In the mid-2000s, I decided to dive into a new art field called “new media.” As defined in 2004, new media combined traditional media creation methods for internet and digital consumption. Some of new media’s aesthetics and storytelling tropes were borrowed from older sci-fi media authors such as Issac Asimov, Jules Verne, or H.G. Wells; cyberpunk culture; and Japanese anime and manga like Aeon Flux, Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and Cowboy Bebop. New media was globalized art you can consume outside of gallery spaces and theaters. It was art for the masses.
It is now fifteen years later. Digital media arts is no longer called new media. The digital media revolution is now in its adolescence. When it’s commercialized, it’s called “digital content.” Its aesthetics used to sell records and shoes. Netflix and YouTube are now global brands. VR has made a comeback and looks like it will stick around this time. So it’s time to push digital media into overdrive and pilot that ship to Mars.
I was a black kid from the swamp. Why did I think I could ever become a digital artist? It was a field that didn’t exist when I was growing up. I don’t know. Maybe I was going through an Afrofutristic phase I never grew out of. Maybe I should blame my high school and the late Dr. Albert Lilly for teaching me Java. Maybe I liked Homestar Runner a little too much. Maybe my mother’s lifelong love of Star Trek, Twilight Zone, and Stargate was more influential than I realized. Maybe listening to Prince and George Clinton while experimenting with geometric shapes on the computer just felt right. I just knew I wanted to leave the swamp and reach the stars.
If nothing else, I’m painfully optimistic. In the early 2000s, the Internet felt like a wonderland of opportunity, especially for marginalized groups. As this decade comes to a close, we now know better. Hate crimes, fueled by the Internet, are on the rise. We, as a society, are more aware of toxic behavior spewed by those using their computer screen to hide their identity. Just like every other Utopia that ever existed, the Internet started to feel dystopic. As an artist of color, it’s time for my artwork to take a radical new direction.
I still consider myself an emerging artist, but over the next few years, I will develop new stories and immersive media while creating activist-inspired work. I became a digital artist because I wanted to not be defined by my race, but now I fully embrace my heritage and my culture in my art.
This year, I survived a devastating car accident. I suffered great personal loss. I found myself being more emboldened by the changing political climate. So now I feel inspired to take risks and push myself out of my comfort zone and into the void of uncertainty. If not for myself, for the culture. And over the next few years, there will be more of a blurred line between all my media. Over the next several years, my work will tackle mental health, existentialism, escapism, uncertainty, racial identity, my heritage, politics, love, and nihilism. I will channel my difficult years into the best work I can create.
Fifteen years ago, I was trying to figure out how to combine my love of photography, film, technology, and design to fit this new medium. Later, other photo and video types joined me in the digital revolution. I adopted the phrase “imaging specialist” to describe what I do to others. Digital media has become more obtainable, but it does remain a rich person’s game, dominated by spec’d-out MacBook Pros, $3000 cameras, VR headsets, Wacom tablets, web hosting subscriptions, a blood allegiance to Adobe, and lots and lots of digital storage.
So what does the next step in digital media look like? And where do artists of color fit into the future of digital media? I predict that over the next five years, we will see more traditional black artists embrace what was once considered an artform for Matrix and anime fans. While the Afrofuturistic subculture has been around for a long time, the year of Blade Runner will welcome new narratives from all marginalized people who want to assert their right to exist.
Black Panther and the black steampunk movement already opened the path. Music videos like “Sicko Mode,” “Prblms,” and “Feels like Summer” are exploring alternate forms of storytelling. Artists of color can use emerging media to reach new audiences, some of which may be inspired to tell their own story. And they would need to tell those stories with fewer resources because a global recession is on the horizon.
It will be the responsibility of current digital artists to make digital media more accessible to struggling and marginalized artists. As a black kid from the swamp, my ultimate goal is to get more black kids from the swamp (and from the projects, from the field, and from the cold streets) into this democratic creative space. So let’s make 2019 a year of expansion, discovery, and radical, unapologetic, and diverse storytelling.