Joe Alterio's blog on illustration, comix, design, animation, and other bouts of total awesomeness.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The internet as a force of destruction

Drawn today has an interesting post today on Stephen Beisty, the illustrator most well known for his cross-section series: I picked up the Man-o-War one when I was a 16 during my I-wanna-be-a-pirate-phase (before it was cool!), and have been hooked ever since.

You'll notice that I didn't link to his site above: that's because he doesn't have a site. (Gasps from audience, woman in front row faints). He's not part of a collective, he doesn't put his work on an agents site, and the shock, the horror, he doesn't even have a BLOG. Jaleen from Drawn makes a trenchant point, in that Beisty's work isn't something that translates well to the web, and Beisty is hesitant to put enormous files that show the true scope of his work on a site, for fear that it may be stolen or manipulated, and that is all valid. But I think that the issue reaches deeper than that, and I think this is one of the better examples of the web defining the ground rules rather than the other way around.

To define the web as anything other than an enormous potential canvas is intransigent, but to define it as limitless and completely freeing is also being a willfully blind to it's very clear guidelines. The web, like any other media, has rules that ease of use demands you abide by. You can experiment all you want, but if you're writing a book, and you don't place the paragraphs of a story in order, you can make an interesting art project, but your readers will have a tough time getting what your book is about. And the web is the same way.

To not exist on the web is to really be at a deficit in terms of whether people can find you or not. That is clearly still be processed by a great deal of people in the creative fields, and the sea-change is even greater than people realize. The repercussions are being felt throughout the creative world, across a multitude of industries. In the old days - my mom's days - an illustrator would get an agent by getting the gumption to stop by offices of illustration eps, after which, if taken on, the rep would send out postcards and place ads in illustration annuals, to get the work in front of art directors. Now, the reps are broke due to stock illustration, the postcard printers are replaced by Kinko's, no one reads the annuals anymore, and if an art director really does want to hire an illustrator for custom work, where do they go to find that illustrator? The web, of course.

As a burgeoning self-promoting force to be reckoned with, it's not a lie to say the creation of a presence online is a lot of work. Besides the basics of actually creating a site, a creative person who doesn't have the money or is too much of a control-freak to pay someone else to do it needs to immediately become a novice web designer and info architecture acolyte to be a part of the party. Beisty is lucky to be successful and well-known enough to not need this presence online. But Joe Schmuck (or maybe Joe Alterio), that unknown artist who's trying to break in to the worldwide junta of getting paid for art? He's up a creek. Jaleen argues that if you don't exist online, you don't exist, and tragically, that's correct.

So to exist, an artist needs to learn how to build a site. They need to figure out how to get their work posted. They need to get their numbers up. Make sure they come up first on a Google search. That means getting linked to, so they should have a blog to let people know what they're up to. And they really should syndicate that blog to track their readership. Getting featured on BoingBoing or Drawn helps. Better be letting them know you exist. And all this, now taking time away from the actual creating of work.

Is there any grosser word in the world than "usability expert"? Ugh. Just typing it makes me shudder. The "usability expert" is the beginning of the end for creative types. Placing these laurel wreaths of Web 2.0 around our brow is creating a system that rewards the processing and delivery of content, while being completely devoid of any real deliverables. That Beisty is somehow now at a deficit because he spends his time on his gorgeous craft, and less time dicking around with Dreamweaver, is a total disgrace. To think that in 20 years time, we'll all be "usability experts", figuring out the best way to hand off all our great content as quickly and efficiently as possible, is a joke to me. The internet as a self-defining cage is already a reality: already, 95% of blogs are just recycling what someone else already posted. Where's the breaking point? When will the day come when the entire web is just different iterations of the same single idea, processed and homogenized through one million and one linked sites?


Kevin O said...

Well dude, "useability expert" certainly isn't a new idea - it's just a different frame for "publicist", no? Or marketing department or whatever.

Which is, in fact, the world's oldest profession - or a close second, at least, if you care to draw the distinction.

Joe Alterio said...


Anonymous said...

I'm usually in total agreement with you, but here I disagree. The web is just a tool, nothing more or less, like a printing press or stone tablet. To pose that it's the end of creativity is just being cranky!

- Stone

Jaleen Grove said...

Hi there,
I am actually writing a paper just now on this topic, and coming to the conclusion that most illustrators are indeed finding that having big web identities is an indispensible part of their careers. But saying "Jaleen argues that if you don't exist online, you don't exist" is probably overstating my position. I know of illustrator networks where web presence is quite secondary - mind you, they are all serious bibliophiles, totally devoted to print culture.

You point out an interesting thing that I didn't really go into - time. It does indeed suck up time, all this blogging and Flickring and so on. I can only surmise we have time to do it because it takes less time to actually make illustration these days, what with Photoshop and a greater tolerance for quick naive and sketchy styles.