Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Unique & Handmade Belong in the Digital Universe

This image comes from a U.K. potter and illustrator who does commission work,
contact info:

This week I spent a good deal of time learning and thinking about marketing and its relationship with the arts.  There are some basics of marketing that do not change depending on what you are selling, say, effectively communicating with your customer.  By the arts I mean everything from visual art to fine craft to music and beyond.

This week I was at two workshops that were sponsored by We Heart the Arts, a conglomeration of arts groups here in St. John's that meet to address common challenges.  The digital age has changed how we communicate with our customers in a profound way.  I am old enough to remember writing my first press release on a typewriter.  (Yes, that old.  But then I started just out of high school.  And I lost my first job in a communications office because of a typo.)  Anyhow, what has happened is that today anybody in the arts dependent on an audience or client base is expected to know how to communicate and sell across a mind-boggling array of digital platforms.  Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, just to name a few.

Holding on for dear life, expresses how many feel dealing with the digital.

Not surprisingly, there is resistance among some in the cultural community.  As professionals, be they textile artists or musicians, they have spent long hours–sometimes decades–learning their craft, and largely that craft is based on hand skills that haven't changed for centuries.  Their sense of value is entrenched in the handmade and the unique; their products, whether it is a sound or a product that you can hold in your hand is theirs alone and extraordinary.

By contrast, the world of the digital is driven by numbers and the potential for a massive audience.  Large corporations that seem impersonal– almost alien– govern it.  It is easy to think of this as an extension of the fight against technology or as a generational divide but I think it goes deeper than that.  The resistance to the digital that some in the creative community experience is not a matter of age.  It is more of a worldview or a culture unto itself.

However, I think it is a mistake to label potters or violinists as dinosaurs.  I'd go so far as to say that the unique voice or perspective is an ideal match for the digital age.  The digital universe thrives on the individual. It is part of the evolution of technology but in the same way that cable TV opened up the broadcast industry to the community and local content, the digital universe is hungry for content providers regardless of size.  In order to survive, it has fashioned itself to accommodate the small provider as well as large organizations. Take this blog as an example, which is a free platform for a single voice – mine. The digital universe requires a multiplicity of voices.  It is a big monster to feed.  I don't think we should be thinking about slaying the monster.  Just riding it.     
A Neriede nymph has tamed her monster.


  1. This is great... Love it. great potential for a panel discussion, if people are willing to be openly honest about it.

    1. Thanks for adding your voice Gerald! I'd be interested in seeing that panel happen. But I know what you mean about the "honest" part.