Don’t call it “content”

The defining trait of an artist is that she doesn’t sell herself. She may sell her work, but never her soul – the part of her where the best art is created.

With digital mediums, when somebody calls their work “content”, they subordinate it to something that fills space on a website as it generates income through other means – ads, affiliate marketing or as a front for a commercial enterprise. The writer who uses click-bait headlines and one-sentence paragraphs creates content. An artist who resorts to creating content is analogous to the musician who is forced to dance and turn into a “diva” at the expense of her musical capabilities. Content is the forte of those who dilute the substance behind their work for the mass market in search of “eyeballs”.

One more way to distinguish between art and content is to look for the “how to” guides. Tonnes of Medium.com articles will tell you how to create content – to make headlines that grab people’s attention (“The one secret behind Eric Clapton’s success”) or to water down your ideas to cater to an audience with the attention span of a goldfish. With art, though, there is no map or set of instructions one can follow. Every artist has to find their own path. Leonardo da Vinci or Rembrandt’s formula for creating art would not work for even their most dedicated students.

I have nothing against people who create content for a living. That is a professional choice, like any other. But content is different from art, and calling their work “content” doesn’t serve artists.

I loathe the term “content” as applied to cultural material — it was foisted upon us by a commercially driven media industry that treats human beings as mindless eyeballs counted in statistics like views and likes, as currency to be traded against advertising revenue. Somehow people have been sold on the idea that the relationship between ads and “content” is a symbiotic one, but it is a parasitic one. – Maria Popova 

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