Blog / 2023 / More and More Difficult

June 13, 2023

Is it me or is it getting harder to be an artist? I mean: am I getting soft in my middle age, or has the creative life actually gotten more difficult? Especially in the last five or ten years, it feels like every opportunity is behind a paywall and managed by an algorithm that never values what’s most valuable.

I’m both horrified and relieved to say that, going by what Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow present in their new book Chokepoint Capitalism, it isn’t just me. Worse still: I’ve vastly underestimated the problem.

It’s not just the fact that, back in the early days of social media, you could post something and be sure that everyone who followed you would automatically see it, wherever it appeared chronologically in their timeline. It’s that the tech companies who own your feed and your friendships have specifically designed the latest versions of social media to keep all the value for themselves. They know that you depend on the access they provide to your audience and they’re going to make sure that they create a chokepoint in communications between the you and them—a chokepoint that they’ll leverage for payment, like when Facebook insists that you buy ads in order to get more engagement with your posts.

And it’s not just social media that uses this model. They’re all in on it. I’m talking about Amazon, Spotify, and any other company that holds a large share of a creative market by acting as a platform for writers, musicians, and every kind of creative to connect with an audience. They capture an audience by creating proprietary formats of the work, like the way that Amazon uses a variety of tricks to make their e-books function only with Kindle. Once someone has built a library of Kindle e-books, the idea of abandoning it feels wrong. In a fairer world, a person would be able to read the texts that they’ve purchased using any device or app—after all they do own the e-book! But Amazon doesn’t want fair: they want to control everyone’s experiences, ideally by making it impossible for people to leave and take their books with them.

As you may have guessed, reading Chokepoint Capitalism was the opposite of relaxing, but I still recommend the book, if only so that we all understand better what we’re up against.

painting process for a tuxedo cat, painted by Gwenn Seemel
painting process for Poe’s portrait

And with the book suggestion, I give you this lounging tuxedo cat. Poe is his name, and I hope that he can be the antidote to the anxiety that Chokepoint Capitalism will surely provoke in you. May you find your inner Poe as you read, remembering that the tech giants and the wildly unjust system that props them up can’t steal your peace. (Not yet, anyway!)

tuxedo cat lounging goofily, acrylic painting by pet artist Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on panel
12 x 9 inches

Poe’s portrait already has a forever home—it was commissioned by Poe’s adoring humans—but there are prints and t-shirts in my Redbubble shop.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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