery, Pidgin Palace Arts, to let art bring us back down to Earth.