TabloidArtHistory host talks on how the digital era has revolutionised the art world

How the digital era has revolutionised the art world

As TabloidArtHistory launch their first series of talks, Mayanne Soret tells us how their cult online art history mash-ups started

Some time in my second year at Edinburgh University, during one of my art history classes, a lecturer told the class about her struggle to put together a course dedicated to the history of women artists when she arrived at the university in the early 1990s. While she had already gathered a strong back catalogue of artists and collectives to discuss, she found herself stuck with no teaching material as the library had almost no presentation slides of works by women artists.

At that time, Linda Nochlin had already published Why have there been no great women artists? (1971), Griselda Pollock and Rozsika Parker had published Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology (1982), and the Guerrilla Girls had been formed (1985). Yet my professor still struggled. Specifically, her obstacle was material, and as she told us about researching and scanning images to turn them into slides, she highlighted the pivotal place visual resources, archives and library collections hold within the development of art history.

When I started university in 2013, my first lecture used a Powerpoint presentation. When I graduated in 2016, the last class presentation was on Google Slides. All images obtained could be sourced online, and while I widely used public libraries and 'analogue' resources to quench my thirst for art as a teenager, digital resources are now my first – and often only – stop.

This story may sound anecdotal to many, but it was the first time that I experienced firsthand the importance material resources have over the practice of art history, and art discourse at large. Specifically, it was the first time I truly questioned how new technology impacts both methodologies and research.

A little over a year later, I joined the social media platform TabloidArtHistory, created in November 2016 on Twitter by (then) Edinburgh University students Elise Bell and Chloe Esslemont, reading respectively Art History and English Literature. Over the course of the following year, we created a zine, TAH VOL.1, gave our first interviews and talks, extended our platform to Instagram, and built a community of over 70,000 followers. Yet, it wasn't until a few months ago, when we were asked in two different interviews about the impact of social media on contemporary art discourse, that the memory of my teacher struggling to piece together visual resources resurfaced.

How the digital era has revolutionised the art world

Grace Hartzel, photographed by Charlotte Wales for Dazed, Autumn/Winter issue, 2018. // 'Proserpine' by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1882.

From then on, I could not stop thinking about the impact the internet has had on the practice of art history, on the art world and on the evolution of art discourse, and how little this is accurately represented in the field's debate on the topic. I found little to no reading on the matter before the rise of social media and the radical changes it brought about, only condescending comments about young women taking selfies in museums by established figures in the art world who seem to think that anything that happens outside of the auction room is 'democratisation'.

Interviews and features on young online creatives focus on how much of our life is spent online, giving the impression that all of our cultural production must centre exclusively around the internet. While this is not only inaccurate, it shows a great lack of awareness of what is actually being made and discussed on the contemporary art scene, and the wider issues that affect us as a generation of art producers.

Work produced today approaches a wide range of 'offline' issues – some that may have concerned our predecessors, some that may be contingent to our time – but the real question, when it comes to the internet, is how the digital is influencing our perception, engagement and our artistic process, and how it is reforming our methodologies all together?

What exactly are the changes the internet brought to the art discourse? What does it mean to engage with art in the digital era? How do we practice art and discuss art on and offline, when the internet is no longer limited to a single device but infiltrates every aspect of our daily lives, in all shapes and forms?

Failing to find this dialogue anywhere other than sporadically throughout our Twitter and Instagram timeline, we decided to initiate it ourselves. We invited the most interesting new art voices on our social media feed to talk about the specificities of their art practice, both on and offline, and how they think the digital era has influenced art practice and cultural discourse. ON / OFF: The evolution(s) of the art discourse in the digital era, will be a series of discussions produced and chaired by TabloidArtHistory, featuring art critic duo The White Pube, curator, educator, and co-editor of online magazine Dardishi, Samar Ziadat, and Black Blossoms' creator, curator and writer Bolanle Tajudeen.

ON / OFF: The evolution(s) of the art discourse in the digital era, Stills, Edinburgh, featuring The White Pube, Fri 2 Nov; Samar Ziadat, Thu 8 Nov; Black Blossoms, Tue 13 Nov.

ON/OFF: The Evolution(s) of the Art Discourse in the Digital Era

Series of talks and discussions produced and chaired by online-based collective TabloidArtHistory.