Where’d that online art come from?

Bonus: “I could make that!”

First, because this newsletter is in fact called Please Clap, let’s look at some absurd shit people are clapping for. 

Did Sharon Stone make this image herself? Asking for me. Imagine Sharon sitting over Photoshop bending superheroes to honor “THE TRUE HEROES.” Incredible image. Simply obsessed.

And because the HERO obsession has clearly not stopped and will not, a reminder about why this sort of war-time language is grim from The Conversation: “Using the war metaphor shuffles categorizations in insidious ways. For example, we are no longer citizens; we are now “soldiers” in a conflict. As such, politicians call for obedience rather than awareness and appeal to our patriotism, not to our solidarity.”

I think these are both...fairly self explanatory in their utter absurdity, absolute hollowness, pat on the back in the form of a t-shirt shaped panacea that provides no material benefit to the person wearing it, but does certainly cheer on the chasmic guilt of people hurriedly clearing out the aisles or, mostly, those making decisions about said supermarkets from the comfort of their mansions. TAX THE RICH BABY!

Now for a tangential and non-urgent investigation into why people are so bad at crediting art they find online, and our overall acceptance of this — see the continued success of Big Meme Men, Twitter users who clearly take tweets from others, the predominance of social media pages that create nothing but are master curators, dipping into the depth of minds besides their own and regurgitating it back as a shiny, meticulous veneer to be consumed absentmindedly by people who don’t care where this pretty image came from. Look at this new font I slapped onto what someone else said, now ready for sharing, ready for branding, ready to be monetized. Aren’t I amazing?  

I wrote about that phenomenon more succinctly in this newsletter on why I hate Dude With Sign, if you want to read more on that.

Conveniently, I saw this tweet right before I hit send on this newsletter: 

And voila! What a perfect encapsulation of what I want to talk about today, and in the coming weeks (though if you’re expecting some sort of order, or planning, wow, brave of you, thank you)  — where does that online art come from? And why do people, even people who “should know better” i.e. artists and folks with huge platforms, curators and creators and people who have made a career or at the very least clout on advocating for better boundaries and respecting time, etc. -- play naive when asked to do what, to many online creators, seems like the absolute bare minimum, which is to tell your huge audience that this art? That they are seeing on their screen, by ways of your username? That’s not yours - the “this!!!” and “genius” you’re getting, also not yours. The followers, the views --  immaterial to many as a concept but necessary for converting art into money and opportunities for the person who made it --  stripped from the person who actually spent time and energy to bring it into existence. And if you, the creator, ask for credit, or compensation? You will likely be told it doesn’t matter, that the internet is fluid, that they loved your work and just wanted more people to see it. Eternally, creators are told to just “relax” and accept exposure (exploitation) as payment while other people reap the rewards of their work. 

What I’ve surmised from assorted headlines and too-long Instagram captions lately is that a lot of people are very stoked about their pivot to making online content. And with more of us on our phones than ever before, the origins of what you consume, and how this is often disconnected from intention, from the author—matter more than ever, especially because most creators are already in a precarious situation, and no longer have the option to have a “IRL” aspect to their practice. Everyone is online, everyone is In Here. 

As more think pieces roll out extolling the virtues of working from home, how comedians are pivoting to virtual crowds, how everyone is Zoomin’ now—I can’t help but feel bitter. In part, because on a personal level it feels like a searing reminder that many didn’t, and don’t, consider using an online space as a stage (because what do you know, even before now some people had isolated lifestyles, can you believe it?) as valid unless we can glorify the shift from embodied to digital and call it a trend to watch.

It also feels like a microcosmic reminder of the ways so many people who can socially isolate right now are proud of themselves for doing so. So proud for the Please Clap hour and emptying the grocery store baking aisle and the going “lives” on Instagram. They fail to recognize this was many people’s reality before now. That the “normal” they opine about missing was never an option for many, is not a “normal” in which many would want to return to. It’s very fun to watch people post about their workouts, their FaceTimes, how they’re “staying sane” (shiver), muse about what life will be like “when this is all over.”

I get many DMs that, while certainly not intended to, remind me just how much people do not see Me as a Me, but as an entity who is churning out content, who will happily drop everything to draw their specific request, who apparently doesn’t notice when people steal phrases and cartoons, who doesn’t have limits on how much nonconsensual information about love and life can be shared to their inbox and is unflinching (seen as either badass or bitchy, really depends) in being told, repeatedly, how their work, or face, or response, or story, was not to some stranger’s liking. 

Sometimes, if I have energy, I push back. When people tell me what to post —anyone who has a handful of followers watching knows that whatever you do is never enough—I  remind them that I’m a person. One time I did this, “pushed back,” and got this response: “Oh I’m sorry, I thought I was talking to a brand, albeit a brand run by a woman.” 

I think about this DM I got a lot, as shorthand to explain the oddity of being a person who shares work online and is continually seen, like many online creators, as an invisible hand, one who apparently is void of feeling, body, agency, artistic merit, etc—who is merely a vessel in which stories pass through. No thought needed, no decisions made. Just a vase! 

