Dave Winer says: “…all creative people must have some right to the work they create, or else, truly, the incentive to create will disappear. ”
Now, I have no dogs in the fight, as they say, when it comes to copyright and the creative commons and Lessigophilia and all that revenue-generating jazz. I have no creative works, despite decades of making things because it amused me, either of words or pixels or pencil and ink or the ongoing ballet of the moments of my life, that are making me any money at all. More’s the pity, I guess.
And I must admit that I have little but contempt for the law. I live the way I choose according to the dictates of my conscience, and where my choices conflict with the laws in a place I’m currently living, I make as an informed a decision as I am able as to whether conforming to the law in a given situation is something that it’s more sensible to do from a strictly utilitarian perspective. Jail sucks. I know. I’ve been there. Ironically, it wasn’t for breaking any laws, though.
For the most part, I am a law-abiding citizen, but not because I have any innate respect for the laws, or for those who made or enforce them. Where my choices do not conflict with the laws of the land, no worries. That’s the way things usually are, because many laws, if not most, are relatively sensible. I understand some may find this kind of stance offensive, or sophomoric. I am unconcerned, if respectful of their opinions.
I regularly break laws by downloading copyrighted material. I have my reasons.
My argument with the phrase I’ve quoted from Dave above, finally, the one that a fortuitous combination of a good sleep and strong coffee has roused me from my customary lethargy to make, is this: I believe what he said is only correct if we alter ‘the incentive to create will disappear’ to ‘the incentive to create things for money will disappear’. I risk going all broken-record, here, I know. But this fits mortise-and-tenon with some of the things I’ve been saying recently, about money, about monetization, and about what some (most?) have been doing in this textspace of ours.
At the risk of committing the unpardonable sin of accidental synecdoche, I think that the phenomenon of weblogging, and the ways in which it has changed in the past couple of years as The Stupid Money rushed in to coca-colonize the new frontier, gives us our perfect example. Of the hundreds of thousands — millions, if Technorati tells us the truth — of people who have jumped all over this, and who are using the tools to do any of the heartcasting human constellation of different activities that we’ve drawn together under the ‘weblogging’ umbrella, only very recently have more than a tiny handful of them done it for the bucks.
Some are retrofitting revenue streams, sure. That’s their prerogative, of course. Some people wear clothes with company logos plastered all over their chests, unironically, for free. They aren’t as stupid as they are greedy and clueless, in my humble, but that’s just me being a playa-hata, or whatever it is the kids are saying these days.
See, what I’m saying here is that most of these people had no ‘incentive to create’ other than the burning gods inside their foreheads, clawing to get out. Or merely the mundane urge to share photos of their cute kitties. Or their travel anecdotes. Or their code. Or their jokes or dreams or fantasies and half-baked ideas. Or links the neat websites they’ve found. They did it out of loneliness, or love of craft, or anger, or the carefully buried ludic urge we all share. Out of a desire to emulate their god. Because they wanted to.
I challenge you to think about the creative output of artists and artisans whose work has touched you. Think of your favorite books, your favorite paintings. That piece of handmade furniture or that gloriously handtooled little application. The music you listen to or the writers-on-the-web you read because they get into your heart and fill you with the ineffable, simple joy of being alive and having a mind. I wonder how many of them would have done their work whether or not they eventually got paid for it. My guess is ‘most’.
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be paid. Hell, if I could get paid for making the things I make because there’s something inside me that impels me to do it, I’d be thrilled. It’d be a dream come true, by crikey. But I do it, regardless. And so do you, probably, if you’re reading this.
Money is a very useful thing, but then, so is defecation. Or, if you prefer ‘How anal sex got to be THE ticket to blogging fame and fortune I don’t fully understand…
Take away the money, and you will still have people who are driven to create. This is what it is to be human. And, I’d submit, we’d have a lot less soulless sticky media poop clogging our minds and our souls if all of the hacks out there who oxymoronically ennoble their paid efforts by calling them ‘creative product’ would just do something useful instead for those sweet dollars. This is why I am in love with the idea of the ‘mass amateurization of nearly everything‘, and it’s why I push back against those who are snapping like bloody-snouted hyenas at the weblogging carcass in their unseemly urge to Get Noticed and Go Pro.
If you make money by selling the things that you are compelled to create — writing or music or design or code or ceramic ashtrays or whatever it may be — then good on ya. I’m genuinely happy for you. But if you would stop merely because you couldn’t make a buck at it, well, tough shit. We don’t need you. This is probably an unpopular opinion. Ah well.
The incentive to create will never disappear. But I would hail the departure of a world in which the incentive to create (for some) is predicated solely on one’s ability to sell those creations, sure I would. When those who were left standing were there because they did it out of love, maybe they’d get a few more bones thrown their way.
And that’s all I have to say about that, for the moment.
[Update: OK, that’s not entirely all. This is interesting, and most definitely on-topic.]

