On art and literature, and why it’s not just “content”

Forgive me in advance for the incoming salt, but this is a rant I’ve been sitting on for ages. A tweet I saw only cemented my need for the aforementioned rant, so here we are.

A bit of context first. I worked at a bullshit, huge corporation for almost 6 years; after that, I’ve moved on to a corporation that’s way smaller and involves some actual work rather than bullshitting for 5 days a week, but it’s still a corporation. That’s a background experience I’ll be relying on, mixed with observations of the absolute hellhole that LinkedIn is, with a sprinkle of mainstream media attitude. For the sake of clarity, I usually refer to art and literature as “art”, but I’ll be using art&lit in the post. With that out of the way, LET’S DIVE IN.

If there’s one thing that’s aplenty in every corporation, it’s the amount of self-affirmative spam you receive every day. Department status updates, newsletters no one reads, trainings and videos to watch, and so on, and so forth. And it is, regardless of the corp and the type of spam, called “content”. It’s an apt name for it, because it’s neither art, nor anything useful. Just a barrage of words some poor soul had to put together. Oh, I’m sorry, not a poor soul. A content creator.

I can say I’m a content creator at my day job. I write software documentation and manuals. It requires some thought and some effort, it’s not a bullshit job I could ignore without any negative consequences to me or the company or the world at large. But it’s not art I create there. It’s content. It’s got no artistic value whatsoever except maybe for explaining concepts in an easy-to-understand way. The companies themselves have got no qualms about calling that type of fruit of their employees’ work “content”. That at least doesn’t bother me. “Content” is an adequate term for repetitive, artless form of work that require creating something out of nothing.

But when the same term is applied to art&lit, when artists and writers are called “content creators”, I grow spikes like a porcupine.

I understand why it’s easy to use those terms. They’re easy, umbrellous enough, and carry their meaning well. It encapsulates people who don’t do art&lit, but dabble in education, design, what have you. But the results of their work isn’t content as it’s seen at its core and at its roots.

You churn out content daily and often without effort. Those instagram accounts posting variations of the same photo every day? That’s content. A book written for 3 years and edited for the next 2, full of gorgeous prose and magnificent storytelling, or a painting that took weeks to finish? That’s not content. That’s art. And people who let it into the world by effort of their hands are artists.

That line of thought brings me back to that tweet I linked earlier. “Media consumption” is just as dehumanised, nebulous term for experiencing art&lit as “content creation” is to refer to the act of writing and painting/drawing. It assumes the interaction with content at the speed and rate it’s created. Which is: fast. Then faster. And faster and faster, until both you and artists end up in an ever-rushing cycle of more, more, more. (I already ranted about streaming and the effect it’s got on media, so I’ll stop myself from doing it again ;)). But, FOMO, anyone? I’m sure all of us have experienced it at least once at some point. Corporations and mainstream media have got a way of slithering into our lives and taking terms and things that make us happy for themselves. They also tend to flatten nuances, limit imaginations, and produce countless iterations of the same trope if only they realised it was popular. (Side note: it’s very obvious in traditional publishing when agents and editors seek stories centred around a motif for some 5 years after the first book with that motif made a breakthrough. That’s something to talk about for another time, though.) And after all traces of what made an idea unique and brilliant, after art&lit have deteriorated into simple content, then both terms truly become equivalent.

I don’t think that simplification is something we as a society should condone. 

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