It's such a good time to be a creative! I was so excited reading Steven Johnson's August 23rd NYT Magazine cover article "The New Making It," today because I have an upcoming book (long delayed) about making a living as a creative in the digital economy. Johnson looked into the numbers to tell us what has seemed apparent for a while now: The internet and digital economy makes it easier to build an artistic career (for those who are entrepreneurial and want to interact with fans/build an audience). And writers, musicians, and filmmakers are doing it successfully in greater numbers. "On the whole," he writes, "creators seem to be making slightly more money, while growing in number at a steady but not fast pace." And "[...] the trends are making creative livelihoods more achievable." The article focuses on musicians, opening with Lars Ulrich's fear in 2000 that Napster (and free music) would kill the music industry. It has dramatically reduced it. But it hasn't killed musicians. The actual creators (not the labels and executives) are thriving.
Now that it's easier than ever to create and get one's work out into the world, critics worry that the lowering of the barriers to entry also lowers the quality of the creative work, that the masses entering creative fields will generate work that appeals only to the masses - to some shared base human tendencies, like a fascination with Kim Kardashian. But Johnson lays out some evidence that this is not the case. He also includes one of my favorite definitions of quality in the cultural sphere that I've read, writing, "All these numbers, of course, only hint at whether our digital economy rewards quality. Or -- even better than that milquetoast word "quality" -- at whether it rewards experimentation, boundary-pushing, satire, the real drivers of new creative work."
The book I'm writing will focus on the principles and habits needed to succeed as a creative in the digital economy, something the article only touches on briefly. In short, artists have to be willing to create their own path, to shape and form their career in the same way they shape and form a painting, book, or sculpture.
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