Disclaimer: I’ve been thinking of writing this article for a couple of weeks now, and have been hesitant in whether or not to publish it, since I’ve had some heated debates with many friends when discussing this subject. Now that you are about to read it, I know some people will view my opinion as very pretentious and elitist, and I will unhappily accept it, because this is really not the point of this article, but more to open people’s mind as to how it works in the real world.
While doing my daily search on the Internet a few months ago, a trailer from a new documentary, called PressPausePlay, caught my attention. The film discusses the now insanely-easy opportunities for everyone to become an artist in whatever domain they wish. It was far more appealing to me because of the fact that I grew up with these endless possibilities around me, and with which I’m still living today.
The democratization of art by technology is in my mind one of the best things that happened to the worldwide cultural scene in the last century. As Moby says in the trailer, “[…] 50 years ago, people didn’t make things. […] People would go to photographies, people would go buy records, and there were professional artists.” True statement, and it was a sad reality. Before 1980, if the average Joe wanted to produce a Hollywood quality movie, he had two choices: win the lottery, or get a loan that wouldn’t be repayable even if he had 5 lifetimes ahead of him. Now with the birth of the digital age, this is a whole other reality. Someone with a lot of talent could spend more or less 5000$ on gear and have the necessary equipment to make a lot of heads turn at the Cannes Festival. The same goes with music. Today, someone with a laptop and a decent sound system can produce beats that would give Dr. Dre some serious shivers. This accessibility has brought a whole new generation of artists, and some incredibly creative pieces by some ordinary people finally get to see the light of day on a daily basis.
But, as with most world-changing situations, this democratization has some pros and cons. What Moby also says in the PressPausePlay trailer, is that “[…] now, everybody’s a photographer, everybody’s a filmmaker, everybody’s a writer, everybody’s a musician.” That is what irritates me.
In the old days, if someone wanted to become a filmmaker, he would most-likely watch A LOT of movies, study them longly, apply to film school, learn from highly qualified people (that could be debated of course), and continue this progressive journey if he found that he was truly passionate about this line of work. Now that technology is so affordable and that the Internet is an endless source of free education, anybody can decide to spend 500$ on whatever gear he wants and go start experimenting right away, which is really a good thing, don’t get me wrong on this one. But, I don’t think anybody will argue when I say that this is clearly not the best way to learn anything, and I speak by experience.
I got a video camera when I was 14 years old, and I had absolutely no intention of starting to read the instructions manual when I unwrapped it at Christmas. I went out and shot some skiing with my friends, and was already planning everything to “produce” a ski movie in the winter. Now while this was really fun, it also caused me to become skilled technically, but very weak at creativity. It took me A LONG time to get out of the mold of “the more flashy-glowy effects from the editing software you put in a video, the better your video is”. And the answer to that problem was simple. I did not spend time learning and studying the art I was trying to create.
Now, this is where the line is drawn. I was not a filmmaker, I was a 14-year-old kid that was spoiled at Christmas with a camcorder. And that is also what separates the masses today, and that is also where I think Moby is wrong. Buying a DSLR does not make you a photographer, buying Pro Tools does not make you a music producer, getting Photoshop does not make you a graphic designer. Buying gear only gives you the status of someone that owns the necessary gear. Talent, hard-work, dedication, those are what earns you these once-prestigious titles that have now lost almost all their worth to me.
In a sense, you can’t blame the people. The Internet has given birth to so many overnight superstars of the artistic domain, that fame-hungry people now think that this can happen to them as quickly as the people they look up to. They tend to forget, while sitting in front of YouTube, that out there is a real world where things don’t always go according to plan. People are so blinded by the possible-celebrity that all they want to do is to get work done the second that it’s possible for them, without having the slightest knowledge of how whatever it is they do works.
Let’s get back to the basics. Do you start running before being able to stand on your two feet ? Do you go drive 100km/h on a highway before knowing how to clutch and get in first gear ? No, you follow a sometimes-unfortunate learning progression that every discipline in the world demands, and you get better in time.
Of course this requires patience, and this is what our generation has been generally deprived of. The illusion that you can have your photography studio and make money out of it because you just bought a Canon 5D MKII needs to somehow be erased, and people need to stop living in their heavenly bubbles where every photographer/musician/blogger makes a 6-figure salary when they’re 25 years-old.
Now this is the part where I sound like my shit doesn’t stink, but I truly believe that people need to reconsider the value of the titles mentioned above. Speaking again from personal experience, I remember the day that the office made me print my first business cards, on which were written “Charles Burroughs, Director / Motion Designer”. As insignificant as this may seem, it kind of marked the day in my very young career where my hard work as a student, amateur filmer/producer/cinematographer and whatever else, finally paid off. I now had a title that I felt like I deserved, and I still take pride in it, just like a lawyer or a doctor.
Having said that, when I stumble upon “demo reels” on the web that are made-up of three frame-by-frame-copied Videocopilot tutorials (no disrespect intended to Andrew Kramer here, far from there) that take 15 minutes to do, and that this guy openly calls himself a director or a motion designer, the pride seems to fade out. While not feeling threatened, I kind of see 14-year-old-me with his camcorder that thinks he can do what I do, without having the following 9 years of experience under his belt.
Now from another perspective, what I don’t call myself is a writer or a blogger, because from my point of view, running a blog that releases less than 2 fairly-well-written posts a week and gets under 1000 hits a month is not considered a business, nor a career. I think I’m decent at writing, but I would definitely not offer my services to someone and charge money for it, far from there.
That is what I want people to realize. Would you call yourself a doctor because you know how to put a Band-Aid on a wounded finger ? Would you call yourself a psychologist because you consoled someone who just broke up with his girlfriend ? I don’t think so. These titles come with experience, skills, knowledge and hard-earned talent, just like the titles of artists, whatever they are. It’s really not about the oh-so-fancy titles, it’s about knowing where you stand and not claiming what you’re not, yet…
These self-proclaimed artists that are born every second on the web are causing the most incredible market saturation I’ve ever witnessed, and this is bad for everyone. It is becoming harder and harder for serious starting businesses to make a name for themselves, because, as Moby said, “everybody’s a photographer, everybody’s a filmmaker, everybody’s a writer, everybody’s a musician.” When you start a business, every single penny counts, and you want to get the most clients possible right away to ensure cash flow. This is becoming close to impossible for these talented start-ups, because theoretically, there are now way more providers than clientele. I’m all for free enterprise, again, don’t get me wrong, and I really don’t think it needs to be legislated in our beautiful democracy. I just think that people need to legislate themselves when facing the decision of starting a “business”.
Now that this is all said (let’s hope I won’t get rocks thrown my way), I hope that this firework show didn’t fool anyone in thinking I don’t believe in the creation of new artists. I strongly encourage everyone to go out and try, fail, succeed in whatever they want to do. Having projects is one of the most motivating things that can happen throughout your life, and succeeding in them brings this exalting feeling that is matched by very few sensations. But it’s important for me to make people open their eyes and tell them that life is not a fairy tale, and just like you don’t become an NHL hockey player the moment you step in skates, you don’t become an artist the moment you get your hands on the required equipment.
When dealt with properly, the learning phase of any discipline can be as interesting as the perfection of already mastered skills, and it shouldn’t be skipped by anyone. Now that my fingers are insanely sore from typing, the last thing I can say is go out, create, have fun doing what you like the most.