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How the Ubiquitous Nature of the Internet Has Affected Artists and Their Work

Over the last couple generations, many major technological advances have radically changed the way we all live our lives and interact with the world. That said, few, if any of them compare to the sheer scope and widespread use of the internet.

A vast interconnected system of computer networks that spans the globe, the internet has fundamentally changed the ways we can interact with the world around us. It wasn't that long ago, historically speaking, that it would have seemed a downright preposterous notion that one could have a device in one's home that could be used to communicate with people on the other side of the planet, find and share information, entertainment, and just about everything in between, from all over the world, let alone use of such devices being widespread and commonly found in most every household in developed nations

“The cosmic mind of artists is like cyberspace without the equipment” -Dr. Lorne Waring

Among the many things that have been affected by the dawn of the internet age is the way that art is made, shared, viewed, and influenced. Art is more visible and prevalent in our society than ever, communities of artists are easy to find and join thanks to the internet, and digital tools are more prevalent and accessible.

Of course, it's not all good. The internet also makes it easier for people to—either intentionally or accidentally—steal credit from an artist and hurt them in the process.

I'm going to take a look at all of this and more in today's article, so buckle up and keep reading the little pixel-formed words on your screen that compose this humble piece of internet content you're currently in the process of consuming.


 

Visibility

There's certainly no doubt that the internet has caused the general visibility of art to skyrocket. At one point in time, you would have had to actually go to wherever the original piece was physically located to be able to see it. The printing press and similar innovations allowed some kinds of art to be more widely reproduced and distributed, but it was still very limited. Nowadays, though, you can find a digital version of just about any famous painting by simply doing a Google search for it. And what's more, you can discover all kinds art you never even knew existed from the comfort of your own home.

“…the Internet is an extraordinarily seductive representation of the world” -Virginia Heffernan, Magic and Loss

Further, as artists, we have a better platform than any in history to show off our art to any and all who care to look. With the internet, any of us can post our art and have it be visible to anyone with an internet connection. We can use sites dedicated to the purpose (like Paperdemon!), or we can even purchase our own domain names to create an online portfolio.

As a result of this, artists who would have otherwise had little to no recognition or exposure can gain a measure of recognition and feedback they might not have found otherwise. This can help nurture and promote the growth of new artists, helping to ensure they don't give up as easily.

Further, the internet as a means of distribution of art helps ensure that more people get to see a greater amount of art at any given time than would have been possible, or even imaginable, just a few generations ago. This means art gets to be appreciated and enjoyed by more people, and is a greater part of the average person's life, whether they are artists or not.

Collaborative Communities

If you want to get better at art, you need to practice, that's for sure. But it also doesn't hurt to learn from others, whether it's taking formal art classes or just comparing notes with fellow artists. Once upon a time, artists had to live nearby, generally in the same city, for this to be feasible. With the advent of the internet, however—and its myriad forums, message boards, instant messaging services, and so on—this is no longer the case.

“We have to come together, worldwide, and 'think.' We have a tool - the internet - to let us do that. Let's use it wisely.” -Jimmy Wales, Co-founder of Wikipedia

YouTube is absolutely bursting at the seams with how to draw videos of all shapes and sizes. On-line classes are becoming common in a variety of areas, including art. Sites dedicated to discussion and sharing of art are growing more and more ubiquitous. All of these things help ensure that the aspiring artists has plenty of support and inspiration out there, so long as they seek it out.

Having ready access to advice, critique, compliments, reference material, and inspiration from one's peers is a sure-fire recipe for taking an artist and making them better and more passionate about their work. Thanks to this, it is easier than ever before for the average person to pick up art on the side—whatever else they may have going on in their life—and to learn and grow and become a skilled artist with nothing more than a desire to learn, and a connection to the internet.

Digital Art Tools and their Increased Prevalence

I can't speak from experience here, because I work almost exclusively in traditional media due to a combination of limited finances and most digital tools being outside my comfort zone as an artist.

And besides that, this section could be an entire article in and of itself. Nevertheless, it would seem complacent to write an article on how the internet has impacted the art world and not at least mention the increased availability and prevalence of digital art tools.

There is no one right way to make art, and an extensive variety of tools and methods for art-making have existed throughout history. Thanks to technological advancements in recent generations, though, there are a growing number of ways to create what we call “digital art.”

