Disposable Art in the Attention Economy


"Why did Tom post that same image on Instagram again? It was cool the first time, but come on, what a loser, wasting my time with the same shit. Fuck him, un-follow." - Instagram Person


Big deal, Tom posted the same piece of art twice. Why is it such an offence? Why is there a feeling of underlying resentment when someone thinks their art is worth a second viewing? Why is time so precious to you that Tom went from respected to hated in half a second? Or was the reaction elicited one of cringe? Embarrassment for Tom. He doesn't understand how social media works. Or, if Tom's crime was especially egregious, Norma Desmond comes to mind. A washed up Golden Era actress replaying the movies of her past over and over again. 

Now maybe you're Tom and you realized your mistake. You're new to the whole social media thing, but you're a quick learner.  You figured out that you need to feed the beast. That's what you've come call Instagram, The Beast. It has a voracious appetite and doesn't want the same meal twice. So you make sure to produce art that is easily executed but flashy. It has to be flashy. It also has to be trendy. So you follow other artists and do what they do. You copy styles and techniques. You don't consider it stealing. Everyone does it. And maybe you're just copying a little bit. It doesn't matter, because no one knows the origins of anything anymore and no one cares. So you do the same shit everyone else does. If you're the best at it, you do it faster and flashier. You become the master of craft and now you're ready for a Youtube channel.

Welcome to the Art of the Attention Economy.

Art has shifted from the attainment of timelessness in the form of an artifact to the attainment of attention in the form of social approval, a "like". Artists during the Impressionist period attempted to capture the fleeting moment into a forever space, the canvas  Artist's in this Attention Economy use an image to capture a portion of a viewer's finite resource, time. The more pieces of time acquired from more people, the more successful. The more followers, the more legitimate. You'll get rewarded monetarily in the Attention Economy's many reward systems. Youtube ad revenue, Patreon subscribers, Twitch donations and subscriptions, etc. All the rewards and popularity has a price though. Everything and anything created has become disposable.

Your art is disposable.
You are disposable.

You may not find anything wrong with that. You feel you are a piece of the bigger collective and your likes and followers are all that matters anyways. It's all about expression and being creative. It's the act of "doing" that matters. Joy in the process. You don't really think that do you. It's what your rational self tells you to think and it's all bullshit.

You're not a Sunday painter, you're not a craftsman, you're not a designer, this isn't a hobby. You know this because of the dark hole of emptiness and frustration that looms over you and always has.

You wonder if you have Bipolar II.

I have a feeling you know what that means. You've lived with it your entire life. The moment you said to yourself this is all that I can be. It's not much but at least it's a certainty. Emotional swings of grandeur, doubt, and mania are as routine as the seasons but as uncertain as the weather. But you still give it your all because there's light. You don't have bipolar, you're just an artist.

The hashtag is the gateway to doom.

The hashtag extinguishes the light. Your art is the light. The piece of work that you put everything into. The hope that you have created something that will connect you to someone on a sublime level of mutual understanding. You naively post the piece on Instagram. It is then consumed, discarded, and forgotten. What's worse, you hashtagged it to many of the artists communities where the vultures swoop in. There is something in it that will get them more follows and likes. They copy, steal, and tear anything original out of it. Your hardest efforts and work, consumed by the Borg.  

Slow down. Do art that takes time and sweat

Create a higher stakes game to where the thought of your work becoming disposable is unbearable. It will force you to seriously consider how you choose to show, share, and sell your art. Think twice about the importance of followers, likes, and social media. Is a hashtag worth the quick feedback reward? The artists' struggle against disposability in todays world is the most important battle happening in art today. Be relevant, be remembered.




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