21Contemporary Art and New Media: Digital Divide or Hybrid Discourse?

Edward A. Shanken

Since the mid-1990s, new media art (NMA) has become an important force for economic and cultural development internationally, establishing its own major institutions.1 Collaborative, transdisciplinary research at the intersections of art, science, and technology also has gained esteem and institutional support, with interdisciplinary PhD programs proliferating around the world. During the same period, mainstream contemporary art (MCA) experienced dramatic growth in its market and popularity, propelled by economic prosperity and the propagation of international museums, art fairs, and biennial exhibitions. This dynamic environment has nurtured tremendous creativity and invention by artists, curators, theorists, and pedagogues operating in both domains. Yet rarely does the mainstream artworld converge with the new media artworld. As a result, their discourses have become increasingly divergent.

MCA practice and writing are remarkably rich with ideas about the relationship between art and society. Indeed, they are frequently engaged with issues that pertain to global connectivity and sociability in digital, networked culture. Given the proliferation of computation and the Internet, it perhaps was inevitable that central discourses in MCA would employ, if not appropriate, key terms of digital culture, such as “interactivity,” “participation,” “programming,” and “networks.” But the use of these terms ...

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