So, a bunch of thoughts on this, to get us started.

  1. When we see content online, scrolling on our feeds, I feel we separate it from the work it took to create. It’s here now, it’s rendered flat, it’s been cropped and edited for our consumption, to grab our attention. That works or it doesn’t. Do we think beyond that? I know for a fact many don’t, something reiterated to me constantly by people who tell me “the jokes just write themselves!” — they don’t, I write them — or “where do you find these people” on cartoons I have worked hard to illustrate and write in such a way that they seem relatable, that speak to a common experience. 

  1. I am thinking about how every online artist I know, self included, is treated (usually inadvertently, but carelessly nonetheless) as a gumball dispenser in which strangers often seem to believe they can simply slot in a request, a virtual quarter or two except no actual money here, and receive a pearly, shiny bit of fodder, made specifically to please their whims. I don’t think these requests are ever sent with this intention—no they seem to be split second decisions, a shout into space (the inbox of another person) asking them to make something specific. DJ, play that song! The result, however, is that both the existing work, and the process of creation itself, are treated as subject to the whims of others and, crucially, not compensated or credited. It is not DJ play that song, it is artist, all your existing pieces fail to speak to my specific needs, see me. See me. 

  1. It also has me thinking about “this thing is easy to consume and so must have been easy to make.” So often, the things that go down smoothest are those which have been meticulously crafted, in ways you cannot even imagine. Simplicity is both underrated and ignored, seen as a byproduct of laziness, or it is seemingly so accurate that it must have appeared from the aether. That it just transcended space and time and suddenly this thought, this drawing, this poem, this song, this painting, this dance, was here. It didn’t need to be designed, it speaks so truly to your experience, you must have willed it out of nowhere. Nowhere is the creator to be found, hashtag death of the author. 

  1. I am thinking about how comment sections become endless open-source edit projects, which seems to dislodge the already-finished process of creating the piece itself. It’s different from criticism, it becomes a condemnation of what wasn’t created, rather than feedback on what was. Creators are put in challenging positions to decide how, and if, to respond to these. Everyone on the internet has likely experienced saying something, anything, and being told by strangers “you forgot ______” as though every word uttered, every phrase, must contain in it the complexities of a universe.

    Across the web, across social media, we are all, in some ways, just trying to be seen. It’s why so many people leave funny comments on funny posts, to “engage,” sure, but also to say hello, me too, I am here, I can do better, I will one-up you. There is fun in this, good in this, but it’s also surreal—for people who are presenting their work, or trying to, there is no way to extricate that from the general ethos of a space where you are never simply presenting, and never seen as “responding” in turn—everything you say is considered part of the art now.

I was, and try to remain, tentatively hopeful that our new reality in which even more so than before we are interfacing and interacting primarily digitally, people would begin to reconcile with what many (hello) have been saying for a while. That being online is exhausting, that social exhaustion spent just texting and tweeting is real, that internet boundaries are amorphous and conduct not in the slightest bit uniform, making every interaction potentially fraught with calculations about who to be, how to respond, when to post, why to post. I have long waited for people to recognize how much work it is to be a public facing person, in any regard, with any amount of followers. I have waited for people to compensate online creators, to stop stealing, stop minimizing, stop uncritically consuming and clapping for notorious Content Thieves, like Fuck Jerry, because the ease of consumption on this curated page? Apparently more important than where it comes from. It’s not a gallery, good friends. It’s a recycling bin wherein other people’s work is passed off for profit they will see none of.

But it seems we aren’t there yet, and if anything the new flurry of being online makes it feel overwhelmingly crowded, and yet the same patterns emerge, as a whole new wave of people dip into the attention economy and, learn quite quickly, to do whatever works to game that system. If that means sharing uncredited art, often with a “woah I love this” because surprise about a beautiful object will always play better than “look at this thing I created” -- even in stealing the art people have to undermine the act of creation. Art is not found, it is made—but if you can position yourself as the one finding the art, the discoverer, the curator—well, who cares about the artist? You’ve done it, you’ve released their vision into the world. You look cool and artsy doing it. Isn’t that what matters?

Other reading:

Earthworms aren’t the soil heroes you imagine

Recommended Reading: Indigenous Anarchist Federation

Why won’t woke boys pay for sex?

Pandemic Summer

Nurses everywhere are organizing

The Reason COVID-19 and Climate Seem So Similar: Disinformation

OTHER things:

  • still left on read by the toad

  • Fiona Apple, yes

  • thank you everyone for participating in the CLEM-AMA, it was so pure and so fun and I am really grateful to have inadvertently helmed such a fantastic group of people in my orbit. feeling real pure and wholesome about it tbh, which is unnerving because I'm an asshole

  • Clem photos below:

ID: Clem in her hole. She’s smiling and her very pink tongue is ON the dirt.
ID: Clem on her back, with her eyes closed. It’s a closeup of her face and she is smiling. Sweet dreams Clem!

With love,
Shelby + Clem