Apr 29, 2011

Making the Best of a Permanent Pay Freeze for Dis Magazine


While the ethics of artists’ compensation have long been a disputed matter, arguably no group of artists has garnered such large, global audiences while so successfully evading payment as those who exist online today. Among the options pursued to sell this art, some have offered property contracts for collectors to buy artist’s websites. These contracts are ultimately rental agreements with ICANN, not fully realized ownership in the sense a physical painting provides. Additionally, digital files sold on thumb drives that were ever posted online have likely been saved to someone else’s desktop and are able to be endlessly passed on for everyone else to own without any collector’s say in the matter. At the root of internet art’s unsellability is the point that internet art (like all digital data) is infinitely reproducible, making any attempt to harness it for sale an exercise in maintaining artificial scarcity. Adding to this square peg in a circular hole dilemma is the way in which the cultural rationale of digital content’s merit is at opposite ends with that of traditional property valuation; the digital world values content according to its ubiquity (memes, traffic statistics) while the physical world values the scarcity of goods (lower supplies equal higher demands). There isn’t nearly enough money in AdSense for individual artists to make a living from advertisements, and it is unlikely any marketing firm will pay for viewer statistics from a single artist’s website any time soon. The only other avenue digital content industries have pursued to make money from their creative output has been to control the distribution of works by enforcing copyright law punishments on individuals guilty of recirculating intellectual property without authorization. This method would likely not be supported because most internet artists actually rely on the appropriation of their images through aggregating blogs to make a name for themselves. The precarity of internet-based art production is now only partially remedied when artists venture into traditional economies based on the attention they’ve been able to attract online. Popular solutions include creating internet-inspired physical objects for gallery sale, knowledge work in academia, or using software skills commercially. Again, nice work if you can get it, but only a lunatic would enter an intentionally restrictive luxury economy with hopes of instantly finding stable employment when there are 90,000 students a year graduating with bachelors degrees in fine art from America alone.

Read the full essay here