Art & our Digital World


The crisis caused by the digitalisation of music, cinema and books, and the ease this creates for the pirating or free distribution of the artist’s work, should be accepted for what it is and what it indicates.

What it tells us is that the facilities offered to artists by the new technologies and the amount of people (artists, would-be artists, or even pseudo-artists) seduced into using these technologies to produce things, makes the traditional marketplace of the arts obsolete.

This is because there are too many works being produced to make them all profitable. And, in fact, the huge majority are not profitable at all.

Many artists are asking how this can be changed. But the truth is, it can’t be changed. What has to change is not the technological advancement, but the economic perception of artistic production.

If we look at this economy, we see that there is an abundance of artists creating abundant work that is released into the marketplace even though there are not enough potential consumers who could be expected to purchase this kind of work, at least not to the level that would enable the majority of artists to receive a life-supporting income from the sales. But this is not because of any restricting effects of technology, in fact it’s quite the opposite: technology has liberated artists and made artistic production more democratic. The problem is rather that the economy hasn’t been able to adjust itself in a way that can ensure that creators will be given proper compensation for their efforts.

The technological revolution has sparked a great wealth of work that is being produced for next to nothing in return. Art for art’s sake (some of it), but really, it’s material that is created for the pleasure of doing it, and because the one, artist or not, who creates it can.

Obviously, a civilisation, if it is worthy of being called a civilisation, needs to nurture this creative spirit, but: How can this production be measured? Although there are not enough paying customers to recompense creative work in the way it should be compensated for, production continues. This creates a glut of work that threatens the stability of the entire art industry, and the industry says that this is unsustainable, yet in fact, what makes a glut of art unfeasible economically is not the abundance of art, but the lack of creativity in the economy.

The industry throws out warnings to the glut of unpaid artists that threaten its economy: “Why waste your time, you fools?” it says. And yet, the production continues. And it should do, and it should be encouraged to. But the only way to do that is to restructure the reward-system – restructure the economy. If the marketplace can’t offer the rewards that artists deserve for their work, then a different kind of reward system has to be implemented for artists.

What we are seeing here is the real evolutionary impact of technology on our economy. The traditional scheme of labour being rewarded by money is challenged by technology. What the idea of technology implies is that that formula no longer has to be the case. Technology is, in fact, a human evolution away from money.

Of course, it is not in the interests of some to let this happen, but it is in the interests of the majority.

The digitalisation of the arts is only a first step. The digitalisation and mechanisation of the whole of society is technologically within our grasp and the only thing standing between us and that change is … money.