Friday, 15 July 2011
I've just finished reading a very good essay about change and technology and the publishing industry by Christina Thompson (editor of the print version of the Harvard Review). It's in the current edition of my favourite journal, Meanjin which is still only really available as a print journal (and that's ok with me).
The essay was a great read because it raises lots of interesting questions about the skill set writers need now and for the future, skills you wouldn't usually associate with writing literature like the ability to use photoshop and design web pages. This is because the publishing industry is changing rapidly and the way writers interact with it is changing too. Thompson talks a lot about the need for writers to embrace the technological skills needed as it will enable them to have more control and therefore more say in their working lives. Things like being able to design a website rather than give it to someone else to do for you because if writers don't develop this skill they won't be able to maintain and update their web presence independently of a third party. And to not be able to do so is disempowering.
Even though the essay is about the publishing industry I think there are a lot of parallels that can be made in terms of technology and the future for artists/designers. Those of us who have an active web presence already have a whole lot of skills that creative folk wouldn't have had 10 years ago (and many still don't have today). A lot of us don't even think about the technological skills we have mastered in recent years. For example, I'm a printmaker (and a pretty low tech one at that as my area is relief printing) but because I've been interacting on the web for almost 6 years now I know how to maintain a blog on the two main blogging platforms out there (and a lot of bells and whistles that go with it like inserting videos and sound files), use image storing sites like flickr, maintain an online shop, set up and maintain a basic website, use twitter, use a digital camera, use photoshop, and the list goes on. My point is I didn't know any of this stuff up until 6 years ago. And it's not the skill set you would usually associate with a printmaker. But because I've chosen to interact online and have an active web presence I have accumulated these skills along the way and now people are seeing them as valuable, and some even as necessary (like Thompson) to work in our contemporary culture.
Interestingly, I now also use this skill set in my main income earning job. Up until recently these kinds of skills weren't really necessary there either but more and more in many different types of jobs it's becoming necessary to get across the technology that is very much a part of modern life in western societies.
And I think it's very important that artists and designer do this. It's a bit like the point Thompson makes in her essay about writers. "We also need to remind young would-be literary types that it's not going to be enough in the future simply to be good with words. If they want to be players in the world of publishing they had better become proficient in a few of these technologies so that they really understand how to take advantage of the changes that are taking place" (p 54). And so it is with artists and designers too. I have friends who are painters and continue to slog away interacting with the traditional gallery world. The disappointment and frustration is endless for them. I keep telling them they need to build a web presence and interact with others online. That it's not enough anymore to just do things the old way. That there's a whole world out there beyond the local gallery shows where people can see their work and where they can make valuable connections. I don't think they can appreciate the value in that just yet. But hopefully soon they will.
In the meantime those of us who are used to interacting online will continue to accumulate technological skills that will be useful in a whole range of contexts and will help us feel more connected to other artists and designers all over the world. Now that, in my mind, is very empowering.