Digital art is a somewhat loose definition, but is generally understood as any piece of art that uses digital technology prominently in it's creation. In other words, when I draw something in pencil and ink and put it in my scanner, it's traditional art, even though it's been “digitized” by the scanner. If I draw something using an image editing program, a digital tool like an art tablet, etc, etc, that's digital art, because the digital technology was an integral part of it's creation.

The ubiquity of the internet has lowered the barrier to entry for digital art. Software and physical tools abound, and range from prohibitively expensive to entirely free. Further, it's easier than ever to learn how to use your fancy digital toys thanks to the power of collaborative art communities, as mentioned above.

Credit Where it's Due, Please

As with most things, though, the internet doesn't come without it's downsides—both for the art world, and just in general. One of the more problematic issues in the art world that the internet has only helped to run rampant is the use of art without credit to or consent from the artist.

Now that anyone can have their own “space” in the internet (be it a blog, their own site, etc, etc), and anyone can find a piece of art and simply hit “copy” and “paste,” or download and upload someone else's art, or create highly derivative work from someone else's art, it's easier than ever to steal credit from hapless artists who've posted their work on the internet.

This can be very harmful to artists because it redirects attention away from the actual artist and toward the “thief.” Any recognition or appreciation an artist could have gotten from viewers of the improperly credited work is lost.

There are things artists can do to mitigate art credit theft. For one, clearly state your rules for use of your work on the description or caption. Secondly, if you ever catch someone else claiming credit for your work, or using it without permission or proper credit to you, be vocal about it. Clearly assert that you are the original artist, and back up your claim with a link to your original posting.

You can also “watermark” your work, making it harder for others to steal and plagiarize it. A watermark is a sort of faint marking on the art, similar to an artist signature, that can be very hard to remove without it being clear the art was altered.

Further, please remember that if the art being stolen was taken from or posted on an art sharing site, to contact site moderators and/or administrators. At PaperDemon in particular we take art theft very seriously, and offending members are banned.

And for those who wish to use other people's art for their own purposes, I want you to remember two very, very important things: obtain permission, and credit the artists properly.

Check the caption or description of the work you're interested in using. Sometimes artists will state our preferences and/or permission for use there. If not, send a message, and remember that they are allowed to say no. Do take no for an answer if it's the answer you get.

As for giving credit, follow whatever preferences or requests the artist has for how to credit them. If they don't specify, fall back on this rule of thumb: include the name and/or screen name/handle of the artist, and link back to where you found it so others can check it out and support them.

What We've Learned

  • The internet increases visibility of art, and can help “small-time” artists be seen.
  • On-line communities of artists can help each other learn and grow.
  • Digital art tools are even more plentiful and readily available thanks to the internet.
  • The internet also makes it easier for people to steal credit from artists.
  • This can be mitigated by the artist taking precautions and the would-be thief obtaining permission and crediting properly.

Hey, you made it through all the digital content above this line! Nice job consuming internet media.

Now, go check out the rest of the site if you haven't already, maybe even make an account and upload some art, or leave some comments on stuff you like. Go crazy; the Internet's not going anywhere anytime soon.

Posted on

In the last article I wrote I talked about how all art is valid and valuable and you should find happiness in your work no matter how bad your brain seems to want you to think it is.

In that article, I briefly touched on how skill is still a factor (though relative lack of skill still doesn't mean your art is bad) and that it can be improved through continual practice.

Today, I'm going to look a little closer at that fact, and how you can motivate yourself to practice a little each day and gradually improve your art skills as a result.

Incremental Improvement and Sudden Improvement

Sometimes improvement happens in fits and bursts, and sometimes it happens just a little, tiny bit each day, known as incremental improvement. Both are great, and any improvement is good, but whereas sudden improvement—when something suddenly “clicks” and you become immediately better at that thing—is less reliable, whereas incremental improvement is, by it's very nature, something that can be worked on a little bit each day.

“Practice makes better”—Brian Lies

Furthermore, sudden bursts of improvement can be made more likely by practicing good incremental improvement habits, i.e. practicing a little bit each day. The reason for this is that sudden bursts of improvement are usually the result of your subconscious mind finally getting enough information, and having enough time to process the information, that something difficult and formerly hard to understand suddenly makes complete sense.

The upshot of this is that if you practice each day, you'll not only get the tiniest bit better at what you do every day (and believe me, it does add up), but you'll also make it much more likely that you'll make sudden breakthroughs. While you can't control these sudden bursts of improvement directly, you can give your brain the fuel it needs to make them happen more often, by practicing every day.

