Le modernisme nous a donné le contenu

Earlier, we declared that new media gave us the distinction between content and presentation. Peter Quinn begs to differ, and, in our second E-mail conversationette, writes:

Quinn – The online world did not give us the word content. Modernism did. Up until then there was no distinction between methodology and subject matter. Subject matter was all that mattered, usually driven by the patronage system, which was either the church or the state. At the height of Modernism, form became acknowledged as content, which seems to linearly progress into the virtual arena. But we must be critical. Just because it exists on the Web, and moves when you move your mouse over it, it doesn’t instantly become content.

contenu.nu – Ah, but we never said it had to be interesting to be content.

Quinn – It isn’t automatically interesting content regardless of how fashionable the style is. And it isn’t content for the sole reason that it can stand on its own as a conversation piece. If that were the case, my morning coffee would be content in and of itself.

contenu.nu – You have a point. However, there are some topic areas with which one is not familiar. For example, ambient music, an oddball genre. To the uninitiated, ambient music is undifferentiated white noise. But habitués can tell you all about it in detail. [One person’s irrelevance is another person’s content.]

Quinn – Futurism, Constructivism, Bauhaus, Dada, all these were movements that were built on design because of a certain direction of content. Oh, yeah, and one more thing. Barbara Kruger is a hack. Jenny Holzer is a poet utilizing the medium for her content.

contenu.nu – We have considerable mixed feelings about Babs, based in part on having met her. But see this review, and, we suppose, the piece of crap we wrote.

Quinn – I am a painter/musician turned Web something or other, and although I find the energy of this new media very exciting, acknowledging that there is a paradigm shift, and that the way we are perceiving things is definitely being altered, but there is a lot of crap out there. Stuff, although virtual, that is still taking up a lot space. Stuff (graphics), that because of a lack of some kind of conceptual support, exists merely for the sake of itself. Which I find interesting, but not really that revolutionary considering Elsworth Kelly’s grey paintings or Robert Reinman’s white paintings – art for art’s sake. But at least in these pieces there exists a dialogue about some kind of transcendentalism. About getting to something.

Maybe that’s the point. I don’t know. Maybe the point of all this graphical styling is to just exist and to deny the search for answers. A friend of mine who was a skateboard/fashion photographer asked me quite bluntly, probably after not really commenting on his stuff, if I thought fashion photography was art. I think I answered that I thought there was art to it, but it definitely is not art in my mind. And I think it is because of this content issue. I think without the content, method is random, probably run by fashion and style, which is only the byproduct of marketing.


Quinn – I just had a smoke and realized thatcontent implies meaning. You could say that meaning can be drawn from anything in support of itself,but I guess I need more of a substantiation than that. What that is I don’tknow. I usually use the term soul. If it’s got it, it has it. If it doesn’t,it doesn’t. It’s a moral stance.

contenu.nu – You’re still discussing a separate question: good art vs. bad.

So, everybody, what do you think? Who gave us the concept of content as separate from medium of distribution? Can you think of content/delivery distinctions predating the online world? We’re genuinely interested. Let us know.

Posted on 2000-08-23