Sometimes there seems to be a convergence of information; ideas come together, each feeding each other, and becoming more than they were to begin with. The connection can be obvious, or not, depending on who is noticing, and what is being noticed. For me, these current small events coming together seems like an obvious connection, but I would not expect everyone to see it.
It started with an article on another person’s blog. It wasn’t a big deal piece, nothing meant to be controversial (and I don’t think it technically was). The article simply caught my eye because the blogger was discussing reading more books lately, partially due to their subscription to the service, Oyster. This excited me, as it was essentially a Netflix for books; pay a subscription fee and have access to a large collection of digital books. I had been wanting something like this for a long time. Yes, I know, many other people call this service a library, but for a person such as myself with a pitiful local library, I was willing to pay for a better option.
As excited as I was to have this service as a consumer, I could not help but wonder how this service is for the writers. Are they paid per read, or a one time book purchase? Does allowing their book to be on a service like this help them by allowing them to reach a larger audience, or does it hurt them by keeping their work from producing a paycheck, therefore making it more difficult to earn a living from their writing? Does it matter? I mean, it’s not like libraries have killed the book business; this shouldn’t be any different.
It was almost just a passing thought. I am working towards joining the ranks of published authors, so I think about these things now. I wonder how my behavior as a consumer effects the producers. And yes, sometimes I wonder if my opinion on these things will bar me from entering the elite ranks. It doesn’t always change my opinion, but I think about it.
So I wondered about it, made a note to research it a bit, and signed up for the free trial which would allow me to see their collection of works.
A week or two later I caught notice of a large hullabaloo involving Taylor Swift removing her music from spotify. My caring about this technically makes no sense. I’m not really a fan of Taylor Swift; nothing personal, she’s just not my style. I’m more suited to the SNL commercial then anything else. Additionally, I have never listened to spotify; I hadn’t even heard of it before this. So why do I care? A musician I don’t listen to on a service I don’t use? I care because her reason for doing so fascinated me.
Now there are a lot of different reasons available on the internet as to what contributed to this, everything from flat out money issues, to the potential for fans to be embarrassed about buying an album. If you do a search, I’m sure you can find many reasons and pick your favorite. However the first reason I found (linked above) targeted an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal discussing her opinion on art and compensation. Simply put, her music is her art, and giving her art away for free undervalues both her and her product.
I’ll be honest. Not being a spotify user, I don’t totally understand the idea of this service being equal to giving away her music. From my understanding, it is similar to other services I have used, Pandora and Jango, but with a little more control over how often you listen to a specific artist or which songs to listen to. Using these types of music services in the way I do, free access with occasional ads, does not feel like it is taking away the paycheck of the artist. To me it feels the same as when I was younger, listening to the radio and hoping to hear my favorite songs. If I like something enough, I’ll spend money to hear it whenever I want to, but most songs I am good hearing on the radio only. Does this mean I am undervaluing art?
What is art?
Yes, art is rare and unique. You and I could try to make the same thing, but it would not work. We would end up with one of two results; either we would have similar items or one of us would have an original while the other made a copy. Whatever an artist does is unique not only because of the vision they used to create it, but because they are the only person who could create that exact piece.
Of course, using this as the only definition, the sandwich I made for lunch yesterday could be considered art. It was my own vision, and no matter how many people in the world choose to combine tuna and avocado in an open faced sandwich, this one is unique because it was made by me. Additionally, because I do not make sandwiches for mass consumption, sandwiches made by me are quite rare.
Now, the sandwich was good, but I would not call it a work of art. It wasn’t that good. So what is art?
I would absolutely consider music to be art, but I don’t feel it is more beautiful simply because I pay for it. The beauty of the music comes from it’s ability to express or invoke a feeling, particularly one I had thought was unique.
Of course, paintings and sculptures are art. I have stood inside the Sistine Chapel and while it was beautiful, it was no more beautiful than when I had seen it on the internet. In fact, I could easily argue the images I have seen elsewhere were better; I could zoom in on details and look for as long as I wanted without the pushing and body odor of other tourists. I was moved to stand and appreciate the Venus de Milo, but that does not mean that all other images of her lose their beauty.
Writing is absolutely an art. When the words are right they are magic. It is more than just the beauty of the right words; you are transported. No one else can tell the same story, and it does not matter what the format the story takes. Digital, paperback, first edition; the words are the same.
For me the art is not in the creation, it is in the sharing. I love the art of others because it allows me to not only see a part of myself laid out, but a part of the artist. It is the beauty of what is inside us all, even when we do not realize we share these qualities. We think we are one individual until another shows us how much we are alike.
Art is not meant to be hidden away, it is meant to be free for everyone to enjoy. Yes an artist has a right to make a living, but without sharing, are you really an artist? The creation should not be done because you need a paycheck; that is business. Creation of art comes because it must happen. You write the song because your soul is singing. You carve the sculpture because the angel is screaming inside the marble to come out. You paint because the picture belongs on the canvas. You write the story because you must tell the tale. You sell the art because you need to live, but you create the art because it makes you alive.
Does this mean it is wrong to value your art based on what someone is willing to pay for it? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. It is your art, a piece of you, not me. You have the right to make artistic choices, just as I have the right to make my own artistic choices. For you, you might need the paycheck to feel appreciated; right now I just want to be read.
So thank you, for reading.