Metablogging, Thoughts That, If Not Deep, Are At Least Wide, Uncrappy
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Join the conversation! 17 Comments

  1. Of course… I’m surprised this is a controversial issue. Personally, I’m still well in the hole from all the years of arting… The cheif motivator for creation is rarely money. Orsen Welles once said (paraphrased) that he did 2% filmaking and 98% hustling, which is no way for someone to live (and then he bemoaned that his artistic urges centered around such a damnably expensive paintbox).

  2. I’m surprised at your surprise, cap’n. You labour out of love, I know, but the fuckin’ bling bling talks these days, nicht wahr?
    The question is not, as so many frame it to be, whether blogging can be journalism, but whether it can be art. And if it matters. And if you slap a fucking google ad on a piece of art, if you’ve whored yourself. And if that matters.
    I dunno, I’m just throwin’ this stuff out there.

  3. hmmm. [strokes goat and throws arms into air] “Art!”

    sponsored links
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  4. Hey, stop stroking that goat! This is a family website!

  5. Ya down with P2p? Yeah, you know me

    The wonderchicken, writing about copyright and creativity, recently made two great points.
    I live the way I choose according to the dictates of my conscience, and where my choices conflict with the laws in a place I’m currently living, I …

  6. There’s this guy, Will Holland. Remarkably prolfiic DJ. Has three front “bands” called Quantic, the Limp Twins, and the Quantic Soul Orchestra. Ended up buying one of his CDs because this 24 year old is amazing with the break beats. And wouldn’t you know it? Turned out that Holland’s incredible output was born out of love. He worked long and hard on his music without pay and was then able to cut it.

  7. Arting v. Whoring & AMR News

    …the wonderchicken was expanding his ongoing discussion of art v. commerce from the realm of blogwhorring to more general principles, I took pause to re-examine this perennial debate from my own

  8. wrote a long piece about “blog as art / not art” issue (or more specifically the “blog-life crisis” which crops up due to the question itself) but self linking is bad form right? if you give me leave to i’ll link it for you’re perusal.

  9. Spamming is bad, linking to your own writing is what this blog stuff is all about (unless it’s a front page post on metafilter)! Go for it!

  10. Good read (other than the drives-me-fucking-apeshit-with-rage all-lower-case, but hey, I’m funnny that way), j, thanks! Not sure I’m gonna beachblanket agree — one think I ain’t is frail, for one thing — but you make some interesting points, all of which I’m too inebriated to try and address at the moment, though, sadly.
    Such is blog.

  11. haha, yeah, that lowercase thing seems to rub some people the wrong way. was a simple way for me to maintain formatting no matter who posts. i’m a balance fascist. anyhow…
    i think the main point i was trying to make was simply that without a commercial aspect a blog falls naturally into the realm of art (doin it for the love, etc) but it’s such a new form it’s hard to compare it favorably with the other artistic pursuits many of us also engage in. for me it’s hard to rationalize choosing to blog with the time which would otherwise be spent painting, shooting photos, etc. and yet i continue.
    interestingly not long after i wrote that i was obliged to take a short blog vacation. i’m finding now that i’m away from it i miss it very much. hate to see it sitting there, languishing.
    what’s that famous quote?
    “frailty is in the eye of the beholder.”

  12. Hey! Hey!
    *taps on glass*
    Are you ever going to weblog again? Or are you gonna sit there, like an old fart, knitting dog sweators out of navel lint?

  13. Well, I just don’t know.
    Not right away, anyway, Shell. Ain’t got no feelin’ for it at the moment. And these sweaters are cozy as hell.

  14. Interesting…not just about the frailty – or ‘balance fascism’, but about art and compulsion. Funny how my camera still clicks even though noone really cares (but me, I suppose). I wish I’d found your bottle sooner. Mine just makes me dizzy and vomit occasionally.
    This empty bottle is quite an onion to peel. It’s been a while since I’ve found anything worth reading in a blog. Even cooler that it’s yours. I agree with the lint-lady, but take your time, I have some catching up to do.
    I’ve been thinking about you over there and only get the rarest updates from mom. Email?

  15. Is that Mike or Matt, there? Cool.
    Try stavrosthewonderchicken at that newfangled gmail dot com for an email addy…

  16. It’s Matt. Feel like I’ve already started to catch up. Your UBC Raven made me think of the bird hovering off the bluff over Stuart lake at uncle J’s funeral. That and the dancing lights in the sky the night we accidentally(?) rid the Fort of a couple of bats. Something about the wind in those memories, too. I’ll try the newfangled g-thingy to save space on the comments page to get in touch. If turning 40 isn’t making you feel old, then me with 2 kids might…

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