Serfing the Internet
Are artists becoming the slaves of new tech
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Every once in a while someone in my Facebook or Twitter feeds prickles me with a link to an article. The latest case of this was this one, in the New York Times, called Slaves of the Internet. To add insult to injury, a real friend on the Book added the comment, "People who write for nothing are amateurs."
I beg to differ. Whether it's YouTube, blogging, or - to bring this home - writing for The Charlebois Post, artists are finding new ways each day of expressing themselves and sharing their work that is immediate, without intermediary and without commercial concerns. The internet has released a flood of content - yes, much of it twaddle - that goes beyond censorship and straight into the faces and intellects of its audience.
I will not argue that the internet paradigm is not without its weaknesses and the lack of income for creators is certainly one of them. (No one, including myself, is paid at CharPo.) But until a model is created - a fund, a grant, a client/payor system - artists have found a new liberty here they would never enjoy in conventional arts outlets.
The writers who create here have not - to my recollection - been told they cannot write something (which is the case with virtually every writer at every newspaper). I have, on occasion, suggested a toning down of a piece or brought attention to the risks of writing certain things (40 years in the trenches does teach you a few things about readers and their tempers) but I have never changed intention, tone or turn of phrase nor have I insisted on changes. The writers have received their lumps (as I have) but in most cases the comments have been invigorating and the lack of several filters between writer and reader has made for refreshing exchanges. At a newspaper, letters to the editor are rarely addressed by the writers targeted, which has - especially now - shown up the dryness of the print model. On this site, and thousands of others, writers are encouraged to respond to intelligent commentary. As I have written previously, the days of the monolithic critic/journalist are over and it is sad to me that many in the field have not yet realized this.
However, artists have, and the lack of filters the internet offers to artists is mind-blowingly liberating. When we at CharPo approach an artist to write about their work we always tell them, "Don't plug, share." And they do so in a number of truly exciting ways. For instance playwright Amy Lee Lavoie interviewed playwright Nicolas Billon and he returned the favour and interviewed her. Who better to ask questions of a writer than a writer?
Joel Ivany and his team at Against The Grain Theatre have been particularly generous and creative; in one instance they discussed their upcoming production from the angle of two singers, a violinist and the company's general manager - all discussing their approach to a difficult production.
All of these instances are beyond PR - as are literally hundreds of other articles we've put up here on the site.
And this kind of work - which is an extension of the artist's craft - is reflected in photo galleries all over the internet, in portfolios of art, in videos on YouTube. (Many of these artists developed cult followings and went on to earn good livings - Felicia Day, creator of The Guild comes immediately to mind as does, closer to home, En audition avec Simon, the outlandishly funny "reality" series about auditions gone very bad from Simon-Olivier Fecteau.)
Look at the work of Jacob Niedzwiecki. This talented choreographer and digital artist finds full expression in a fusion of the internet, mobile apps, dance and film-making.
For me he is the future incarnate. He has found ways to solve the problems of our "give it to us free" culture by stretching his art in 80 directions and bringing it back to an artistic centre that is as new as it is oddly familiar.
So to answer the questions posed by so many articles: should writers (artists) work for free? Of course not. But there is a kind of work - one that expands the artist into this strange new world. Until all of us have mastered that space we may have to learn it and to learn it, yes, may involve creation for gratis as lesson; as dues paid. And I am not only talking about young artists, but also about the armies of veterans who have - to put it plainly - been put out to pasture far before the creative juices dry up.
I have reinvented how and what I write five or six times in my life. Bottom line: I don't think I would trust an artist who hasn't.