Monday, July 16, 2012

DIY Art and the New God

Yesterday saw the issue of traditional vs. self-publishing yet again debated and discussed, and in considerable depth. If you write, edit, or find yourself in any way connected to the world of publishing, then you'll be doing yourself a huge favor by reading Porter Anderson's "Will DIY Pay for R&D", which responds with analysis and commentary to Eugenia Williamson's somewhat incendiary post of July 3rd. Anderson's question at the bottom (Can DIY help new artists/writers gain exposure?) resulted in over 45 comments, each nearly a full screen length in size. People were talking. I'd like to keep the conversation going.

I threw my two cents into the comment thread, focusing on the apparatus that I see serving the role of research and discovery/development for new artists (I'll stop differentiating between artists and writers here). Simply put, the future for artists resides in outlets like Kickstarter. In his reply to my comment, Porter Anderson raised a concern that, at the time, I let stand as valid for the purpose of discussion. I'd applauded Kickstarter, and those who support projects through it, as the new paradigm for artists and arts consumers (readers included). Anderson rejoined with some clear and careful points that are not to be dismissed.

"Can that community of readers you so rightly and generously hail today stick this out?" 


"How many crowdfunding enthusiasts really know what it will feel like when the book they put some money into doesn't go anywhere? -- through nobody's fault, mind you, I'm not even saying "bad books," I'm just saying millions upon millions of books."

The first question implies that as consumers we might tire of the process. And I'll grant that as an inevitability for some. There's bound to be a person or two, or 10,000, who find their interests and passions not reflected very well in the Kickstarter community. Any projects they do pledge to fund may well end up not meeting a funding goal, and thus the particular type or style of those projects gets selected out and goes extinct in the world of Kickstarter. Does that mean that we'll never see microfunding for that type or style of art? Of course not. Kickstarter is just one player in the game, and there's no stopping people from banding together and engineering a new microfunding platform for projects that don't work in the KS model. It's probably happening as I write this anyway.

She was a celebrity before this, sure. But that doesn't take away from her success here.

As to the issue of "sticking it out" in general, for all concerned parties...I don't think we have a choice. There's been a tectonic shift in how creative projects are advanced and shared with the world at large, and while the dust is still very much in a settling pattern, we're starting to see the eventual landscape take shape amidst the rubble.

On the second point Porter Anderson made, that people might grow disillusioned after seeing even successfully funded projects fail to reach global proportions of winning, let's consider the real question, which is summed up in Porter's subsequent comment:

"War and Peace might never be spotted today. How many times can Tolstoy go back to his Kickstarter buddies and say, "This time, I've really got a perfect book, trust me on this"? -- know what I mean?"

Yes. I do know what you mean, and it is hard to think about what we KNOW to be great literature completely failing to take root. The community of readers now operates and bases decisions in the self-determining model that Kickstarter provides. How do we guarantee that great literature will ever be heard from again? We can't guarantee it will, but I don't think we need to worry.

Jordan Stratford's Wollstonecraft project made me believe in Kickstarter
Would the world be a poorer place had Tolstoy's epic tale never reached the typesetter's table? Possibly. Or maybe he would have written it differently, broken it up into smaller chunks if that's what the feedback he'd received told him to do. We know that's what every high school English student wishes he had done. In today's world, where artists seek microfunding BEFORE starting their work, the Tolstoy of today would have had that direct feedback and he'd be able to make those crucial in-game decisions. And the really great thing is that with that feedback, today's Tolstoys are able to produce even better literature, because they KNOW in advance which ideas and which parts of their ideas their audience finds most exciting and inspiring! And the artists can and are responding to their fans.

A tertiary point, raised in Williamson's post, is that quantity is outpacing quality so much that we're bound to drown under a deluge of drek. To this, I say "Meh." Kickstarter and other microfunding sources have built in quality controls called "the people pledging their hard earned cash to fund these crazy ideas that all these artists have." If we get burned by trash, we don't fund that artist again. Eventually, the chaff gets chased off because word gets around on the Internet. What we're left with is the heart, the kernal of art.

With writing, traditional publishers used to decide what was worth putting onto the shelves. They vetted the work, and we voted on their decisions by purchasing or not purchasing what they offered us. They compiled sales data and made different (or the same) decision next time.

Now artists and arts consumers share the vetting role. We're the deciders now. If you, as an artist, believe in your work, you can petition the world at large to support you. And if enough of the world at large responds in the affirmative, then you've received their vetting, too. If there's anything in this process that resembles the traditional model, it's Kickstarter employees who initially review your project and approve or deny your campaign before it goes live. Drek might sneak through now and then, but it won't stay around long enough to leave a stain.

 "We are the media." - Amanda Fucking Palmer

I'm curious now, what you think. If you are an artist, what's your medium/media, and how do you see the future shaping up for you? Does the interdependent model of microfunding and co-vetting with your consumers appeal to you? Is there room for a traditional approach, with a "house" behind you, handling the logistics and business end of things, freeing you to focus on your creative efforts? Shall the twain e'er or ne'er meet?


Horace Brickley said...

I think it will be a mixed bag. Kickstarter and self-publishing is a definite possibility, but it has a steep learning curve that makes traditional publishing seem like a viable option as well. I think the argument shouldn't be about the consumption and the community, but rather the exposure and ownership facets. If you are under contract, then you've got expectations and deadlines to fill. If you are self-published, then those are still there but in a more natural way.

AJ Sikes (aka Mitchell Brand) said...

Learning curve, yes. But I've seen niche businesses starting up by people who have mastered how to format publications for all the e-readers out there. I'm sure the same thing is in the offing for KS and other microfunding campaigns. Artistic Campaign Manager wanted...etc.

Contracts, yes, awesome point. I suspect we'll see microfunders adopting a contract model after the first major burn cycle, where pledged supporters don't get what they paid for or something else goes haywire in the system. Artists would then be legally bound and obligated to their investors. But this just takes artists and puts them in the CEO chair even more prominently than they are now, right? Color me really curious about what happens next.

Thanks for coming by!