Reinforced Routine

Habits are hard to break, hard to start, but easy to keep once they're in place. Practicing art a little each day might be difficult to hold yourself to at first, but give it a few days, maybe a couple of days, and if you stick with it, suddenly you won't be able to imagine going through a day without practicing.

“We all have 10,000 bad drawings in us. The sooner we get them out the better.” —Walt Stanchfield

The reason for this lies in how exactly habits form. It's understood that habits are formed and reinforced through a three part “habit loop.” A habit loop consists of a cue, followed by the routine (the behavior itself; in this case, practicing art every day), concluded with a reward.

A cue is something that remind your brain it's time to do something. You can create a cue for yourself by consistently practicing art at the same time of day, in which case the time is the cue. You can also put it right before or after another daily routine, like say, practice art when you get home from work. In this case, arriving home from work is the cue that reminds you it's time to make art.

The routine is the habit itself. In this case, the routine is practicing art. Make sure that when your cue happens, whatever it may be, you actually practice art, thereby reinforcing the cue and the routine.

And finally, a reward is, well, something that rewards you for completing a routine. These come in two flavors: intrinsic and extrinsic.

“Create with the heart; build with the mind.” —Criss Jami

An intrinsic reward is the good feeling you feel by doing something you find rewarding in and of itself. It is a reward attached to the exercise, rather than something outside of it. Quite simply, if you enjoy the activity, it's intrinsically rewarding. Hopefully, even if it feels like a chore at first, you come to enjoy your daily practice in time. After all, if you decided to be an artists, you must enjoy making art one some level, right? Find that spark of inspiration, of creativity and wonder, that led you to make art in the first place. Hang on to it tight, and let it fuel your daily practice.

An extrinsic reward, on the other hand, is a reward outside the action being rewarded. For example, buying a candy bar that you only let yourself eat once you've done your daily practice would be an extrinsic reward, because eating candy doesn't have anything directly to do with making art.

While all artists can find intrinsic motivation in there work to some degree or another (if we didn't, we probably wouldn't have become artists), sometimes it's still really hard to motivate oneself to draw when you could be doing something else. Here are a few more extrinsic motivators to help you spur yourself along. Treat these as rewards to give yourself after you've finished your daily practice!

  • Watch a bit of TV, a youtube video, web-series, etc. If you still have more to do afterwards, limit yourself to 20-30 minutes.

  • Play a video game for a bit. Again, keep it to 20-30 minutes if you've got more to do in the day.

  • Make yourself some coffee, tea, a milkshake, smoothie, etc, etc.

  • Treat yourself to your favorite sweet treat; cookies, candy, cake, pie, whatever you like!

  • Take a nice relaxing soak in the bath.

  • Do nothing at all for five minutes. You'd be surprised how relaxing it can be.

  • Reward yourself at intervals.

  •  

The above all make great daily rewards, but you can reward yourself for sticking with it over longer periods of time, too. Buy yourself something nice after practicing every day for a week or two, and again after a month or so. Here are some ideas of what to get yourself for under $20

  1. A nice pair of fuzzy socks for wearing around the house.

  2. A new book

  3. An older video game (they drop in price as the years pass) that you've never played before.

  4. Get a tasty bottle of wine. There are plenty of brand you can get for $20 or less that still taste great.

  5. Get a new, luxurious lotion

  6. Treat yourself to your favorite restaurant, either eating in or ordering take out to eat on the comfort of your own couch; whichever sounds more appealing to you.

But What to Do?

So now you know how daily practice can help you improve as an artist, and you know how habits work, and how they're formed. But what now? Just that knowledge on its own doesn't make daily art practice magically happen, and even the most rewarding of rewards can't always solve this problem. What's more, sometimes the hardest part about practice, and making art in general, is what to draw this time. Even if you want to practice art, not knowing what to draw can make it really hard to keep the habit.

Luckily, there's a number of things you can do to motivate yourself to practice every day, and to keep yourself inspired and creative.

  • Try making the cue for your art practice habit something exciting. You could set a daily alarm where the alarm tone is your favorite song. You could put art practice right before or after something in your daily schedule that you enjoy. Make sure you don't slot art practice after something that leaves you tired or drained. Try to make it so that when it's time to practice art, you're excited, even pumped to get to work on your latest creation.

  • Find a list of prompts. Just search on Google for “art prompts” and you'll get all kinds of results, from premade lists to generators.

