The Social Media Rant: A Brief Review of William Deresiewicz’s “The Death of the Artist”

Oh boy… I thought, after reading a review of this book in The New Yorker, that it might give me a succinct, well-written analysis of the state of art and commerce – my interest being especially in fine art and artist made films – on the internet. After reading articles about the rather ridiculous propositions of sites such as Unsplash, and finding that sharing one’s work on Instagram and Facebook is rather a dead end exercise beneficial to those sites above all, I was hoping for something better from this 300+ page hardcover book (is there even a softcover version) which I bought from of all evil places, Amazon. (Oh dear the author permitted this to be bought on Amazon). Was I wrong.

Written by a former English professor at Yale, as stated on the inside of the jacket cover, is the very first sentence of the first chapter of the book, as follows:

“This is a book about art and money and the relationship between the two and how that relationship is changing and in turn changing art.”

Just like that, running on, no commas. I was left out of breath and already feeling tired, from the very beginning.

Ironically, the rest of the book rambles on and on in a rant that reminded me of a series of Facebook posts. Facebook posts are by their very nature not given to rational, organized or scholarly writing – amateurish spewing, really. Hmmm. Maybe I should have guessed this was going to happen by the dramatic title itself … (Death in Venice? Death of a Salesman? The Deathblow?)

The word “amateur” and every word you could make with it was mentioned so many times, I thought it could become a drinking game. You know, like repeating words in the movie “The Furies,” or “The Man From Laramie.” At least those movies are dated in an amusing way, so throwing back a shot at the mention of “The Furies” or “Laramie” is something that might be fun. More importantly, those movies wouldn’t leave me passed out cold, as in the case of this book, and “amateur.”

“The Death of the Artist” is written in the most casual language, with an uninhibited helping of f-bombs, and other “you’re a writer, couldn’t you have come up with something more original” words of outrage. I wonder if there also must have been a word count requirement for a contract, because the book doesn’t tell me anything that I, and many others who have an interest in these matters over the last 10+ years, don’t already know for the majority of the read. Proposed solutions to how to sell and distribute your work in the digital age are left to the last chapter, starting at page 309.

So, I feel it is absolutely necessary for me, as an artist, to write a Yelp-like review of this book, if only to warn future readers like myself: check this out at the library if you must, but don’t buy it. That is, unless you want to get really wasted drinking shots at every mention of the word “amateur,” and variations of it.

In sum, there’s a reason I prefer long form journalism on current dilemmas in the world to long books like this written by “award-winning” authors.

Artists – that is, people who really KNOW that expression in the arts is their “thing,” and they want to share that with the world to create a dialogue about the human experience – are a hardy, headstrong, and adaptable species. We aren’t going to die out, and we aren’t going to stop doing what we’re doing because that’s who we ARE. Nobody likes to be exploited or taken for a ride. But come on – institutions or tech companies, academia or greedy rich people, liars and dictators and natural disasters are NOT going to stop us. Because we humans are a communicative kind, whether we talk, sing, dance, draw, write or anything else – we do this as children, and we will do this till we die.

And we’ll figure this out, this compensation for our work thing, for our labor and our contribution to the world – without the need for drama, ravings, or drinking games.

Next on my reading list – Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style. Let’s get expression right.

3 thoughts on “The Social Media Rant: A Brief Review of William Deresiewicz’s “The Death of the Artist”

    1. And I mean your post, of course. I don’t see Art on Deresiewicz’ bio; so I don’t understand why he wanted to or thought he should write a 300-page book about it.

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    2. Sylvia – thanks! I don’t know why either, other than that he likes it in general and sees the current state of affairs a concern for its existence. However, the current state of affairs is always fluctuating in terms of fortune for artists. Again, nothing new here. Not that he would have the background for this either – but what I was hoping for in this book was a less a bemoaning and more of a rallying cry, as in, this is wrong but we’ll figure it out – and make the latter something bigger than like, a 40 page chapter at the very end of the book. Instead it felt more like a cathartic release of the kind one encounters on a bad day for a random social media participant. :/ That wiped the whole thing for me, being all too familiar.

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