Sunday, July 16, 2023

art and content : the dirty c-word


I have a sordid little confession to make. I  have been known, in some moments, to call what I write or do or make "content" particularly if made in/for the medium of the digital world. I don't call poems this, obviously, not when I am writing them, when they have the elevated status of "art" and feel to have some sort of sacred creative aura around them that places them on a shelf or pedestal above my "content" work, which is mostly blogs and articles about wallpaper and DIY projects and various design aesthetics. Or restaurant listings and lessons about architecture and greek goddesses. I spend much more of my time on these things since they allow me to eat and pay rent, but when the poems get made and the art gets created, they still exist on another plane. An elevated plane.

That is, until it comes to sharing them with an audience, which in turn, suddenly kinda makes them content whether I like it or not. People throw around the word content dismissively, the action of consuming it (vs. consuming ART) as frivolous and a way to pass the time. But then I often consume art as a way to pass the time, don't we all? It's not selling bed sheets and Ikea credenzas, but it is working in a similar way. To entertain, to stir, to inspire. Just doing so for different aims. And in some ways, maybe it works to sell the artist, to generate interest, attention, to build community. Which is all the same aims of content of other kinds.  And yet artists, even me, get prickly when you start calling what they make, especially writers, the dreaded C-word. 

My dirty little confession includes that I actually have written in my planning software "Creative Content Day." Part of this is what everyone would agree is content..promotional graphics and reels, webpage building, writing blogs like this. But also some things that may cause pause. Editing work that I've drafted daily during the week. .Assembling manuscripts.  Sending out submissions. Two days a week are press days for editing & design, four others are freelance days, where I am writing content every day for other publications that pay me to do so. Creative content days are my favorite, even though I am usually working on writing (mornings) and art (evenings) throughout the week.  It's a day where I do more time intensive tasks that can't be wedged in the rest of the week. But then, I also keep a list and a google drive folder called "creative content" to keep track of things I want to post on socials or here through the week. This includes collages but also poem graphics and reels and other random internet bits. Eventually, whatever I pedestal I put it on when making it, no matter how high,  it eventually becomes content. 

People (and by people I mean artists and writers) get really knee-jerky when art is confused for content. I follow some IG's most dreaded creatures, "content creators" some of who make intricately beautiful videos of home decor or style, sometimes in service to brand deals, but not always. While some would hesitate to call them art and more a kind of consumable, That consumability has often been leveraged and aimed an everything from pop music to romance novels to distinguish it from art. Perhaps we should talk more about formulas and genres. A romance novel has a formula, as do most chart-topping songs. The content creators are usually adhering to some sort of formula based on what they are drawn to themselves or the styles of other creators. But then so does literature sometimes--even poetry.  Insta poets are an obvious example. New Yorker poems are another. I would also say certain avant-schools of poetry also have a style you see again and again. 

And ultimately, unless you are one of those rare exotic birds who doesn't want to share your work, your work eventually becomes content, whether you read it at a reading, post it on FB, or submit it to a literary magazine. At the point where it meets a consumer, no matter how lofty its aims. So this at least makes me feel less weird about calling my art content. 

But I will confess that doing so, at least in the past year or so, has made things like promotion and social media little more fun. I used to see them as separate, the art-making and the content creation, one the meat and potatoes, the other the flavorless broccoli, or the necessary evil of getting your work out there and enticing readers/viewers to look at the art. But much of what I do now I see holistically as part of the same process. I used to focus so much on the end product of book sales and gaining attention, but now I try to focus more on sharing things--whether its poems or images or video. The sharing is the point (though if it leads to book sales or website visits all the better.) But I've used the analogy before of the museum gift shop. Nice if you stop in, but absolutely not necessary. You can still enjoy the museum. This shift in thinking has taken a lot of pressure off me to see myself as failing if I don't get enough likes or hits or sales in the shop. The content and the sharing/consuming is the point, not these other markers. 

I have seen the statement that while content is out to sell you something, art is a gift you give with no return expected. But then again, everything is an exchange of some sort, a creative product for attention and engagement. Art for audience. Even if it's in non-digital spaces like coffee shop readings and gallery spaces, it works much the same. 

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