Image courtesy of Mugfaker

Soon writers will be the only artists

Image courtesy of Mugfaker

There are no more artists. There are only machines. The musicians were the first to go. They did not all go at once. Of course, the electronic musicians were the first ones to fail, cannibalized by their own machines.

The first Aphex and Squarepusher releases were made using gear that looks positively stone age now. Anyone can make electronic music by dragging and dropping samples into Logic. The earliest electronic musicians used samplers that could hold a single sound on a 1.44mb floppy disk. That took talent. Dragging and dropping samples and applying a few AU effects in Logic does not.

At some point, machine-aided music started becoming machine-created music. The dumb terminal is not the machine, it is you.

But other musicians went quickly too. First the singers were eaten by Autotune. Then, most people who played an actual instrument suffered the same fate. They were effectively produced to death. This is why all modern music sounds the same.

First the machines came for the musicians, but since I was not a musician, I did not care. Then the machines came for the photographers. The machines came with Photoshop first, then with Lightroom, finally, with Instagram. Now all photographs look the same. You do not need talent to apply a filter. You do not need to worry about aperture settings, exposure, film. The digital camera takes care of that for you. It has a built in memory, so you don’t need one. Just point and click.

And don’t even think about becoming a muse, either. Anyone can become a model. We just stretch you here, airbrush you there, and before you know it, you look like Edie Sedgwick. To anyone who’s never met you.

Now the machines are coming for the pen, pencil, and paintbrush people. The machines are coming armed with Wacom tablets and pressure sensitive screens. The machines are coming with apps on the iPad and, regardless of what David Hockney says, these machines will soon diminish art. We are in the process of churning out a generation of illustration students all schooled in Adobe Illustrator, obsessed with typeface weights, yet without an iota of creativity. They copy, they trace, they use the computer to edit and change. But they do not create.

Of course there are still artists. It takes skill to paint with oil or to sculpt marble, it even takes a modicum of intelligence to come up with (or steal) the idea of a pickled shark. Yet Hirst and, of course, Warhol before him, were absolutely correct. Art was no longer about the hand that drew (one could always hire an amenuensis or two to handle that), it was about the idea and more importantly the ability to promote it.

Sadly, the Internet has made self-promotion far more important than the creation of the idea. On the web, he who shouts loudest gets the most notice. He who is reblogged, tweeted about, liked. The work of the talented is a whisper in a wall of white noise.

Big ideas are dead. Replaced with mass-produced, computer produced music and art.

Only the writer struggles on. While there are few writers still producing manuscripts in longhand, his tools have changed little since the typewriter. He still works by hand, unaided, transcribing the contents of his heart without a computer to interpret his brush strokes or iron out the flaws in his voice.

Of course the writers are under attack.

If the visual and audio spectra are cluttered with the white noise of machine-made art, so too do decent writers find it hard to rise above the slop and drivel of a million wordpress blogs all singing the same bullshit chorus in unison. It used to be that publication took time and cost money, now anyone with five minutes can set up a blog and start talking.

Look at me, I should know.

Yet the difference is that while our words may be published by the machines, they are not written by them — not in the same way the machines have begun to compose our music and draw our pictures.

In this sense, writing may well be the last creative process not entirely dictated by the machines.

It remains, for me, the purest, possibly the last, form of art.


  1. KaM says:

    Sterling post! I think the author knows my take on this all too well. Silence is silver; it can no longer be golden.

    The defining moment – perhaps even the fall – of Renaissance literature came in the 1640s, when an explosion of print suddenly found every man with the ability to write running to the printers. There’s a leap from a cultured age of literature – Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson – to a ‘mass communication’ age or something similar.

    And in the background, a particular poet thinks to himself, in a very similar vein: “I have to be involved and compete enough to get noticed, but I’ll satirise the process, because that’s all it deserves.” Technology changes, but human nature and its empty perception filters never do.

    You, sir, are an artist. And you will always have my audience.

  2. David says:

    The last thing I want read is something as jaded as this. It tastes like stale bread.

    “They were effectively produced to death. This is why all modern music sounds the same.”

    That’s your fault for not digging a wee bit to find the good stuff.

    Don’t mind me, you look perfectly comfy in that construct you’ve built. It’s perfectly self-referential!

    Go outside. Get offended and deal with it. Find creation which allows you to love your own era. What’s the alternative? Bitch about?

