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Monday, October 28, 2013

Slaves of the Internet - or what is your art really worth? Are we just content creators?

I have so many thoughts on this   article on the worth of art that I needed a whole blog post. Thoughts on art, content creation, technology, and artistic worth... I've been on both sides of the arts aspect, both as an artist and also as a magazine editor. I've thought about this topic a lot, especially when I was wearing my magazine editor hat. How could I get writers and artists to contribute when I could not pay them? Could I make it worthwhile so that I do not feel that I'm taking advantage of anyone (considering I have often been on this side of it as well) and give them a fair compensation in the form of exposure?

If you're paid in "exposure", you need to be fairly compensated with EXPOSURE - bylines, bios, profiles, highlights in social media and more. I've given artwork to charity events and just be tossed under "many artists' works." If I donate to a cause, it is because I support it and believe it. However, in giving away artwork, I am giving away a tangible for sale item. The least that could be done is to list my name in marketing materials and actually make sure my name is spelled correctly on the program. So, it is to a certain extent, about quid pro quo. Telling someone that it is good exposure when there is no real exposure planned or guilting them into donating, is not a fair "payment."
Maybe they’re asking in the collaborative, D.I.Y. spirit that allegedly characterizes the artistic community. I have read Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift,” and participated in a gift economy for 20 years, swapping zines and minicomics with friends and colleagues, contributing to little literary magazines, doing illustrations for bands and events and causes, posting a decade’s worth of cartoons and essays on my Web site free of charge. Not getting paid for things in your 20s is glumly expected, even sort of cool; not getting paid in your 40s, when your back is starting to hurt and you are still sleeping on a futon, considerably less so. Let’s call the first 20 years of my career a gift. Now I am 46, and would like a bed.
If you've participated in the "gift" economy enough, you should be seeing tangible benefits. The free logo or artwork, should help pay the way for paying (or bigger paying) gigs. However, for some artists, their artwork is a secondary career. I'm a "part-time" artist and while I think there should be room for all of us in the arts professions, the difference between art as a fulltime job, a part-time job or hobby are hugely different. Can there be room for all of us? Do, part-time and hobbyist devalue art? What then, about commercial artists? Where is the line between artist, hobbyist and ?
The first time I ever heard the word “content” used in its current context, I understood that all my artist friends and I — henceforth, “content providers” — were essentially extinct. This contemptuous coinage is predicated on the assumption that it’s the delivery system that matters, relegating what used to be called “art” — writing, music, film, photography, illustration — to the status of filler, stuff to stick between banner ads.
Are we not all -- including ARTISTS -- content creators? Of course we are. I would argue that nothing and everything has changed about our society. In terms of what we create, nothing has really changed except the medium. We're ALL content creators from the time we are children. We are writing/drawing/documenting/creating our own life stories - we earn ribbons, awards, grades, we have "permanent records" of aggregated content, we create papers, documents, reports, budgets, spreadsheets, legal records -- all content. We take photos and video -- all content. We still record our thoughts and life stories in journals, diaries, and memory books -- all content.

While distinctions between content creation and art are subjective, I do see that its intent, use, appeal, and whether it is paid  /commissioned from the initiation point indicate differences between content and art.  If I'm writing or creating materials for a specific website or project, it would more likely fall into content. If I'm hired for commission for a commercial product, any materials produced for that product, are most likely content. Granted, content can transcend into art. We've all seen excellent commercials that are works of art. 

If I create an item to be used commercially or licensed for mass use, then I would argue that it walks the line of "just" being content. I think of Andy Warhol's pop icons art. Are they art first? Yes, but as their use continues in mass marketing and materials, the value of the artwork diminishes and they move towards content. For the pop icons (such as Marilyn Monroe's portrait), I see them ALMOST as being content within contemporary culture.

The medium has influenced and impacted the quantity, quality, and type of content that we create; in many ways, technology has changed EVERYTHING. In breaking down technology/education/experience barriers, anyone can easily take a photo or even publish their own book. Are those "good" materials that people will pay for it? Perhaps, perhaps not. just as there is a difference between the purpose of photojournalism and fine arts photography, there is a difference between content creators and artists.

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