Poor Roy Walter James. It's 1947 and the 'radicals' have taken over the Los Angeles County Museum art exhibition. What is a 'conservative' artists to do? Make placards and protest. In vain, sadly. The issue of what is Real and what is Fake art is as old as the hills, as any historian will tell you, complete with examples and dates. Not being an historian, I have none to hand.
Fake versus Real is not the issue today, so we may suppose. Aren't we all 'radicalised' now? Damien Hirst is mainstream. So what's the alternative? Perhaps it's hidden in all the internet activity, the endless 'shows' taking place every minute of the day in the gallery without walls.
The thing about that particular alternative is that it's participants have little chance of being 'discovered'. Some tell themselves they don't even desire 'success'. They may change their minds if offered a paid-for (materials) show in a prestigious gallery, but they also know the chances of that happening are only just above zero.
Net art, as it's known, has already been accepted and shown around the world. As determinedly anti-establishment as those artists see themselves, they have been welcomed into the fold by curators keen to be seen as 'cutting edge'. Hence what were once purely internet projects, complete with meta-links and savvy non-material attitude are transformed into conventional shows.
Art on the internet is another matter. By it's very nature it eludes categorisation, from the traditional to the 'radical' and all points in between, art is everywhere 'out there' and 'nowhere' in terms of acceptance or gallery representation. It's democracy gone mad. Instead of a show, these artists are pleased if they gain a few 'likes' on FB or Followers elsewhere. We, since, yes, I must include myself amongst them, are content, must be content, in simply connecting with a few like-minded souls and admirers.
Back in 1947, when painting and sculpture were the only manifestations of art, that very physical limitation rendered the likes of Roy Walter James helpless in the face of emerging radical scenes. No online consolation for him. No 'likes' for his work and no Followers. There he sits, looking thoroughly dejected. 'Must We Look At Garbage?????' he asks on one placard. If I could travel back in time, I would assure him that in the next century we would all be subjected to looking at garbage in the form of news feeds, advertisements and celebrity gossip as part of the inescapable, relentless tide of online content in which we have no interest. Including some art with which we have nothing in common.
Ironically, the info-torture many of us endure may actually benefit our art. Since it is hard nowadays to detach ourselves from all that, those of us who work on computers may, subconsciously or consciously, utilise the repulsion we feel as motivation for creating something better; or at least to our liking, as in adding a personal drip to the endless online 'canvas'.
One thing we may ponder today is: if everyone is 'radicalised' aesthetically, as Tate Modern's success would suggest, how come the Roy Walker James mindset still exists? Leaving aside those with absolutely no clue of how to look at art, there are still those who would cry "Fake!" when confronted with art made for the internet. Amongst those will be self-appointed 'connoisseurs' along with everyday 'art-lovers' and professional art industry types. The latter obviously know what is Fake and that is art from which they can neither make money nor boost their esteem in the business.
Meanwhile, it is no longer a matter of Real versus Fake. Those who think it is display a distinct lack of understanding regarding the modern art world. Unlike in James' era, to debate style, never mind the modern medium and it's message, is to fall at the first hurdle. Yet there are those who remain entrenched in that very old battle, like soldiers still defending an isolated island when, unbeknown to them, the war ended decades ago.