You may think the digital age has created a renaissance for art. In some ways, it has. Artists can share their work with so many more people. We now have the ability to publish in so many more media and reach more fans. But it’s also a dark age for artists–real artists–those who have devoted their lives to studying a craft. Because now the world believes they can just do it, too.
I began my photography career prior to the digital revolution. For those of us who shot a lot, the accessibility of digital photography greatly reduced the expenses of our business: film and developing. We could shoot many more frames to get that perfect shot. And if we didn’t get it, then we photoshopped what we had. It was wonderful! Until digital cameras became affordable for the masses. Then every person who bought a camera considered himself or herself a photographer.
Actors who used to come to me for headshots suddenly started saying things like, “I’ll just get my brother to do it. He’s got a digital camera.” I cringed. That’s like saying if I bought a dentist’s drill I can drill your teeth. How hard can it be? I’ve had my teeth drilled dozens of times!
There is now much greater accessibility to creating and publishing art in the digital age. Whether it is photography, music, or writing, there is a fallacy that because anyone can do it, anyone can do it well.
This can be applied to the all of the arts:
Now that people can mix a song on Garage Band, they think they’re a musician.
Now that people can publish an eBook on Amazon, they think they can write.
Now that people can display their art on DeviantArt, they think they’re an artist.
Being a good artist, in my opinion, consists of three things: talent, training, and practice. What’s missing in a lot of our current generation’s creative output is the latter two: training and practice. Just because you have the means to create and publish a creation, does not make you good.
Books are being self-published by the thousands by writers who have no formal training and no practice. No mentor, no teacher. Direct-to-digital removes the roadblock of having to find a literary agent that thought you were good enough to publish, and then that agent selling your work to a publisher who thought you were good enough to publish. Without those roadblocks, anyone can get a piece of the pie. But that doesn’t mean you’re good. How hard can it be? I’ve read hundreds of books!
The second drawback to the democratization of art is the ease of thievery. I met a visual artist–a painter–who said he stopped putting his work online because people were downloading it and putting it on products without his consent. He had no way of protecting his intellectual rights once it was online. Couldn’t he sue? you ask. How many artists do you know that have enough money to hire an attorney and and investigator to track down some online yo who is profiting off of their work? Not many.
And then there’s this guy who stole people’s Instagram photos, blew them up, made a gallery show out of them and is charging $100,000 per print. As per the article, he has not yet been held accountable by the legal system, despite being sued by various photographers.
I believe the industry will shake out, eventually. Even with the proliferation of bad writers, photographers, singers, and artists now putting their work online, somehow the really talented and trained artists will prevail. At least, I hope they will…