Art VS The Internet

19/01/2022

Since we've had the ability to host teeny little images on the internet, artists have been posting their scribbles to it, hobbyists and professionals alike. DeviantART arrived in the year 2000, SheezyArt in 2003 and countless sites dedicated to art have been born and died throughout the years.

And yet, right now? We kinda have absolutely nothing. DeviantART is a shell of its former self, ArtStation is mainly a professional portfolio site, SheezyArt's revival site is shutting down at the end of next month... So instead, artists turn to social media to post their work.

Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, whatever else the kids are using these days. Not a single one of them were designed with artists in mind, but they host images and sorta-kinda work, so we put up with it. When competing with photos and short bits of text in ability to be thrown out quickly, art will always lose. Starting out on these platforms is especially galling, as you don't have any built-in audience to promote your stuff, you have to do it yourself. Over and over again... If you're not posting daily, your art will disappear in a sea of relatable posts and memes. And that's a tragic thing to happen to something that might've taken you hours or days to complete. Let alone in the current age where short videos are becoming more and more the norm. If I see another digital artist filming their tablet screen with their phone in the hopes that they get likes, I will scream.

And it hurts, it does. But the simple fact is that artists are not the intended userbase for these sites. They're places where people put their thoughts and photos of their lunch and pets. The algorithms will always favour that content because it keeps the feed going. It keeps site traffic up, which keeps investors happy. Posting once a week isn't good enough when the sole aim of a platform is to keep a user's timeline as busy as possible.

So what do we do about this?

Returning to SheezyArt, where I mentioned the revival site. In 2021, one person decided to build an art website, based on SheezyArt, which had died in 2013. The URL is sheezy.art, if you want to check it out before it shuts down completely. Because yes, it's closing. It experienced a huge influx of users in December of 2021 and January of this year, from 600 users to 4000 in around 32 hours, and it simply could not cope. Here's the announcement post, if you'd like to see the explanation directly from the admin. I very much understand the influx, as I've said, artists do not have anywhere really to go. A lot of people (including myself) were excited at the prospect of having a functional gallery site that actually cared about the artists that posted on it. But that was its downfall. Huge sites are not stable, they're not viable. Let alone when thousands of people are uploading countless glossy PNGs on it. Gigantic social media sites and such are held up by huge numbers of servers and hundreds of staff, and are financed for by investors and advertisers. The kind of art sites we might want don't have that luxury.

Want to quickly mention Toyhou.se because it's relevant. TH is a website for people to create character profiles. You can creat bios, upload art and writing, link characters together, and create worlds to organise your characters into. It's a really good site, it's dedicated to artists, it's built by artists, and it works real nicely. How has it done this in such a strange climate? It's closed, you need a code to make an account, and codes are generated by premium members. So, for every member that joins, someone else has technically paid for it. It also of course slows down the speed in which new accounts are created. Another example of a functional art site would be ArtFight.net, which I mucho recommend for making art friends. While AF isn't closed like TH is, it is a site with a very specific use, and it sees most of its traffic in one month of the year. (and it invariably crashes during this time at least once,,) It also doesn't allow guests to view galleries, you have to make an account, which probably helps reduce wear and tear on the servers.

To recap, the modern, commercial web is poison to artists, and the list of websites for them to use without being pummelled by algorithms is getting shorter by the minute. Is there a solution? Maybe. I dunno, I'm not smart.

Here's my suggestion. Art portals. Small gallery sites dedicated to specific genres or styles, that link to one another. Before huge gallery sites became the norm, that's how you showed your art to the world without making your own site. You requested to join an art portal. Some of them were automated, and others you literally emailed your drawings to the webmaster and they'd upload them. Go looking for an old fansite on angelfire or geocities.ws sometime, you might just find a fanart section where others had emailed in to be included on it. Also if you like animal people, check out the Yerf Archive, which I will never stop talking about ever.

Part of leaving the modern, commercial web mindset behind is leaving behind the concept of gigantic websites where everyone and their mum has an account. You don't have to hop onto the next big thing, or get the best url or most searchable handle. There are more viable, stable options for normal people to actually take part in. Worrying about not being able to communicate with people if you're not there on a specific website is an issue caused by walled gardens, too, we already had a universal form of communication across the web right from the start, it's called E-Mail.

The way I want to look at it all is this. I think sheezy.art hit 10k users before they closed down registration? That's 10,000 artists looking for a place to call home. That's a lot of potential personal sites creators or art portal users. We expect one site to suit all our needs, but that's not how the internet has ever worked. There's a reason furry art sites are more likely to survive, and it's because they're the only people who've had the sense to specialise at all. One site with one admin for 10k people is insane, but 10 sites with 1k users? More manageable. Let alone if you had more options. Which you totally could.

Not sure how to end this ramble. So I'll just cut it here.

Peace and loveeee

- Caby