Blog Post

Sharing Art in the Digital Era

            The entertainment industry has been thrown for a loop considering the social media and casual internet era. I will mostly be analyzing what the internet and social media era means for artists who produce photographs, music, digital paintings and other original works of art. By presenting the main challenges and benefits of using social media to share original artworks, I will conclude with what I believe is the future of said artworks.

            A common double-edged sword of the internet world is the fact that it is incredibly fast paced. In disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, social media was used to reach out for help. The results were much more positive and faster than Hurricane Katrina, merely 12 years apart.  Information is able to travel faster, but the argument often times is that it causes us to care less about things happening around us. In just the past 6 months, we have had numerous mass shootings. These mass shootings have topped one another as the ‘largest mass shooting’ several times in less than a year. For such big news, it is hardly mentioned a week or two later. We simply move forward, and before we know it, another disaster is making headlines. I am in no way comparing the severity of major disasters to something so light as entertainment, but these examples prove the quickness of social media to be both beneficial and unfortunate.

            This fast-paced culture in social media means many different things. We reach our audience faster, but perhaps at a more drastic cost. It would not be a challenge to name as many ‘internet famous’ individuals from 2017 as possible in under a minute; the real challenge would be whether or not you knew what came from their 15 minutes of fame. While it does appear that more people are contributing and clicking links than ever, the types of engagements matter the most. Arora and Vermeylen quote, “…even when correlated, the result of positive mass endorsements need not necessarily translate to higher valuation. In fact, a million ‘Likes’ on a Flickr image of an art could just as well work negatively, gaining a ‘commercial’ label and thereby make it seen as low quality art.” The art world is painfully tricky this way, whether you are online or not. The arts have always been subjective while still requiring specific criteria that can make or break a piece. We also have to be wary about these numbers of likes, follows and shares due to the large number of bots that have been created.

            Another challenge of using social media to share art is having freedom of speech and expression. The internet, as of now, is quite open in the United States. We have the ability to reach millions of people from different countries but we are faced with the issue of rules and laws differing drastically. This means our content will be inevitably be silenced sooner or later. Silencing an artists work can change the direction they take in projects because they still want to reach an audience. An example on a smaller scale is in 2016, when North Carolina’s lawmakers were under scrutiny for passing the infamous ‘bathroom bill’. Newsweek wrote a detailed timeline of the situation (found here.) A number of big music labels and movie companies protested this unlawful bill alongside the NCAA by refusing to do any sort of business in the entire state. It is now 2017, and those companies remain true to their word. There are a lot of missed opportunities that comes with incidents like these, but it highlights the importance of the arts—the state of North Carolina has lost a significant amount of money from the ordeal. These issues cannot be tackled by artists alone, as it involves governments, so it will remain perhaps one of the largest obstacles for them to overcome.

            As of 2017, the internet has remained a relatively open platform in the United States. This could very easily change, especially with the fate of internet neutrality being argued. Internet neutrality is a complex topic with many pros and cons, but given the direction this country seems to be going in between the ‘haves and have-nots’, artists could soon find themselves in deep waters with having their works silenced and censored. Ammori (2014) states, “The terms of  service  of  each  company  reflect  that  company’s  product  and  community.” While this seems to be an obvious and reasonable fact, we face the issue of policy changes when websites get bought out by competitors. An interesting example of this was when the website LiveJournal was bought by a Russian company. A Buzzfeed employee interviewed Russian entrepreneur Anton Nossik, who stated, “LiveJournal’s primary function has shifted from social networking to mass media, so it makes little sense trying to figure out how many people are actively blogging in Russian…” There is a lot than can be presumed about the change of the site’s focus, but I simply provide it to show how fast and easy a policy change can be done.

            One final, major challenge to this social media era is dealing with stolen content. Many citizens do not have easy access to patents that will protect their content; this could be for a variety of reasons such as simple lack of knowledge, lack of funding and the patents that other artists have on their work. In the music industry, sampling is a popular technique used to pay homage to other artists and to help improve collaborations. For the most part, musicians understand what it means to sample someone else’s work, but it is tricky between who is able to make money off of their work and who cannot. The lack of access to patenting work can result in it being stolen and used for profit, or being stolen beyond the point where it is even possible to claim as your own.