  • Open a physical dictionary to a random page, and put your finger on a random spot on the page without looking. Whatever word your finger is on (or is closest to), think of a piece of art you can do for practice that has something to do with that work

  • If you don't have a physical dictionary, both dictionary.com and merriam-webster.com have a word of the day feature that you can use in the same way as the above tip.

  • Go outside! Find something compelling to draw in the natural world, or in a city street, a neat-looking building, and so on.

  • Take a break! Daily practice is great, but it is possible to burn out of creativity, in which case, forcing yourself to forge on can eventually just make things worse. If you need to, take a day, a week, or a month off from making art, including daily practice. Just remember to come back to it; when you do, you'll be refreshed and better than ever.

Remember that everyone is different, and a daily practice habit may just not be for you. If you've tried over and over and done everything you can think of to make yourself practice each day and it just never sticks, consider that maybe a daily practice habit isn't for you. Instead, try every other day, or a certain number of times per week. Whatever works for you. There's no shame in having different needs and stamina levels than others.

“I spend as much time as I can sketching from nature...When I look into a river, I feel I could spend a whole lifetime just painting that river.” —Alan Lee

Here are a few links to art prompt generators and other useful tools for inspiration:

  • http://artprompts.org/

    Has several categories of prompt generators to choose from, including characters, objects, environments, and more.

  • https://www.pinterest.com/explore/art-prompts/?lp=true

    A Pinterest search for art prompts. There are several potentially useful lists here.

  • http://mrjakeparker.com/inktober/

    The Inktober initiative, besides being a neat challenge you can try every October, also includes 31 different art prompts every year.

  • https://www.magatsu.net/generators/art/index.php

    Another handy prompt generator. You can generate a list of prompts however long or short you wish, and make them simple—ranging from a single word to a short phrase or sentence—or elaborate, such as the following example prompt I generated to try it out: “Create three pictures on the theme of blood on the snow. The first should depict depression, the second joy, and the third paranoia.“

What We've Learned

  • Improvement tends to happen both incrementally and in sudden bursts

  • Daily practice causes incremental improvement, but also makes sudden improvement more likely.

  • Habits are the backbone of things like daily practice.

  • Habits are formed by a three part loop, involving a cue, a routine, and a reward.

  • The reward can be intrinsic or extrinsic.

  • A habit is most likely to stick if you use both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

  • If you don't know what to draw, it's much harder to keep an art practice habit. To counter this, you can use prompts or random words to inspire yourself.

Practice can feel boring and stale much of the time, and can be a very hard habit to keep consistently, but the long-term rewards of regular practice are very much worth the effort. I hope the content of this article can be of some help to artists who, like many of us—myself included—have trouble keeping a regular practice habit. Best wishes; I can't wait to see your practice pay off!

Posted on

Being an artist is no cake walk by any stretch of imagination. It can be a lot of fun, don't get me wrong, but there's a whole host of roadblocks one can face, including (but definitely not limited to) lack of motivation, injury or disability, and...oh, right, the fact that everybody's a critic, and there's no shortage of people willing to tell you what you did wrong without actually giving you any helpful advice on how to do better.

Of course, as artists, each of our very worst critics tend to be ourselves. While this may not always be the case, it's often true that we criticize our own work more harshly than anyone else who ever lays eyes on it. There's a reason for this, and it makes a lot of sense when you think about it, but we'll get to that in a moment.

Today, we're going to talk all about the phenomenon of artists being their own worst critic in full detail. We'll go over:

  • Why it happens

  • How to look out for it

  • How to counter it and prevent it from paralyzing you and keeping you from making art.

And do note, this is a problem that can and often does arise with just about any type of art, whether it's visual art, writing, music...the list goes on. I'm going to be using a lot of examples from visual art, because that's my medium, and as such I'm familiar enough with it to draw examples and analogies from my experience. But if you're another kind of artist, bear with me, as I'll try to make this as general as possible while still being helpful. Keep that in mind as we forge ahead, and if you or anyone you know is an artist of any sort, I hope this will be helpful to you in confronting your own inner critic.

Why This Happens

There are a number of reasons why this phenomenon might occur, but one in particular stands out: as the creators of a given piece of art, we know it intimately. We see every insignificant mistake, every little slip-up, and we're painfully aware if our work does not measure up to the exact idea we were trying to convey, because we're intensely focused on the work throughout the entire creation process, so of course we notice every little mistake.

