Art and Content

I’m rolling around a motto for myself that goes like this: “Make art, not content”.

I’ve noticed (and you likely have too) the wholesale adoption of the word “content” across a variety of creative media over the past few years, and I wonder about the effects of a linguistic shift of this sort.

We each have a definition of “art”, and they’re all likely unique. And that’s one of the things that makes art, well, art.

But “content” has a pretty uninspiring definition to me. To be content, something just needs to fill a container. A song can be content. So can walnuts. In the context of today’s world, the container we are filling is the unyielding social media consumption machine. And that isn’t great.

Or is it fine? Am I worrying about this instead of sitting down to do my work?

I’d love to roll these thoughts around with this community. Do you feel like this linguistic shift is meaningful or important? Is this simply the newest iteration of the long-standing Art vs Craft* question in Aesthetic Philiosphy?

*if I’m recalling Aesthetics 101 properly (and I may not be) the argument being that a handmade and intentional bit of pottery occupies the “art” end of the spectrum, while a mass-produced live/love/laugh mug procured at Michael’s occupies the “craft” end of the spectrum. And of course there are many flavors in the middle.


I find it sad and troubling to be so limiting as a defining term just as you described. I come at this primarily from the visual art side of things, but I think it all aligns pretty well. There are things that are content in my mind (unboxing videos, and things of that nature). Generally they tend to be things that are pseudo-advertising hiding as ‘creative’ work. That’s not to say that there is not creativity in those videos, but the general tonality does not align with my personal definition of artworks. The most disappointing effect I’ve seen of this is my younger students being exposed to and utilizing this language and effectively reducing the value of their work “what’s your original content” as opposed to I created this entire character design and supporting world through worldbuilding.

It’s especially pronounced in the illustration, animation, comics, and film making students which is no surprise as these fields have been heavily mined in recent years for massculture entertainment profit. To me this shift is a way of looking at the work through the lens of capital instead of meaning, metaphor, emotion, and form.

I think this distinction is slightly different than the traditional art vs. craft discussion which tends to pit quality of execution and tactile skills VS concept, idea, and intention. To me this new distinction is more about framing up ways to profit vs open creativity.

A quick answer, but curious to hear what other folks say.
I can say that I constantly challenge students on this terminology in the classroom nearly every week.


To me “content” implies a different level entirely on top of an art or craft.

It’s advertising. For a corporate or “personal” brand.

Content, that’s what you’d call it
An infant screaming in every room in your gut
– Parquet Courts “Content Nausea” (2014)


Agreed. I think it’s also a market segment. Do you identify as a “content creator”? Then you probably need the following products.

Neutralizing the word and any associated activities also makes some capitalistic sense in the context of platforms designed for the advertising-engagement feedback loop. Like youtube, and all the others.


“Creator” is another word substitution that’s happening on a large scale. And it’s replacing the word “artist”.

I should also add that a kind of distribution platform is inherent to the idea of “content” for me. Again, it needs a container. What I’m saying is that I have not yet heard anyone referring to live performance attended in person as “content”. There is no container.


Like the denigration of the word “craft” as (in the 90s at least) essentially: a person who shops at a craft store.

Or “maker” in the 'augties being cooped as someone who buys things at shops associated with make magazine and the like.


I agree with the above thoughts, that the difference between a content and art is that art is the primary goal of itself and serves itself, whereas content is the byproduct of content producing.

I think that the line is subtle with a lot of overlap, and I get the idea that this is one of the things Warhol was addressing in his work.

Why does hip hop suck in ‘96, and why do synth demo tracks made by YouTubers suck in ‘21?


Content has a lot of off putting commodification connotations, but I actually kind of like the word creator. At best (and ignoring its links to ‘content’), it sidesteps some of the hierarchical/gatekeepery implications or dividing lines between art, craft, skill, creativity, documentation, medium, etc.

“What do you do?”
“I create”

Though I suppose artist can do that as well. I used to think of myself as a composer who made scores. Now I think of myself as an artist who usually works with sound.



I teach about this and joke with my students that I will be “triggered” if they use the term content (nb: this is in a setting where we take content notes very seriously).

For me, the problem with “content” isn’t just advertising, but as bait for advertising. In other words, it’s based in the idea that a channel, platform, or container has value. What fills it does not, whether that’s artworks of peoples everday talk. This is how financialization works, and why so many media industries and creative fields are messed up. I want to live in a world where the art and everyday talk (and journalism, and games, and and) are treated as the important things. Really for me it boils down to about valuing people over money.


Is art media? Capitalism likes to insist as much.

