This is sort of a follow-up to the ZAPP Arts Festival Conference post I put up a couple of months ago; a commenter pressed against my position that one has to embrace digital technology in order to stand a chance of being noticed in today’s landscape. This was apparently controversial!
My main reason in taking this stance is based in what’s happened in the music industry, and the shift that took place ten to fifteen years ago. It’s fine to assert that an artist should exercise complete control over every aspect of their work, but when you don’t pay attention to how this situation plays out in other fields (especially ones that are in far greater demand than the fine arts field), you do so at your own peril.
The Guardian posted a transcript of an address that Steve Albini made to a conference in Melbourne recently on just this topic. It’s long, intelligent, informed, and well-worth reading, particularly if you haven’t acquainted yourself with how digital access has fundamentally altered how a creative field works. Here’s an excerpt, illustrating the issue with trying to keep a stranglehold on your work at all time:
Once we release music it’s out of our control. I use the verb “release” because it’s common vernacular. But I think it’s a perfect description. Even more apt if you consider what happens when you release other things, say a bird or a fart. When you release them they’re in the world and the world will react and use them as it sees fit. The fart may wrinkle noses until it dissipates. The bird may fly outside and crap on windshields; it may get shot down by a farmer. It’s been released, so you have no control over it. You can’t recall the fart, however much you would like to. You can’t protect the bird.
This is the fundamental problem: you can’t recall the fart. It’s entirely fair to try to profit from one’s work as best one can, but the fundamental work of an artist is to release ideas into the world. If the profiting from an idea is more important than that the ideas themselves, the entire thing is upside-down. The two things can co-exist, but the ideas must always come first.