Beautiful Words

Technology and the Right to Create Art

by Olivia Folmar Ard

As much as I wish otherwise, writing isn’t a full-time job for me.

Forty hours a week, I’m an administrative assistant at a public liberal arts university. During my time in this department, which houses communication studies, journalism, public relations, and mass communication, I’ve been privileged to witness students of these disciplines as they learn how to turn messages into art.

Technology And The Right To Create Art by Olivia Folmer Ard

The mass communication students learn how to operate cameras, lighting, and other equipment that will one day land them a job in television, filmmaking, or something else equally exciting. It’s truly eye-opening to see how much preparation, time, and effort is required for a relatively simple on-campus newscast. Watching these and all our students grow has prompted me to learn more about the entertainment industry when I have the chance.

So last year, when I returned home from a grueling shift from my part-time job at a fast food restaurant and my husband urged me to join him in watching Side by Side: Can Film Survive Our Digital Future?, I didn’t hesitate.

Keanu Reeves was the on-camera interviewer, and at one point he started asking the featured cinematographers—all of whom were accomplished and established—how they felt about the rise of digital recording, which has left traditional film far behind. Several were nostalgic about their childhood experiences and claimed that movies recorded on film were largely responsible for a special, magical quality. Some were pragmatic, saying that while they personally preferred film, they knew their preference was sentimental and recognized that digital was a superior product. I could sympathize with these sets. But there was another cinematographer whose response made my blood boil long after the credits rolled.

Digital media lends itself to amateur use—essentially, anyone who wants to make a film, can.

This came up in Keanu’s discussion with this certain cinematographer.

This guy said he this is why he hates digital media, because it’s caused bad movies to circulate. Now, just anyone can do it. And, in his words, without a “tastemaker” to decide which movies are good and which aren’t, society will lose its way and the art of cinema will vanish entirely.

Well, I call crap on that. Total, complete crap.

This reminds me quite a bit of the anti-internet snobbery I’ve seen from some traditionally published authors, the type who’ve been household names for decades.

The medium are different, but the message is the same: there has to be a gatekeeper, a “tastemaker.” There has to be someone to inform the public, to tell them what’s good and what’s not. When I see someone with a well-established career in publishing write an open letter bemoaning the fact that self-publishing is so user-friendly and accessible now, and oh for the good old days when everything was done the “right” way, it really does make me sick.

The assertion that bad art exists because of self-publishing and/or digital media is pure poppycock.
I’ve read bad mainstream books, and I’ve watched bad mainstream movies. Not everything that comes prancing out the other end of a major company is worthy of artistic elevation. I won’t malign specific titles here, but I know that right now in your own mind, you’ve already curated a list of your own examples.

Now, are there bad self-published books out there? Are there bad indie films? Yes.

A thousand times yes. Lots of them. Probably more bad than good, to be honest. The internet is filled with short free and 99 cent eBooks that will make you wish you’d never learned to read. I’m sure the same can be said about independent films. A keen sense of judgment is needed when navigating these choppy waters.

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But I find that I discern the quality of the book the same way, whether it’s been self-published, picked up by an indie house, or put out by one of the Big 5. It’s simple: I open the book, and I read a few pages.

That’s it. I don’t look to see who published it. I don’t look up the author’s biography to see what degrees they have or how many books they’ve written. I don’t check to see if it’s made Oprah’s Book Club or the New York Times Bestsellers LIst. I just open it, and I read a few pages. If it’s good, I read it. If it’s not, I don’t. It’s really quite that simple.

There are several reasons to support the existence of mainstream production and publishing companies, but the role of “gatekeeper” or “tastemaker” is not one of them.

We are capable of figuring out what we like without unsolicited assistance or market manipulation.

We have the right to choose.

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 But even more importantly, humans are creative creatures by nature.

It is our birthright to shape the world around us with our thoughts and ideas. Whether we do that through the manipulation of light or sound or natural resources or the written word or something else entirely is left to the individual, but at the end of the day, we are all of us artists in some way, shape, or form.

Technologies like digital recording, self-publishing websites, and internet marketplaces, are a gift. They enable people who don’t have the right money or connections or social standing to participate in this basic human experience. Everyone deserves the chance to share their art. Even if their art isn’t that great. Even if their art is bad.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for us to settle.

We shouldn’t force ourselves to be entertained by subpar writing or cinematography. If you don’t like something, don’t read it. Don’t watch it. Don’t buy it. But the great thing is, with these technologies, everyone has a choice now. Everyone has a chance to share something they’ve made with the world. And everyone has a chance to accept or reject art based on their preference and taste alone, not that of a stranger working in an office far away.

So, to those who try to stand in the way of creatives and their ability to share their creations, know this. You don’t get to decide who gets to create art.

You don’t get to decide whether people will enjoy it. Instead of feeling threatened by the possibility of someone young, disadvantaged, or penniless creating something the public will love, focus on making your own art great.

Better yet, seek out emerging artists and mentor them.

And when you inevitably come across an indie book or movie that is truly, truly terrible, you should do what everyone else does: stop watching and move on.

If you liked this post, you may also like:

Why I Write, by Katharine Grubb

Or, Why We need the Beautiful 

Olivia Folmar Ard is a secretary, history nerd, and all-purpose geek. She’s the author of The Bennett Series, and Readers’ Favorite 5-Star recipient ‘Tis the Season. She is pursuing a second degree in sociology. She and her husband JD live in Central Alabama, where they look after two crazy cats and wait for their miracle baby. Website/Blog: Twitter: Instagram: Pinterest:


Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.