Technology is often seen as a threat to creativity, imagination, even humanity if the films are to be believed! But as technology changes, so do the ways we use, think, and talk about it in our everyday lives. There is an ongoing battle between whether the internet is a mind-numbing danger, or a miraculous enabler. So is the internet really the place where creativity and imagination go to die? What if technology is enhancing our creativity, helping to fuel and apply our imagination, freeing up our minds instead of destroying them?
Technology and creativity have both grown and developed over the years until they have reached the point where they are almost inseparably linked. Looking back, however, and it’s easy to see why they may have been placed at opposite ends of the scale. The first fully functioning computer was called ENIAC: Electrical Numerical Integrator and Calculator. As you can tell from its catchy name, its main purpose was to solve numerical problems, and it could only be worked by those who knew exactly what they were doing.
ENIAC was in use between 1946 and 1955, and computers remained an elite and out of reach concept for the average person right up until the late 1970s and early 1980s. This is when the first PCs and Steve Job’s Apple home computers erupted onto the market. Don’t worry, this isn’t a history lesson in disguise – the key here is the increased accessibility that these new models and innovations brought. With these computers available to ordinary people in ordinary homes, the barriers were broken down. Technology was no longer only accessible to highly trained geniuses, but to anyone who could afford the latest model.
A similar evolution of accessibility can be seen in the creative and artistic industries. Book publication, for example, was an expensive and difficult process until the invention of the Gutenberg Press around 1440.This advance in technology allowed books to be produced and published easier and faster, making books themselves more affordable and so, in turn, a lot more popular. Skip forwards a fair few centuries and today you can write, publish, and promote your own novel without spending a single cent – or even leaving the comfort of your sofa.
So technology became more open to more users, and this process opened up a wide range of opportunities for individuals to stop relying on traditional methods and start creating on their own. The creatives called, and technology answered.
A New Age
Far from those clunky beginnings, Apple – one of the most famous and high value tech brands in the world – listened to that call, and now focuses strongly on creativity, sleek design, imagination, and artists as the main core of its advertising campaigns. The “Behind the Mac” adverts showcase creatives using and relying on Apple’s technology, from musicians to photographers to designers.
One of these creatives is the legally blind photographer Bruce Hall, who is shown using his Mac to see the details both in his images and the outside world. This is a prime example of how technology has enhanced – or more accurately, enabled – creativity, opening up possibilities that would otherwise not exist.
The slogan “Make something wonderful” that accompanies these adverts is a far cry from the mathematical and scientific roots of the ENIAC, and shows the importance of appealing to people’s creativity when it comes to selling technology in the 21st century.
So what about those who can’t afford the latest Apple software? Can you only succeed in making art if you have the latest technology or high-end products? That wouldn’t be democratizing, rather just creating a new elite group; those of artists who can afford to buy the latest upgrade.
Luckily, the internet is free, and as long as you have a connection, you and your art can be connected with millions of people across the globe. With free website builders, social media, and even selling platforms like Etsy, it is easier than ever for anyone and everyone to create, share, and sell their art.
The wide reach of the internet has broken down the traditional barriers that used to control and measure creativity – for example, musicians needed record labels, writers needed publishers, and artists relied on galleries. But no more! Now all they need is an online connection and they can self-promote with the click of a button.
With these artistic hurdles falling by the side of technological and creative freedom, it’s changing the way art is produced, promoted, and received by audiences. Once upon a time, not so long ago, artistic services such as prop design, carpentry, even acting, were heavily reliant on word of mouth for success and getting new jobs.
Of course, the old “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” phrase is still relevant today, (but even this method has radically expanded with sites such as LinkedIn). Now, artists and designers can have their own website to drive their business rather than waiting for good reviews of their work to circulate and generate new jobs.
With free website builders available, having an online presence is no longer limited to those confident in coding or with pockets deep enough to hire a private web designer. Your talented artist can simply wake up in the morning, and have a fully functional website up and running by the end of the day. In fact, it could be done by lunchtime, so the afternoon can be spent creating the next masterpiece to sell online.
So, as technology becomes ever more user friendly, the reach of the internet is opened up to allow creatives a much broader audience. Now, a photographer in Brooklyn can share ideas with a photographer in India, without financial or geographical limitations.
Reach for the (Social Media) Stars
This connectivity is best showcased in the beehive of activity and communication that is social media. Far from simply being a way to chat with friends, social media has evolved into a platform that sees music releases, photography galleries, artists sharing work, online selling, advertising, and more.
