Being an artist used to be something that was painfully earned.
You were a painter only if you devoted your life to swirling oil and turpentine on canvas for a living. You were a musician only if you spent your nights stringing together paychecks from performing at small cafes every night. Back then, there wasn’t really a choice. How could anyone see your work otherwise?
Enter, the Internet.
A platform with zero boundaries, the Internet became a space of public distribution that had never before existed. It was everywhere, and it was timeless. Photos and videos were available for viewers to bookmark and replay again and again.
And the Internet was, most importantly, accessible to everyone.
A teenage boy — armed with nothing but his guitar and laptop — could post songs on YouTube and relish in the attention that cyberspace showed him. He’d marvel at the fact that people, even those who were hundreds of miles away, could compliment and criticize him. He’d eventually call himself a musician, a singer or a songwriter, even if he had never once performed outside the comfort of his own bedroom.
He wouldn’t be the first to achieve Internet fame.
Internet fame has been increasingly criticized with the advent of new technology. People always wonder whether the 15 seconds of fluorescent limelight will last and whether the artists in question deserve their fame at all.
We often neglect how many now-famous musicians have translated their YouTube popularity into real-life success.
People forget that Justin Bieber and his casual cult following began when Usher took an interest in the homemade YouTube videos Bieber uploaded at 12 years old. Lil B has never made a hit radio single or been signed to a major record label, but his Facebook page alone has been enough to instill the philosophy of his “based” lifestyle in innumerable rap enthusiasts.
Look at “Humans of New York” and the recognition that its creator, Brandon Stanton, has received for breathing inspiration into the hearts of the 13 million people who have liked his Facebook page. Would he have even been a photographer without the Internet?
The fact remains: Modern-day technology has given us the incredible opportunity to showcase work like never before.
Exposure has always been the first step to fame. Because exposure is so easy to obtain now, fame is quick to follow. Naturally, there are both good and bad sides to the proliferation of art across our virtual mediums. We sometimes see talentless, undeserving stars — such as the Kardashian clan — catapulted to celebrity status for nothing more than their ubiquitous Instagram presence.
We are, however, also lucky enough to be introduced to wonderful artists we couldn’t find otherwise.
A friend recently recommended to me a Facebook page whose sole purpose is bringing daily doses of poetry and art to our news feeds. I’d already been following the page for months, but what really shocked me was how ecstatic she was to have found it herself.
Suddenly, I realized how important technology has become as a means of stumbling upon art.
One of my favorite writers is one I discovered during my 3 a.m. Tumblr scrolls. My favorite photographer is a woman I found while browsing Flickr for a new desktop wallpaper four years ago.
In the end, does it really matter how people achieve fame?
Talent is talent. It’s true — a brilliant glow could never be diminished by the artificial fluorescence of our electronic computer screens.
We are writers as long as we transform a blank page into black text to be read, musicians as long as we create vibrations in the air to be heard and painters as long as we make beautiful things to be seen.
We are whatever we define ourselves to be. We are artists as long as we create art to be felt.
Isn’t that something?
Eda Yu writes the Thursday column on art in the modern age. Contact her at at [email protected].