« The Message is the Message »
The other day, while giving a lecture to my students in an important North American museum, I said that if they wanted to be successful artists, knowledge is key and, of course, I quote the eternal quote “knowledge is power”. Information being knowledge, I said that today we live in a world of over-information and, of course Marshal McLuhan came to my mind when I quoted the classic “The medium is the message”. Since most of my group of students were born around 1995, they have never heard those now overstated quotes which are even more actual today considering the ubiquity of Internet. But, most of us have never heard “the message is the message”, five words written by the French philosopher Régis Debray in the early 90s, maybe so demoralised by the fact that the previous famous quote was written by a Canadian intellectual… here Debray being victim of French chauvinism. What does Debray mean by “the message is the message”? In a world of bountiful information, the philosopher asks: what makes a message worthwhile to be transported by some kind of medium? How does society decide on which particular message to be transported? What piece of information should go on the air, in a newspaper?
Applying this concept to art, in a world of ever-increasing visual artists, what makes a work of art worthwhile to be transported by a vehicle of some kind, may it be a gallery, a museum, a periodical, a Web site, across societies over a given time period? In a nutshell, the answer would be the following: an innovative message, a simple message, a positive message, a hopeful message; a message that binds us all by its clarity. Debray demonstrates his point by asking, how come the Christian message managed to be as popular today as 2000 years ago… without the mass-media tools we have today? It is a message that travel “easily” because of its hopeful and simple content.
Now let’s examine this in the course of today’s immigration crisis happening in in the Middle East: a Second Exodus. Just like the educated and powerful Moses who left Egypt with thousands of Israelites lured by a message of hope, the thousands young bilingual Syrians have their cell phones in waterproof pouches around their necks. In these phones: knowledge, power. They cross vast stretches of water with the help of GPS, WhatsApp, Twitter and Viber, just like Moses arriving at the Red Sea who used his long wooden staff to procure safety to his people: he parted the Sea with it. On a dinghy raft, there is at least one person with everything is needed on his cell phone and of course he is the one to follow when all will be reaching the Greek shores. He is the powerful one with all the knowledge safe in his phone or electronic tablet, Moses’ tablet. “When they arrive, they know exactly where they have to go, who they have to talk to. They know what to buy,” says an official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Facebook indeed is playing an incredible role.” Just like the message which was written on Moses’ tablets, the message which belongs to the cell phone carried a message of hope, optimism, making sure that everyone would be safe. Not only the message was simple (but heavy in consequences), but was also carried by very light tools, the cell phone or tablets. Let’s not forget that Moses was able to hold the tablets in his arms.
To conclude, I am going back to my students. A painting will be undoubtedly transported by a mean of transportation which corresponds to the quality of the painting, meaning that a knowledgeable painting will be transported by powerful vehicle and consequently will go far. Though, a weak painting will be transported by a fragile vehicle and will not reach great distances. A powerful painting conveys a new message, bears new shapes and binds us all since we are able as a collective group to easily understand it. Now my students are ready. They know. They have to make a conscious choice, a Nietzschean choice: to do a powerful or weak painting and live the consequences that will come with this decision. That is our second dinner topic of our painting workshop Studio Italia happening at this very moment in Tuscany, Italy.