Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Is there are war on creativity and the arts?

This is written solely from my personal perspective, which has some experience in some fields and just hearsay in others. I'd love to hear what others think on this topic too so pitch in. What concerns me is that everywhere I look the arts seem to be running into hard times despite the population increasing and art being produced on a wider scale than ever. Only the world of comics seems to be doing well enough right now, what with movie deals expanding the audience further and copyright still be fairly firmly in the right hands and enforced. Mind you, they're only just coming into play on the Internet so I don't know how long that will last. I'll get back to you on their field if they should go the way of the book industry. Which is always a possibility.

Fine arts, a.k.a painting and sculpture etc. has become less and less appreciated by the masses while printed photos, either on canvas or off, has become more popular. And I'm not talking about arty photos taken for a single purpose by the one to have it printed, I mean mass produced nothings of things like twigs in various colours. Even printed family portraits would pass as vaguely uninspired but worthwhile. The most appreciation most artists get for their works is a hanging in a show, a very slim chance at a sale (very, very slim), and possibly enough people walking through a showing and appreciating the work to have a known name in a certain area. Whether or not gaining a name leads to more sales is another thing. It seems that the masses still have this idea that art is mostly to be found in glitzy galleries, doesn't make sense and that all artists are pretty well off due to exorbitant pricing. The reverse is reality. Most artists feature in small galleries or nowhere, their art is easily understood and appreciated (although those 200 word descriptions are still demanded by gallery owners when artists just want to write it in one sentence, such as "scene of the back pasture at morning" or "man/woman crying"), and their pricing barely covers the cost of materials and framing.
What's causing these artists to struggle? The large retailers offering cheap and nasty prints and the lagging and outdated social concept that artists all have it the way a few did in the eighties. Even the Tax office management thought there was money to be gleaned in taxes from artists and insisted all artists fill in tax forms. On finding out most came in at a loss they gave up on such a foolish idea. It is laughable really but on seeing mass produced prints with frames worth hundreds and the print worth $2 in houses and offices all over I just feel like crying for the whole fine arts scene. Artists are losing out on sales and recognition for ignorance, disinterest in individuality and quick sales.

As you can tell from all of the above, photography is also being undermined by the mass produced prints now sold by the big retailers. For an individual piece, one not to be found anywhere else, you will have to fork out for the artist's time and materials plus a little profit. This does mean a higher price but uniqueness is assured and the photographer's income along with it. For those who produced the mass produced prints, there might be a few dollars to be had but most aren't produced by a single artist creating art but rather someone within a company taking a photo and having the product so digitally enhanced it has little relation to the original work. The artists who do find their works printed have usually already taken some of the most famous photos of our era and do receive some money for their work. Said artists though, are few and very far in between. They are also often employed by or work with newspapers, where they make the bulk of their earnings taking shots of celebs, events and disasters. Photography for photography's sake? Has anyone heard of this being bought and sold en masse anymore? Not really. You have to be in the field to find the clues as to how to be successful and while in the field you see thousands of others producing great works that highlight colour, space, shape, texture, emotions, lines. The competition for recognition is extremely high but recognition doesn't necessarily lead to monetary reward anymore. Although, it might help with getting you a newspaper contract so you can make a living taking less thought out photos of events, disasters and of course, celebs. The best of the best then do take the time to try to infuse a focus on colour, space, shape, texture, emotions and lines into their work, creating those famous photos and securing a little extra pay through the mass production of their work. Why all this struggle on the part of the photographer? Instant, thoughtless gratification on the part of the consumer, a disregard for individuality and personal appreciation and the ever present shadow of big retailers and cheap mass production.

Music artists are having a tough time of it too. You're probably thinking "not really" or some such with a mind to junk like Bieber or some other toy boy prince, girl power band or glittering in gold rapper. You'd be right in thinking they're bringing in the big bucks quite easily but even they have it rough compared to before. Individuality and creativity do not exist in such fields of music and where it does exist the big bucks are nowhere to be seen. Most musicians nowadays have to walk not only the tightrope of creativity vs earning money but also copyright vs mass reach. To keep one's copyright is to stay small and earn little, which does allow for creative freedom as you're unlikely to get a contract. To have your copyright infringed by all and sundry is to earn more (though not at all what you should be earning) and reach millions but to have your creativity stripped from you for increased sales and an income propped up by product placement and advertising. All because the masses steal music like never before. Sure, music can be free as it is but airwaves free to the ears  and files are just there but the masses continuing to take without paying does mean the entire music industry is facing a financial and creative crisis and all those pesky new programmes and restrictions are created to annoy the consumer who just wants to hit one button to play but has to go through more than necessary. The masses think they have rights to someone else's work but they don't really. Not until those rights are released by the creator. Unfortunately, most people don't see the creator as the one holding said rights but rather an enormous company that won't miss a few dollars anyway. Taking music for free is seen as stealing a single candy from a supermarket filled solely with candy rather than taking a giant slice of someone else's dinner. For those musicians not really deserving of the name as they're more puppets than anything else, dealing little in music and even having their product altered down to the base notes by machines, there seems little harm in stealing from them but consider this: if even these remaining "music stars" disappear the entire music industry as we currently know it will crumble apart. In this, I'm actually not sure if the result would be better or worse for musicians everywhere. Music would naturally have to become more local and creative, shifting back to something closer to what it was pre the music producer boom. But then, most of our collective knowledge about some really fantastic bands would disappear too. Of course, this isn't necessarily the way it would all turn out but I would say it is fairly inevitable that to continue to steal means to slowly destroy the very mass culture you're all wanting to follow by stealing. And along the way you'll destroy many a smaller band who's just making their break.