Twitter artist @ceruleanwax suffered this fate after the sharing of their images traveled throughout various sites such as Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and different forums. The user posted a tweet that eventually gained momentum about their story, urging other users to credit artists accordingly—the tweet can be found here.

The user’s artwork was being used for profit by thousands of others for t-shirts and other accessories, and when they attempted to stop more content being stolen, it was in vain. The image was already so popular that people somehow could not grasp that the creator of this image was legitimately out there. We tend to forget that—no matter how photoshopped an image may look—a real, living person created that content. There is so much information easily thrown at us on the internet; its ability to generate millions of results tricks our brains into assuming everything else online is automated. It does detach us from empathizing with others especially when there is no name or photo to go alongside the content posted.

The topic of piracy and stolen content can get quite tricky, as I stated previously about sampling in the music world. Lessig (2004) refers to the earlier, 2-D Walt Disney era movies. Tales like Mulan, Sleeping Beauty and Alice in Wonderland are all classics we know and love, but it isn’t a secret that these stories aren’t original. Where do we draw the line between stealing, commemorating and simply gaining inspiration?

(I dont own Copic™, or the design of the Master Chief, is this content even mine??!! Kidding, of course.)

            I posed many challenges that come with taking your art to the vast web, but this does not necessarily mean the arts are doomed. The internet is full of opportunity, as we see in famous youtubers, upcoming music artists and the like. I would like to share the recent story of Esther Lopez, a young artist who was contacted with a job offer after someone took the time to credit her work. Sharing a variety of art online does not only help the artist, but the consumers as well. Lopez quotes, after being interviewed by Buzzfeed, “Thanks to the internet, young people are growing up having direct contact with the people who make the content.” I have had contact with one of my favorite musicians myself, thanks to Twitter. Interactions like these mean a lot to fans and the artists themselves, and I see absolutely no reason not to have at least a few more nice things in life. Moore (2013) writes, “According to several informants, social networking sites are far more popular with fans in Indonesia than official band websites.” On the band website, they average 200 hits per day, while the Facebook page holds anywhere between 800-4000 active users daily. The numbers are truly staggering, and the reasoning behind this, from what the interviews provided, was that social media provided direct correspondence that fans wanted.

            Society is forever changing in the ways we understand, view and challenge things. As we continue to dive into the social media era, the ways we respond to the challenges will change and (hopefully) be more effective. Steinfeld evaluates our relationship with the internet and social capital. We desire social capital online for simple social needs and it finds that those with lower self esteem tend to benefit the most from these sorts of interactions; I believe it should be looked at no different for those of us who like to create. The internet gives us a large platform that we can navigate to suit our needs and to reach the audience we want. I do not believe the challenges artists face will ever come to a complete stop, but this does not mean that sharing art on the internet is destined to fail. I am hopeful for the world of art in the digital era; it is a world that deserves to be explored, researched and talked about undoubtedly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Ammori, M. (2013). The New New York Times: Free Speech Lawyering in the Age of Google    and Twitter. Harv. L. Rev., 127, 2259.

Arora, P., & Vermeylen, F. (2013). THE END OF THE ART CONNOISSEUR? EXPERTS        AND KNOWLEDGE          PRODUCTION IN THE VISUAL ARTS IN THE   DIGITAL AGE. Information, Communication &      Society, 16(2), 194-214.

Bort, R. (2016) A comprehensive timeline of public figures boycotting North Carolina over the    hb2 ‘bathroom bill’. News Week.

Chen, T. (2017). This artist was offered a full-time job after someone on the internet properly      credited their work. Buzzfeed News.

Dewey, C. (2014). Whatever happened to Livejounral, anyway? The Washington Post.

Jenkins, H. M., Ford, S. M., & Green, J. (2013). What Constitutes Meaningful Participation?             In Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture (pp. 153–      175). New York: New York University Press.

Lessig, L. (2004). Mere Copyists. In Free Culture (pp. 31–47). New York: Penguin Press.

Moore, R. E. (2013). ‘My music, my freedom(?): the troubled pursuit of musical and intellectual

independence on the Internet in Indonesia’. Asian Journal Of Communication, 23(4), 368-385.

Steinfield, C., Ellison, N. B., & Lampe, C. (2008). Social capital, self-esteem, and use of online

social network sites: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Applied Developmental

Psychology, 29(6), 434-445.

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