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How Is YouTube Not the Greatest Art Project Ever?
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The question just occurred to me: How is YouTube not the greatest art project ever?

Imagine a slightly parallel dimension where Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim aren’t web engineers from Silicon Valley but instead art scenesters from New York. They know the language of the art world; they know how to present work in that context.

But they also have tech chops — NYU ITP grads, say — so their project isn’t a painting or an avante-garde video but a web app. It’s a platform, a system.

And that project grows into YouTube — one of the craziest, most kaleidoscopic reflections of humanity we’ve ever seen. It’s beautiful. It totally encapsulates and embodies the spirit of the age. And, in our parallel dimension, as the YouTube guys struggle with servers and scalability, they’re also submitting it to juried shows and, I don’t know, biennials or whatever. They are framing it.

Isn’t that high art? Isn’t that incredibly successful, important art?

Now, forget the commercial objection, because for years YouTube didn’t run a single ad. And let’s push our parallel dimension even further and say that Google signs on not as the project’s acquirer but as its patron. The Medici of Mountain View!

Am I missing some foundational idea or definition here? I don’t actually know anything about art (though I will admit I am in this frame of mind b/c I just strolled through SFMOMA yesterday) — what would the knee-jerk art-scholar reaction be?

And what do you think?

August 15, 2008 / Uncategorized

6 comments

I think it would have been a failure. Never the ubiquitous online video platform it is today. Presented to the world as large as New York-based high art? Who in Middle America would have uploaded their videos of shooting their friends in the crotch with bottle rockets. The easily forgotten and seemingly unimportant tagline of YouTube: “Broadcast Yourself” would have been instead something like “Reflect the Masses”.

pat says…

problem is you can’t really ‘exhibit’ it. like a lot of web things it just doesnt fit with the gallery paradigm. you could try but i don’t think it would translate.

I think to extend Andy’s point, part of the success of YouTube is that it really gave itself over without ego. I think avant-garde circles like to talk about participatory art, user-driven art, etc., but at the end of the day, art is still organized under the name of the author/artist who put the thing together. That’s where the prestige comes. The great part about Silicon Valley is that you can make money without personal prestige. Or rather, the prestige comes later.

See, I think that Andrew’s comment is a subtle dig at the e-chaps tagline. 🙂

1. It’s weird that Tim called Andrew “Andy.” Kinda blew my mind actually.

2. Really good point about the artist & artistic intent. YouTube succeeded (where other similar services did not) precisely b/c it had so LITTLE intent; it was an open container.

3. Author-less art? Massively collaborative art? Is there such a thing?

My bad — I thought Andrew was Andy Hungerford.

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