If so, the larger cultural response to art as media would follow McLuhan’s maxim: The medium is the message. Meaning that what you have presented (and perhaps the way you have created it) is more important and then any content.

The focus on content is the equivalent of a “market watch”, as one would see how financial tech or fossil fuel stocks are selling.


I wish more of content was walnuts though. I love walnuts.

Great insights above from everyone, thanks for opening this discussion and taking it to fruitful directions.


really, really good organic walnuts direct from a very special orchard


What bugs me about “content” is, it makes it sound like the content of that content doesn’t actually matter, it’s just the filling for a capitalism sandwich and you could plug any other “content” into that space.


[…] it’s based in the idea that a channel, platform, or container has value. What fills it does not, whether that’s artworks or peoples everyday talk.

Great insight.

Am I worrying about this instead of sitting down to do my work?

I don’t feel distracted from doing or making personally. But it does still feel like I’ve been conditioned by social media to obsess over the like-counter that comes along with sharing (“content” about) what I’ve done, whether that is a link to a new recording or a new script posted here. It’s satisfying at first because you feel appreciated, but then it becomes obsessive and leads to bad patterns of re-checking for me. Lasting satisfaction comes from talking and connecting, not clicking a button. Waiting for the likes to come in diminishes the fulfillment that was already there for me.

To be honest I’ve mostly ditched social media but I see some of the same patterns here in Discourse. A script announcement or update posted here can act similarly to “content”. I’ve just disabled all “like” notifications here, I think I’ll be happier for it :slight_smile:


20 chars of “make discontent”


Content is food for a $ machine. It doesn’t devalue in and of itself, but it does contextualize.


This has been mentioned above, but i think definitely important to detangle notions of ‘authenticity’ or ‘expression’ from at art <-> content conversation.

I think we’ve received a lot of conceptual baggage via short cultural memory in terms of received wisdom of ‘the arts’ as interchangeable with ‘the fine arts’ via the 20th century.

Put another way, the idea that art is personal, expressive, transcendent, insightful or a space for institutional critique is def important, but not always universal, and maybe obscures a larger inflection point we’re in currently.

Bach was a ‘content creator’ for the church. Red Bull Music Academy was a patron king with strong curational taste. This could mean 1) everything is superficial and bleak. or 2) we should ask what other ‘modes’ or functions can art making bring us in terms of making context rather than ‘content’ (I’m thinking of the Bauhaus, AACM, Harvestworks, DIY all over, etc)

I think about this one often too: Adam Curtis on the dangers of self-expression – The Creative Independent


Now Is The Winter Of Our DisContent


i found this really challenging in a useful way, thank you for sharing.


I’ll offer a half-hearted defense of the term “content”. While I admit that the term was jarring to me initially, I think it is, in fact, the most accurate term to hold all the things people using it want it to encompass.

For example, I watch edited video of funny people playing video games while making jokes, talking about pop culture, and commenting on the game. This doesn’t feel like art to me (not to say there isn’t an art to making it; it’s much more difficult than it appears). It might be “entertainment”?

But then there are also people (including some on this forum) who make video describing how to accomplish different musical styles, or show different musicians making music from the same sample, or demonstrate novel effects a particular piece of equipment can produce. That doesn’t feel like “art”, and while it might be entertaining, it’s a bit off to call it entertainment, perhaps?

Or consider people who examine scientific concepts and attempt to explain them to a broader audience. And so on. For whatever reason, the people who make such things appear to have settled on the term “content” for what they make.

So, to mattlowery’s point, there does appear to be a difference to these terms, and you are certainly free to make what you like, and call it what you like. I, too, am more interested in making art than content, at least for the time being; whether I can be said to be even making art is for others to decide :slight_smile:

On a side note, I think media consumption is something we all do, right? So I’m not sure why creating media for others to enjoy is somehow suspect, which some of the comments seem to imply? Bringing pleasure to other people is a beautiful thing.

But I’d be interested in diving into the question of what the difference is; when is a thing art, and not content?


I think about this question a lot. Especially in light of the 1976 movie Network, where the character played by Faye Dunaway it’s wholly consumed with her career as a content creator. To the point to where she values content over human life and her relationships.

By the end of the film, her lover (Max, played by William Holden) critiques her behavior by pointing out that she has become “television incarnate”… which is a pretty interesting critique of our current culture as a whole.

To be living incarnations of the institution of TV has serious consequences for both people and art. Max sums it up thus:

“Indifferent to suffering; insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death are all the same to you as bottles of beer. And the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy. You even shatter the sensations of time and space into split seconds and instant replays. You’re madness, Diana. Virulent madness. And everything you touch dies with you.”