In some cases, the person themself becomes a “brand”, monetizing social platforms through advertising. But social media isn’t only about supporting the Kardashians of Instagram – others are finding new ways to revamp old art and breathe digital life into traditional forms.
The New York Public Library created a new way of storytelling using digital methods by partnering with independent creative company Mother New York. They created “Insta Novels” where a classic novel is displayed digitally in an Instagram story.
With artistic graphics accompanying chapter titles and text which moves and appears on screen, this digitized way of reading is a more interactive and “at your fingertips” way of viewing favourite classic novels. The New York Public Library is using the digital space to make classic literature more available to a wider, and younger, audience.
And there’s more – as well as modernizing traditional art, the digital sphere and online space provide new ways of being creative. More than that, it’s changing the relationship between the artist and their followers – you can now start a conversation directly with your audience.
In an interview with Instagram success-artist Dan Lam, Artwork Archive uncover how she made her breakthrough being commissioned by celebrities. Social media’s connectivity creates relationships that would not have been formed in the “real world” and allows stars and followers to approach artists in a new and engaged way. As with Dan Lam, this has the potential to boost following and exposure and set the artist on the road to success.
Social media breaks down the barriers between artist and audience, and it changes the roles between them too. The people who have followed the artist on Instagram or liked their page on Facebook become a critic giving feedback and questioning the work, a buyer enquiring after pieces or commissions, and even a marketer through sharing, liking, and retweeting content.
Art, Art, Everywhere
With change comes resistance. When the novel first appeared it was denounced as morally dangerous and was believed to lead people astray, but now it is regarded as the healthy option as opposed to surfing the internet. Now, the fear is that this open-to-all environment of the internet is destroying the value of art. If anyone and everyone can be an artist, where’s the real talent?
With such a saturated market, how can anyone rise above the others to succeed? Can you really make a living this way? While many would cry “yes!”, others are not so convinced. Brent Knepper writes about his experience with Patreon, the crowdfunding site aimed at creatives who want to make money while connecting with their followers, or patrons. He argues that the almost mythical success of a few is magnified by the company to give false hope to the majority, promoting unrealistic goals.
This lack of excitement in crowdsourcing art is also expressed by Guardian art writer Jonathan Jones, who believes instead in using digital resources in new and different ways. As always, it seems to come down to individuality vs mass production.
This has always been a sore point – those who haven’t followed the traditional route are often still held in less regard than their more conventional peers. Self-published books still get the nose wrinkle despite the success of self-published authors, and social media stars are sniffed at: “what do they even do?” is a commonly asked question.
As Ros Barber points out in this article on the downfalls of self-publishing, using traditional methods relies on someone else to validate and approve your work. This in turn signals to others that your work is worth reading, viewing, or buying. Although she is talking about self-publishing books, this applies across the board: if your art is in a gallery, someone has decided it’s worth putting there; if your film is on the big screen or in the store, someone has edited and approved its place on that shelf.
This idea of value is mirrored in a comment by fine artist and filmmaker Storm Ascher in an article by CBS New York:
“I definitely think that social media has made it possible for a lot of artists to access their audiences better, but I also think that the threshold for calling yourself an artist has become a lot lower…”
The anxieties that surround using the internet as the barrier-breaking springboard for artists appears to be the fact that anyone and everyone really can call themself an artist – and if they don’t succeed, or make a living from it, they can at least have a go. Whether you think this is a disaster or a dream come true, it at least will hopefully remove the stigma that you have to be a master of oil painting or love visiting galleries to create or enjoy art.
The Internet, and Beyond
Books, then video games, then social media – at some point they have all been held in high suspicion. But just because something is popular doesn’t mean that it is cheap or lacking value – many of the literary classics of today were cursed as popular trash in their own time.
Quantity does not always sacrifice quality. Surely it’s better to have art everywhere, by everyone, than limited to a select elite few who can afford their own studios and gallery fees. Collaboration, connectivity, and creativity are all enhanced by the internet and the various platforms that come with having an online presence. As Holly Williams argues, anything that breaks down barriers in art to make it something for everyone to relate to is an important thing to fight for.
Whether it’s a blind photographer using Apple software to create his work, or a social media lover using Instagram to share their art, technology can be seen enhancing the work of creatives everywhere you look. And while the internet shows no sign of going anywhere, artists may as well take hold of the digital power and embrace the changes that come with creating online.