Want To Be An Artist? Stop Calling Yourself A Content Creator.

If it’s ‘content’, it’s culturally worthless.

by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Did Harper Lee write good content?

How about Bob Dylan? #Content #Creator?

Martin Luther King? One of the most inspiring speakers in history. Was he a content producer?

Content is culturally worthless

If those examples sound a little wrong, it’s because they are.

Creating content means filling a gap. It’s about satisfying the need to publish a certain amount of information on a certain media platform, for a certain purpose.

The aforementioned luminaries said things that needed to be said for the good of the world. People listened. They were not filling a word count.

In the content landscape, what you say is the secondary objective. The primary aim is that you say something. So as a ‘content creator’, you are filling that gap in the same way packing peanuts fill a cardboard box in a UPS depot.

I argue that anything called content is neither culturally necessary nor spiritually fulfilling, for creator or consumer. Society does not benefit from content. Content has only a single function, and that is commercial.

You can do better.

Saturday Night at the Movies

Imagine watching a really good movie on Netflix and immediately telling all your friends about it.

You don’t recommend it because it blanked out 90 minutes of your time and made you forget the difficulties in your life. That’s what content does. It’s numbing.

You rave about it because it made you feel. Made you laugh, cry, yell out in frustration, hide behind the sofa in fear, contemplate your place in the universe.

You wouldn’t come out of the cinema saying “that was great content”. So why are people so ready to proclaim themselves content creators? Is that something to be proud of?

Netflix is a content behemoth. Netflix doesn’t aim to entertain, or soothe, or help people solve the big questions in life. It aims to eat up as much viewer time as possible to justify their ongoing monthly fees. It does not have the viewer’s best interests in mind. Only their monetizable attention.

The Content Creators

Zoella, the world-famous YouTube lifestyle and beauty sage, comfortably sits on the throne at the top of Mount Content.

Zoella has just under 12 million subscribers to her main channel. One of her latest videos — HUGE Summer Primark Haul — has been viewed over 1.9 million times. It’s a 24 minute monologue detailing a visit to a high-street clothing store, in which she unpacks bags of cheap fast-fashion garms, and struggles to hand out a single criticism. She is relentlessly chirpy.

“Hello everybody! In today’s video I’m going to show you everything I bought from Primark on my most recent spree.”

She’s entertaining, charming and, to some extent, educational. Those 24 minutes of her viewers’ time could have been spent elsewhere, but they chose to watch her. That’s fair; she earnt that.

It’s hard to criticize Zoella because she seems genuinely lovely (on camera, at least), and does put out some well-meaning messages about mental health issues for young people.

Messages dressed in the consumerist gloss of #sponsored #content, of course. Dripping in money. The subtext below the smile — buy these things and be happy.

It’s good content, that’s for sure.

by Nicolas Ladino Silva on Unsplash

When you take a nicely-framed photo of a sunset and post it to Instagram, are you creating content? Or are you giving the world the gift of your creativity: dropping a little bit of joy, inspiration and aesthetic pleasure into your friends’ lives without expecting anything in return?

The Difference

If the end goal of publishing your work is to increase revenue for a business — whether yours or someone else’s — that’s content. In other words? Advertising. You’re making adverts.

If the end goal of showing your work to other people is to inform, entertain, inspire or provoke them, you’re making art.

Not that art can’t be monetized: income is crucial in allowing the artist to produce their work. Michaelangelo didn’t paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for free; he was funded by Pope Julius II for the four years it took to complete. Everyone has to pay the rent.

A writer publishing blogs online might do it for the sheer love of writing. She could have a burning polemic in her heart that simply needs to be made manifest. She hopes her writing inspires people, and maybe moves them to comment and share with their friends too. She might receive a modest income from the platform she publishes on, and it also showcases her writing talents to prospective paying business clients. That’s money in the bank. She does it for love, and the money comes later.

I write for a living. I’m a copywriter and marketing strategist. This means that I spend a lot of time ghostwriting blogs for businesses. Much of this involves putting out genuinely helpful stuff that enhances people’s lives. I’m happy to do that. It’s nice to help.

But every one of those blogs is put out under a brand name. I’m under no pretense that the end goal of such work is anything other than increasing revenue — even if the surface goals are to ‘educate prospective customers’ and ‘build the brand’. I’m an agent of monetary exchange. I make content. It pays the rent.

Advertising is Not Art

I find it strange, and a little embarrassing, that many of my fellow copywriters seem to love advertisements. Actually enjoy them.

They tweet photos of billboards with wry straplines, captioned:

“Love this! Great copy!”

It betrays a sense of superiority, I think. The notion that because they write advertisements, they’re in an exclusive behind-the-scenes club. Immune to the beguiling charms of corporate hoodwinkery. I’m skeptical.

I have never loved an advert in my life, and I never will. And my job is to write them.

On one of the rare occasions I watch network television, I’ll consciously turn the volume down when the ads come on, and skip through them if I’m watching on the DVR. I am certainly not the only one to do this.

Commercials aren’t lovable. They are wide-scale psychological manipulation mechanisms designed to influence consumer behaviour.

And yet, I am happy to have a nice pair of socks advertised to me when I’m in the market for new socks. The wheels of commerce must be oiled, for the benefit of us all. Marketing is a necessary part of this. I need socks, and the economy needs me to buy them.

But that sock advert, even if it’s the wittiest, most helpful, most aesthetically-pleasing message I’ve ever seen, is not art. It’s not my friend. It doesn’t contribute to the cultural wellness of society.

It’s an economic tool designed to put socks on my feet in exchange for my money.

It’s good content.

by Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash

What do you call yourself?

I see a lot of creatives describe themselves as content creators. If that’s the job title you want, that’s fine. It’s in demand, and pays the rent. It communicates your skills at creating marketing collateral for other businesses. It’s generic, for sure; just like calling yourself a ‘writer’, it doesn’t mark you out as anything special.

Food photographer. Graphic designer. Search-engine-optimized blog writer. Animator. Social media marketer. Meme researcher. Terms like these, higher in specificity, will help you on your journey in making your skills valuable in marketing other people’s products.

But if you see your work as more than that, then let the world know about it. Don’t sell yourself short. You’re not an advertiser, you’re an artist.

We need you.

The rent must be paid. The rent must always be paid. Getting paid for your art is possible, but as anyone who’s achieved success will tell you, it always starts with the love.

Don’t be a content creator. Nobody remembers good content.

Be creative. Be proud. Be an artist.