Is it art or an aesthetic?

by Maxine Kozak, Storyteller for RU Student Life

The internet is weird. And yet, having been exposed to the digital realm from an early age, it’s difficult to imagine life without it. I remember browsing the family desktop computer as early as eight years old. You know, Club Penguin, Neopets, and a little Omegle when my parents weren’t around. A decade later, we literally carry computers in our pockets. Eight-year-old me would be amazed.

By now, digitization has permeated almost every aspect of our lives. You know this already. To me, the most interesting facet of digital life is the artistic community. Open your instagram feed, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Mostly, I’m curious to know: what are we getting out of this?

First, we must ask the question: who is it for? You could say it’s not for anyone, it’s about art for arts sake. But then why post in the first place? If we’re doing it for others, it’s hard to ignore the shallowness of this practice. Using a means of expression to curate a (false?) image feels hollow, sometimes.

Author Tyler Cowen explains that money, fame and sex have always been major motivators to make art, however, there have been major shifts in light of digitization. Most notably, according to Cowen, “you can’t perfect your masterwork for 20 years [anymore], there’s a bit of a hurry. There’s a sense that things are changing. You can end up obsolete.”

I think it is this fear of obsolescence that has pushed most people to follow certain posting patterns. There’s the Instapoets, descendants of Rupi Kaur who post short, one-size-fits-all poems that are easy to relate to because they are so general. Is everyone suddenly posting their Rupi Kaur-esque poetry because they love to write, or is it because they took note of her success?

Instapoetry can easily be compared to generic box office hits like the Transformers franchise. The series has far surpassed its expiration date, but they keep making movies because it’s an easy way to make money. Like Transformers, instapoetry is profitable, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good, some might think.

Is it art or an aesthetic? Does it even matter? Motivations aside, more people are reading and writing poetry, and that’s a good thing. While these poems do not utilize the usual creative writing toolbox, they do succeed in opening up the medium and making it accessible to a wider audience.

As writer Holly Williams explains, “art is too often seen as exclusive, elite, something for posh people, or intellectuals — so anything that helps break down that it’s-not-for-me barrier is to be celebrated. Art is for everyone, and encouraging a new, younger generation to get involved and feel it belongs to them is incredibly important. Social media can be a massive part of that.”

Similarly, New York Times writer, Alexandra Alter, points out, “The rapid rise of Instapoets probably will not shake up the literary establishment, and their writing is unlikely to impress literary critics or purists who might sneer at conflating clicks with artistic quality. But they could reshape the lingering perception of poetry as a creative medium in decline.”

To put this into perspective, Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey has sold over 2.5 million copies since it was released in 2014. In comparison, Louise Gluck’s collection Faithful and Virtuous Night, which has won the National Book Award for poetry, has sold about 20,000 copies.

More than that, making art for others isn’t an inherently negative thing. If you’re looking to make a living off your art, the internet can provide a platform for connection and opportunity. Sure, maybe we’re looking for recognition or attention, but isn’t everyone? We all need validation. If we’re not getting it in real life, why not look for it online?

It could also be considered a form of self-preservation. When you post something on the internet, it’s there forever. In a way, by posting our art online, we’re sharing lasting manifestations of ourselves. This is nothing new, we’ve been doing it forever. It’s simply easier now that we can post our work online, rather than waiting to be discovered and subsequently published.

I don’t want to be the person who makes the distinction between good and bad art. Art is so subjective and a clear distinction/definition can’t exist, I think. And so, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be making bad art. Everyone makes bad art. I exclusively make bad art. Ultimately, I think that it comes down to self-awareness. We all should be asking ourselves: Are we making art for its own sake? For ourselves? For expression? For connection? Or are we using our art to sell ourselves, to prove our worth? These are just some things I’ve been thinking about.