October 29, 2023
Our demand for content is at ends with what it means to live a creative life.
The WGA strikes recently came to an accord after 146 days — a battle for the rights of creatives put at the forefront of mainstream media.
While the arts and commerce are often oil and water, the demand for creative “content” has never been higher. “Content” is the unfortunate common parlance term that now describes any kind of media — from film, to music, to art, to print media. The tragedy of this is that while the arts have always had an uphill battle with gatekeepers and shot-callers, we’re now dealing with yet another feudal lord: tech-bros. Content must be palpable, easy to swallow, and yield a financial return. Content must be immediately marketable. Content must make the algorithm happy. From Meta, to YouTube, to Netflix, many creatives bend the knee in attempts to break into a larger audience, folding to the whims of algorithms, loss of creative rights, and little financial return.
How did we get to the point where soulless algorithms are the grand arbiters of taste and culture? Once upon a time, these digital platforms were innovative. They brought audiences something different from the establishment of the time. These pugnacious “disruptors” set themselves apart from cable broadcasters, record companies, and gatekeeper galleries.
Creatives, for a moment, took back the means of control. They had platforms willing to put their work out there, and with less friction and more creative freedom. For a brief second, it felt like we could circumvent the old guard. We could enter into a more democratic means of distributing creative content — what Tim Berners-Lee imagined would come with the age of the internet.
But now we’re reaping what we sow in building our castles in someone else’s kingdom. The companies and their stakeholders have come to collect their kingdom dues. These platforms are no longer designed for the creator or the discerning consumer but for the shareholders.
The online platforms that many creatives put their proverbial eggs in the basket of, transformed into a snapping bear trap. This stranglehold, coupled with churn-and-burn treatment of creative vocations, has led to an inflection point for many. The dangling carrot of “grind-a little-harder” and you’ll get what you want has rotted. Creatives in commercial industries feel the need to stick their neck out to gain back ground.
The rhetoric surrounding creative careers makes easy fodder for the stakeholders to keep the expectations of fair compensation low. Why should you make money when you’re doing what you love? Your sacrifices and compromises are “for the greater good”.
This Jedi-Mind-Trick of predatory capitalism is the same one used on “essential workers”, but the vernacular is tuned a little differently. You’re a monk and a martyr sacrificing for the greater good of your community. Doesn’t that feel-good feeling make up for the poor pay and perennial stress?
Though you can view the creative act in some ways as sacred — trying to make a fair living from it isn’t. Particularly so when your work is used in a commercial capacity, when everyone else is making money off you, except you.
Being compensated fairly and maintaining control of your work and rights as a creative isn’t easy. Maintaining artistic integrity while walking the tightrope of what your worth is, commercially speaking, is perilous.
When it comes to making a living, don’t let anyone think you don’t deserve an equal seat at the table. Don’t let your creativity bend into becoming someone else’s “content”.
I like to leave my readers with what I’m listening to in the studio. This week, I’d like to recommend “About You Now” by OTTO.
To err is to be human, yet we go to great pains to prove ourselves otherwise. Any piece of art is a summation of our triumphs and failures made along the way.
Our memories are decaying synaptic snapshots — unreliable narrators of our past. They’re fragile things, susceptible to influence from others, misshapen from our biases, and prey to time’s tendency to distort and refract them.
Floral motifs often appear in my work but have never been the sole subject matter. “The Killing Jar” explores their inherent symbolism in a still-life context, specifically their use as a motif in vanitas paintings.