    There are real artists. They are more numerous than ever but also destitute. And you are damning them because of your ignorance and self-service. Do you truly believe men and women are not giving their honest interpretations? They are. And it’s good. It’s not good because I think it is. It’s good, because it makes me feel. Who are you to deny the feelings of others?

  3. admin says:

    Hi David,
    Thanks for reading.
    However, I’m afraid you’ve missed the point!
    The author believes the easy availability of computer aided technologies have diminished the role and value of the ‘artist’ in producing artistic work.
    Of course, there may be good music being produced today, the question is are people producing it or are the machines? And while there may still be good “underground” music being made by people with a great deal of talent, what is the noise-to-quality ratio these days? How many great musicians are there compared to people using Logic / Ableton / Fruityloops / sample CDs off the front of magazines to drag and drop and create the same old tunes in minutes? Surely being an artist requires skill?
    The author is suggesting that it’s a ratio of 100-to-1 to find music that took any real talent to create, and the digital era has made things much, much worse. Go on Soundcloud. Listen to toss. Hope you get lucky. What’s the point? Those who succeed put more effort into promotion than their work.
    Once upon a time, it took years to learn how to make art. Now anyone can be a bedroom DJ, instagram photographer, computer-aided graphic designer, etc.
    The author is questioning whether this rise of the machines has displaced the traditional meaning of “artist” rather than literally assumed “there are no artists left”.

  4. Thomas says:

    It’s an amazing post. Culture world, now culture industrie, is changing very quick. I think too that today all the people can produce and distribute “culture products”, with technological tools. Role of artists will be very different in some years. Good or bad? We have to see it. Anyway the process will be interesting.

  5. Jo says:

    When I first started reading this I felt slightly niggled (as a machine user myself). My husband is an artist, immensely talented with a paintbrush but equally handy with a wacom tablet. He did art foundation in the early 90’s, followed a degree in natural history and scientific illustration at art college and a post grad in animation at St Martins. And then along came his computer 🙂

    Yes, machines do all the work, but it still takes talent to achieve really good quality work. It is too easy to dismiss the work of modern day geniuses as ‘oh, it’s just done with computers’. It is a problem that people are rarely surprised these days. They think everything is easy to create, and I don;t really think that is true.

    Being ‘good’ at photoshop is quite an art in itself. Most people’s photoshop skills are noticeably shit to anyone with an eye for that sort of thing.

    What you say though about internet self promotion is spot on. he who tweets the most, gets reblogged, the most likes etc. Hasn’t it always been like that though? Hasn’t it always been that many quiet, yet talented people go unnoticed and the gobby ones steal the limelight?

    Great blog 🙂

  6. wolffcubb says:

    All forms of art are communication. Music is more complex and can dissent more information than the voice. But that information, exists only in the abstract and cannot be wholly comprehended. This is why music is so enveloping and creates such strong emotion. Electronic music takes this communication from the hands of the expert few and into the hands of the many. The printing press democratized reading and writing, by creating sheer volume of the material. The democratization of musicianship will bring to light more creativity, more communication. When everyone can make a song, it takes more to make a track to be a great piece of transcendent communication.

    Maybe you are just not listening to the right electronic music, for someone of your obvious intelligence.

  7. How very spectacularly BORINNN YAWNNN…. Who gives a monkeys a hole about 1640’s literature, if you think that knowing a little about literature in the 1960’s is art, or makes you an artist, you are way behind, this is 2013…for any one that didn’t know, or of whom is stuck in shakespears asshole… Art comes in many forms, it isn’t about what you do, or how you do it…
    Art is an expression, providing there is meaning, and you are depicting something, wether it be a mood, a setting, a scene, the problem nowadays is that popular culture is big, and it seems so, that underground music (for example) is actually influenced by pop music, although from a musicians point of view, you wouldn’t expect that… a few years a go, all these hipsters would listen to underground shit, because they are cooooooooollllll…( :S) or so they thought… Where as now, this hipster shit is all over the tv, internet etc… So EVERYBODY is on this bandwagon, of inflated ego, horrible fashion sense, and a VERY FALSE SENSE OF INDIVIDUALITY… So every body thinks they are an artist… Itsnow cool to be a music producer… And as you said about the internet etc… spot on… Soooooo adddddddd it allllll up and you have a massive recipe for….ermmm…. Shit music, terrible fashion sense… And people that have personality issues…