What's happening to music is fairly similar to what's happening to movies. If you're at the top then you can afford to produce movies still even though the costs are enormous and the amount of earnings lost seems to be forever growing. To combat lost earnings the movie makers produce what is believed to be desired by the masses, drawing in larger and larger audiences for single films. The upshot of reaching a wider audience per film though, is stripping out all the possibly objectionable aspects and making films less creative or revolutionary than ever. This is why we see the same old story lines over and over, the emphasis on booming soundtracks and flashy fight scenes over unique plots and unconventional characters etc. For the rest of the movie makers it is a struggle to gain funding, to find a wide enough audience or even to get a showing. Indie works have their time and place but they aren't seen often, bring smaller crowds and appear in very few cinemas. The DVDs to follow have to same pattern. The bigger the audience of the original show, the more prints are made in hope that a wide section of the population will want a copy. The smaller the original audience the less likely you are to find a print at all. And then there's things like, it was big enough to be shown in several countries but the estimated audience of a print only sees returns in the original country at best so sales are lost for a lack of subtitles being included or for few sales points. There are so many movies out there that the number would have your head spin. Movie production took of far faster than pretty much any other art form and yet, what can you find in most collections? The same as in everyone else's. The top sellers of the day and some childhood classics. Only the fanatical collectors have combed through enough of the backlog of movies and shows to find original prints or rare B-rated works. And many of these will sell for peanuts and have been damaged for lack of proper care. And I don't even want to consider the stashes held by governments and TV stations that remain locked away from the public for one reason or another but usually neglect. Movies are going the way of music for the same copyright issues, the same mass demands and the lack of appreciation for something completely different.

And finally books. This is home turf for many of those who come to my site. The world of books is in a mess and non of the authors, critics and publishers seem to know exactly where the industry is headed. Traditional publishing houses are clashing with the newer ebook publishers and big retailers. Indie publishers are losing out to big retailers and traditional publishers that merge. ebook publishers had a boom and are now competing with their own clients as authors begin epublishing on their own to save the costs of the publishing house. Who knows what mess the distributors are in but usually a publishing house is a distributor now so I guess it follows suit that they're in a bad way too. There's a high chance that an author will have to find an overseas publisher if the distributing publishing houses in their home country distribute more than print. The pool of authors seeking the more definite sales from a traditional publisher who's also into distribution is growing enormously, increasing the slush piles of said publishers. This means that more and more publishers are now shutting their doors to submissions. Well, this along with the fact that it is cheaper to distribute the same old hits than to print a new work and take a risk on a new author. Even critics are under fire from 'reviewers' who do little but write "this is crap" or "this is great" under a book on Amazon or such like. Critics have gotten to the point of saying you aren't a critic unless you analyse the work, and likely for a publisher. So where's the line between a critic and a blog reviewer who writes an essay on the book? The mire is large in the book world and it has been created by several factors: new technology, copyright infringement of said new technology, the increasing numbers of authors that is thanks in part to the author mystique and to writing classes and courses, the big retailers emphasising consumer responses and interaction and the price war created by different methods of publishing. Unique writing is being thrown in for formula and expected results from sticking to genre trends and certain writing styles. Big names are ever big while little and new names are drifting into the world of nevermore. There are some publishers looking to change this by seeking out niche markets and different writing but those are few and the competition is high. Indie publishers offer to print more unique works but their distribution is limited and sales as a result. There are probably more aspects to include but to be honest, considering the mess the book industry, my favourite arts industry, is in just makes me want to cry (Quick! Someone paint me!). All the problems of the book industry come down to the consumers wanting cheaper fad books all the time as many saw the possibility of such and began a wide demand for competitive pricing and the slower change of consumers giving up the reading of less popular works for other entertainment pursuits. Fashion, as driven by the less read consumer, has taken a hold of the book publishing industry and the hold is uncomfortably tight. In all, the traditional publishers, the distributors, the ebook publishers, the vanity publishers and the critics are all just responding to consumer trends. The sales that were once eroding solely for entertainment competition are now eroding for internal strife. Unfortunately, the authors are suffering for it and there are more of them than ever, creating a shark pool that's calm on the surface and bloody underneath. Calm for sharing information and bloody for the intense competitiveness that comes with securing a living.

So with all this, is there a war on creativity and the arts? Well, not officially. It is more that we the people have shot ourselves in the feet and the knees and are progressing upwards. In some ways you could say that big business is to blame for setting trends in the first place but they really just follow sales. If it wasn't for us buying the same old stuff as everyone else in the first place then insisting it be cheaper and possibly (in some cases make that probably) free then we'd not be facing such mindless waffle from out media, the same old mainstream books from the publishers, the horrendous proliferation of Bieberism and such like, all while going home to sit and ignore the prints seen in hundreds or thousands of other houses as they're only really there to fill in space and impress visitors. If we all wanted things to change into something more creative, accessible and varied then we'd better go back to paying our artists and being interested in new sights and thoughts and stories.

That's it for my ramble for today (I hope it made enough sense). I'm not one to draw a definite conclusion on all this as there isn't even one out there in the big wide world of the arts. We'll all see what happens as it does. But if I lose my books there will be hell to pay. Boredom doesn't suit me.

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