How to Think About Art on the Internet

There is a growing controversy among artists about how we should think about art in the digital age. Some feel that the internet poses a threat to the creative person. What happens in a world where anything you create can be copied indefinitely? Do we adapt by finding ways to bring the traditional model into the digital realm, or by embracing the differences between the physical and the virtual world?I think it is important to understand some of the fundamental differences between files on the internet, and objects in the world, before I offer my opinion on this issue. Consider the difference between a hand painted landscape, and a digitally created one. If I give you a painting, it is transferred to you, and I no longer have it. If, on the other hand, I give you a full digital copy of an artwork I created in a program like Photoshop, we now both have an identical version of the same image. This process can be repeated an infinite number of times. The law of supply and demand says that when something is in infinite supply, its price drops to zero, making your digital copy worthless.It’s time to stop and consider what this means. A computer file, unlike a painting, consists of information. People treat information differently than they treat objects. Consider the oldest form of information: speech. People in general don’t compete for the right to be silent, they compete for their turn to talk. We don’t consider it rude when somebody sits politely and listens. Instead, we consider it rude when somebody tries to talk over you. This is because speech is most beneficial for the speaker, not the listener. I think this is the paradigm we need to accept in order to move into the digital age. The internet is not the realm of objects, it’s the realm of speech.It might be most useful, then, to think of a digital copy of your artwork less like a painting, and more like a flier. You wouldn’t be upset if somebody obtained a flier of your art, made a copy of it, and put it up somewhere else. In fact, you’d be quite happy about it. As it turns out, I run a blog that specializes in fantasy art as well as dark art, and artists are very happy when I tell them that I’ve put them up on my blog.It is equally important to realize that you can not sell a flier. You can post fliers around town asking people to come to your gallery, then ask for donations at the front door, or offer them a chance to buy the original work.Additionally, you wouldn’t make a flier that was so intricate that it was almost as good as the real thing. If a digital copy of your artwork is small enough to fit on a computer screen, odds are it’s not detailed enough to make a print that somebody could hang on their wall and claim with a straight face that it was anything close to professional grade. Provided that you don’t post print-grade copies of your work on the internet, you’re not at risk of losing revenue.Where does this leave us? The essential thing to take away from this is that if your art is being copied on the internet, it’s actually a good sign. It means you’re popular. It’s not impossible for somebody to try to sell copies of your art, but the copies will ultimately be of a low grade quality, and as long as you can prove that you are the original artist, the problem is easily remedied.

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