Art and the Internet: A Blessing or a Curse?

I often wonder what my writing career would be like without the internet. Back in the day, it was no small feat to land a job in the writing industry; you’d need to garner an impressive degree from a first-rate school, schmooze up to connections in your field, and hope a glittering hope that you’d be able to write for that publishing house, magazine, newspaper. And that’s assuming you’re talented enough to rise above the millions of others capable of transposing language to print, because let’s face it, anyone can write something.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the internet. A place where any joe schmo can upload their drawings, paintings, photographs, and articles for free, no degree or fancy connection required. No strings attached. Because of the growing evidence that you don’t necessarily need a degree to know what you’re doing artistically, more and more companies are hiring freelance writers, animators, you name it. The problem there is that there are millions of artists trying to promote themselves on the internet.

So that raises the question…Is the internet a detriment to artists, or is it a blessing?

I think the subject deserves a weighing of the pros and cons. First of all, let’s take a long step back to about, say, twenty years ago. If you wanted to see what these young new artists were doing nowadays, you had to go to an art gallery, an exhibition, a craft fair. Now, one only has to visit Deviantart,com or any other artsy sort of website to find countless drawings and paintings. Similarly, if you wanted to read some great new writers and authors, you had to pick up a magazine or their latest novel. Now, visit any of the infinite websites dedicated to writers–Fictionpress, WordPress, whatever–and on one website alone, you’ll find millions of stories and articles and essays. All for free. How cool is that?

But this easy access to a plethora of potential critics and buyers could well pose a threat to your good name. With so many artists spreading their wings in ways they simply couldn’t years and years ago, harnessing the freedom and straightforwardness of the internet, the art and writing industry has become just that more competitive. I’m uploading my articles and essays to a website packed full of similar articles and essays, many of which are probably blowing mine out of the water. I’m under more pressure now than ever to stand out among the millions of other mouth-breathers capable of holding a pen, and among the celebrity-status authors who have been writing for years. 

There is also an air of mystery surrounding most online authors and artists nowadays. With the flood of art imbuing the internet, we from our coffee tables are hit with art from every angle the moment we step foot in the land of Facebook, Tumblr, Deviantart. We may see a surreal drawing of a fairy eating a spider, or a phenomenal piece of fan art, and we’ll say “Wow! That’s incredible!” But do we know who this seemingly anonymous artist is? Odds are, there isn’t even a name attached to the picture because it’s very easy to steal someone’s art on the internet. We’re flooded with images and sounds and blogs when we turn on our computers, but unless we’re actively looking for artists and writers, all we see is the art itself. 

This brings me to another point. Because of the ambiguity of so many artists, it’s almost as if we’ve reached a Dark Age for writing and art. A very select few make it to the ranks of champions, where their art is distributed in magazines, their names plastered all around their art like a halo of success. But the staggering number of artists and writers who go unnamed, unaccounted for, are left in the dark while their work goes unnoticed or is stolen. It’s kind of depressing for someone who desperately wants to get recognition. The artist in question isn’t a person, shaking your hand and discussing his art. He’s a name on a screen, an HTML code, a handful of pretty pictures, just like every other self-proclaimed artist selling themselves online. 

Due to the huge numbers of artists and writers online, quality alone won’t cut it. A woman might draw amazingly lifelike portraits, but her career won’t go anywhere if she doesn’t have commercial appeal. A kid who draws a shaky picture on Microsoft Paint might get millions of more hits than the art school graduate trying to land a job. 

This is exactly what happened to an old friend of mine, Forrest. Five years ago, he scribbled a duck on Microsoft Paint and used his shabby animation skills to make a YouTube video set to music. That was how “The Duck Song” was born, and yes, this crappy but catchy video has reached 160,429,006 views as of today. He made a lot of money off of that one video, and has since been making (very good-quality) Lego and live-action videos. He landed a job with Maker Studios in LA for awhile, and was even on the SyFy original series “Viral Video Showdown” (and yes, he won). All of this success started with that one crappy drawing of a duck. He’s told me he regrets that his success began with something like that, but it got him to where he is now. That just goes to show that online artistic success isn’t necessarily based on how talented you are, but on your commercial appeal. And every time I wish that I could be wildly successful online, all I can hear is, “Hey! Bom, bom, bom…got any grapes?”

Yeah, the internet is a great place to get started. It’s amazing how easy and free it is to distribute whatever art you do. The opportunity to “art” is now available to anyone with the motor skills to do it. But with that, the level of competition has gone up as well. And commercial appeal is selling much more than the quality of the art itself, which is disheartening for artists and writers alike. What do you think the pros and cons of promoting your art on the internet are? Leave a comment below! 

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