How Technology Is Revolutionising the Arts
In the last couple decades, technology has revolutionised the way we relate to the world. These changes extend to influence all aspects of life, from communication to entertainment and from education to employment, and the arts have been far from unaffected. New technologies have impacted how artists in every field make, share and fund their work. This influence is especially true for young people, who grew up alongside technology and often see it as an integral part of their daily lives.
The process of creating art looks vastly different today from what it was 100 years ago. Modern artists can utilise software to create new forms of 3D and digital art and animation. Photographers can use Photoshop or other photo editing programs to do new things with their work. Musicians can use technology to record themselves without a professional studio, and to mix their own tracks. Writers can use word processing software, rather than writing by hand or using typewriters, and even take advantage of programs designed to help with planning or publishing a novel.
These are only a few of the new opportunities technology has provided artists. Many young people are still acting as bold, creative pioneers in the vast new world of technology, pushing the limits of society’s imagination and experimenting with new art forms and techniques.
One of these young pioneers is photographer Zev Hoover, an American teenager who shares his work on Flickr, where he has over 68,000 followers. The Daily Mail wrote an article about him in 2013, when he was only 14 years old, and in 2014, he was featured in Flickr’s 20Under20 Spotlight and in an article by the BBC.
Zev is most famous for his “little folk” series, which features the adventures of tiny subjects in normally commonplace surroundings, which take on an entirely new atmosphere when viewed through the eyes of something small. For his unique and creative photography, Zev makes use of photo editing software to combine photos, creating beautifully surreal images that look natural.
“Photography has always been an art form closely linked to the technology of the day,” Zev said. “Tech plays a role in my work simply because it makes it possible for the ideas in my head to be turned into photographs. Each photo just starts as an idea and then I have to find a way to make it a reality, and that is where technology comes in in the form of Photoshop and camera equipment.”
Once a piece of art has been created, with or without technology, the Internet can play an essential role in helping that work find an audience. According to the survey “Artists, Musicians and the Internet” from the Pew Research Center, “30% of all online artists and 45% of Paid Online Artists say the internet is important in helping them create and/or distribute their art.” Many artists today—particularly young artists—turn to social media platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr to share their work with others.
London-based artist Ruby etc. is one example of this. Ruby draws simple, distinctive and relatable cartoons that she shares on Tumblr, where some of her posts have hundreds of thousands of notes, and her Facebook page has over 31,000 likes.
“I’ve been posting art to Tumblr for about three and a half years now,” Ruby told Youth Arts Online when we interviewed her for an artist profile. “As stuff’s grown I’ve also started using Twitter, Instagram and Facebook too to get things out there.”
Ruby also uses social media to engage with her fans by answering questions, posting updates about her life and sharing tips for aspiring artists.
Luke Kiraya is also a young artist in London. Luke is a poet and performer who’s currently involved in Street Life, a program at Paddington Arts that explores what it’s like to be a young person in London through spoken word poetry. Like many other young artists, Luke uses social media to share his work.
“I use my phone for the majority of my writing and share it on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.”
Zahrah Sheikh is another young poet participating in the Street Life program. Zahrah uses social media to share her work too, even mixing various art forms that complement each other to create something new.
“I try to share my work on Twitter and Instagram,” Zahrah said. “I combine photography and poetry to make photo poems. It’s great cutting up photographs and magazines to create these new jigsaw puzzles.”
The Internet provides unparalleled opportunities for artists to find an audience. Work that would never have been seen in the past because it didn’t conform to what galleries, record labels or publishing houses were looking for can now find a home on the Internet, where it may be discovered by a community of people who relate to and appreciate the work.
This community can then generate even more opportunities for artists, who may even be able to harness the powers of technology to make a living through their art. Some young artists have turned to crowdfunding, popularised through platforms such as Kickstarter and Patreon, that allows their fans to become modern-day patrons of the arts.
The Internet also makes it easier for artists to sell directly to their fans through online shops, either on their own websites or through sites such as Society6 and Etsy for visual artists, Loudr and iTunes for musicians, or Amazon for writers. There are many other options aside from these examples, but these are some of the most well-known sites.
Ruby etc. is one artist who makes use of the Internet to sell her work. Ruby has a shop on Society6 that sells everything from prints of her art to phone cases, throw pillows and wall tapestries featuring her drawings. This online shop makes it easy for fans of Ruby’s work to buy merchandise they like while supporting her as an artist, and even if it’s difficult for an independent artist to make a livable income by selling their work online, the Internet helps them earn money doing what they love and find an audience for their art.
Although technology has revolutionised the way artists create and share their work, providing a host of new opportunities and the chance to experiment with new techniques, the growth of technology is not without its challenges. Technology has expanded opportunities for artists, but it has also expanded opportunities for entertainment and distraction.
“I think the scariest word in the English language is ‘consumer,’” Zev said. “I don’t want to be a consumer, I want to be a creator. I spend way too much time consuming content on YouTube and other sites; if I am not careful it can get in the way of creating things. I calculated I spend at least one month every year utterly wasting time on the Internet. It can really be a sinkhole for time.”
Of course, these distractions can also serve a beneficial purpose at times, as the things you discover online can provide you with new ideas and inspiration that go on to shape your future work.
“Technology equals distractions and procrastination,” Zahrah said. “It can and will lead you down many rabbit holes but that also means lots of weird connections which leads to insanely inspiring stuff to use as muse.”
While it is up to the individual artist to overcome the distractions of technology, the Internet can create other, more complex challenges as well. According to the Pew Research Center’s study “Arts Organizations and Digital Technologies,” a majority of arts organizations agree that technology plays a role in the widespread expectation that all digital content should be free. Many consumers are accustomed to accessing music, images, video and writing for free online, whether it’s shared legally or pirated. This can lower the amount that consumers are willing to pay for artwork, music, writing and other created content, which can make it difficult for artists to make a living from their craft.
There is also a downside to the ease and accessibility of technology. Because it’s so easy for artists to share their work online, more people than ever before are sharing their work. According to “Arts Organizations and Digital Technologies,” many arts organizations point out that this can make arts audiences more diverse and broaden society’s definition of art, but it can also make it easier for work to get lost in a sea of people looking for an audience.
“I’m really wary of how people seem desperate to get Internet hits for their work,” said Bridget Minamore, a young spoken word poet who was shortlisted to be London’s first Young Poet Laureate in 2013. “Only a very specific sort of work can go viral—some of it is incredible, and some of it isn’t.”
Sometimes, the art that receives the most attention online isn’t the most original, creative or well-crafted work, and sometimes truly deserving work might not receive the circulation it deserves, perhaps simply as a result of bad timing.
“There is no secret method to getting your work seen,” Zev said. “At the end of the day it comes down to luck. I really don’t know why I have had some modicum of success with it.”
Still, there are some steps artists can take to make the most of the opportunities presented by technology, regardless of the challenges they may face.
“I think the most important thing to get people to follow your work (other obviously than the quality of it) is consistency,” Zev said. “Find a style and stick to it. That way people know the sort of work you will produce and your followers will be people who like that sort of thing.”
This advice also seems to ring true in Ruby’s case. Though Ruby occasionally posts different types of artwork, such as these more realistic sketches she shared on her Tumblr, she primarily posts comics in the same style, using simple lines, humour, and some characters that reappear in many drawings.
Though many individual creators and entire industries are still struggling to adjust to the changes wrought by new technologies, many young artists find that technology helps provide them with motivation, opportunities and inspiration that change how they relate to their art.
“Without the Internet, probably no one outside of a small circle of people would ever see my work,” Zev said, “and I feel like without the encouragement and community online, photography would be a lot less fun.”