Further, we as artists tend to be keenly aware of our problem areas. Some, like drawing hands, are very common weak areas that tend to be shared among a lot of artists, especially new ones. Other problem areas may be more specific and personal to you. Either way, it doesn't make a difference, the point is that—while being aware of your own weaknesses can be a very, very good thing, because it can help you improve—it's also a double-edged sword.

See, being so keenly aware of your weak points means you're more likely to think poorly of anything you do that involves those weak points. It's frighteningly easy to fall into the trap of thinking things like “I am really bad at drawing hands, so all the hands I draw are sub-par,” which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because you've set yourself up for failure.

How to Recognize It

It might seem like this would be a pretty obvious phenomenon for the person that it's happening to, and to be sure, sometimes it is, and if you're already aware that you're your own worst critic, you can skip this section. For those of you who aren't sure, however, let's talk about that.

Commonly, an artist might not think they are being overly harsh on themselves, they may just think they're identifying problem areas to help them improve. There is a difference between these two behaviors.

If you really are just casting a fair yet critical eye on your work, you'll be able to focus on the bigger picture. You might have an inner dialog going something like “I did well on this part, but could work on this part. I'll try to learn from this.” However, if you're being overly critical of yourself, it'll be more like “and this is wrong, and this is wrong, and this is wrong...I'm a bad artist.”

As you can see, being overly critical of yourself can spiral into self-destructive and self-loathing territory, whereas being realistic about your work looks at what you did right as well as what you did wrong, and gives you ideas of how to improve your art.

This is a very important distinction. One behavior accomplishes nothing but make you feel bad and can even stunt your growth as an artist and prevent you from improving. So pay attention to your inner dialog, and when you can't trust yourself, trust your friends and family to tell you if you're being too harsh on your own work.

The Truth

Two people can look at (or listen to, or read, etc) a given piece of art and come away with two very different ideas of the quality of, value of, and emotion evoked by the piece. And the thing is, they're both right. And so is anyone else who experiences the piece and forms different ideas on it.

You'll hear the phrase “art is subjective” thrown around so much, it can be easy to forget what it means, exactly. Does it mean that your art is horrible because someone said so, or because you think so? No. Maybe it's horrible to some people who feel that way about it, but that's all, and those peoples' opinions do not dictate its worth to anyone else!

Does it mean that there's no such thing as skill, so there's no point in practicing? Nope, doesn't mean that either. Skill is a factor and practice does improve your skill gradually.

What it does mean is that no one person can tell you how to feel about your art. What it also means is that all art is valid.

How to Counter Negative Thinking About Your Art

Remembering that all art is valid and that art is inherently subjective, as well as the fact that being overly critical of your work doesn't help is important, but sometimes just being reminded of these truths isn't quite enough to get out of a slump. So here are a few pointers to get you back in front of your sketchpad (or your painting canvas, or your musical instrument, or your notebook, or your word processing software, etc, etc, etc).

  • Take a break. There's no shame in taking some time away from your work. You may find it helps you gain a fresh perspective.

  • Commiserate with other artists. Being one's own worst critic is such a common problem that it affects almost every artist out there, so if you have any friends, family, acquaintances who are artists, complain to them about your woes; they'll probably understand, and it can be helpful to vent.

  • For every piece of negative criticism you hear about your work, or say to yourself, find at least one thing you did well, too. We learn equally from both our mistakes and what we've done well.

  • Remember that every bit of art you make is progress. Even if you think a piece of art is horrible (which it probably isn't), the act of drawing it still honed your skills, even if only a small amount. Incremental progress is still progress.

  • Similarly, focusing on quantity of art produced will actually increase your quality in the long term. So remind yourself of this, and if you make something you think is bad, don't loose any sleep over it, just make another one! (and another, and another, and...)

What We've Learned

  • It's very common for artists of all kinds to be more critical of their own work than anyone else, and this is often taken to unhealthy levels.

  • This happens because, as the creators of a given work, we are keenly aware of every detail, and by extension, every mistake.

  • The reality is that all art is valid, and nobody but you can decide how to feel about your art.

  • To counter this line of thought, you can take a break, comiserate with other artists, think of positive things to say about your art to counter the negative, and focus on producing more art to keep practicing and getting better, rather than stagnating as you bemoan what you've done wrong thus far.

So next time you cast a more critical eye on your own work than might be healthy, just remember that the most important thing is that you enjoy making art. You can always strive to improve, but improvement rarely happens reliably by hating yourself and your work.

Now, what are you waiting for? You're out of excuses. Go make art!