Phones are ruining art (and artists)

Published on September 27, 2023 by Noah Bradley

Most of the art we look at is on a screen. And not even a screen any more, but now a phone screen. I have met and been confused by some of the younger generation: they don’t own a computer. No desktop, no laptop. Just a phone. Maybe a tablet. This confuses me for many reasons, but that’s not exactly the point I’m trying to get to.

We all look at art on phones and usually on social media. This means that the artists most frequently rewarded on social media are the ones creating art best suited for phone screens. All art, I think, has an optimal scale. Museums are excellent because, well, you’re viewing all of the art at the appropriate scale. Large paintings fill the room and have an astoundingly real presence about them.

But pictures on phones are all tiny. They can be packed with detail, epic beyond imagining, refined and perfected, but they still be the same size as the other guy’s twenty minute sketch.

What wins is not necessarily the best. It is, instead, the most easily consumed. Phones, and social media in cahoots, encourage fast-food art. Not the fine-dining of wandering a museum, but the greasy necessity of drive-through thumb scrolling and tapping.

When the greatest rewards of attention and money go to the artists with the greatest following, who are the people able to most easily capture this fleeting attention, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for art. Their art continues to boil down to the most easily produced, easily consumed sort of images.

I find this really sad. I know it’s not a universal problem–there are hordes of artists making astonishingly fine art out there. Nor am I picking on the people who capitalize on this movement–if you want/need to make money, riding the cultural wave is often the simplest way to do that. I just find it sad.

I want artists, who have invested years and decades in developing skill, to make the best work that they can. Not the work that garners the most likes or follows, but the work that connects with people, that speaks to them, that gives them a brief glimpse of beauty in this fraught world.