Artists draw on their life experience, technical abilities and interpretive skills to present a view of the world around them. The range of media in which creative artists work is extremely broad and includes painting, sculpture, graphics, music, cinema, theatre, ballet, opera and literature. A work of art may be a unique object (a statue, musical instrument, painting or piece of ceramics), a product that can be reproduced for mass consumption (a book, film or musical recording), or a live event (an orchestral, dance or ballet performance, a poetry reading or a play). We access these various artistic products in different ways. Precious objects are collected in museums or galleries, which are both social spaces and civic investments. Opera houses, concert halls, public parks, multiplex cinemas and rock-and-roll clubs are also social spaces, whether in private or public ownership.
Books have been a source of private enjoyment since the advent of printing (in the 15th century in Europe), while music recordings have been sold in huge volumes since the development of sound technology and the proliferation of audio systems and formatting possibilities (from vinyl records to cassettes and compact discs). Only recently, DVDs have displaced video cassettes as the dominant means of viewing movies at home. All these replicable products are now being transformed with computer technology. Entire books, films and albums can now be downloaded (legally or illegally) as files to be read, watched or listened to on a home computer or portable device. These developments have not only had a radical impact on traditional ways of experiencing art (the social context), they have also transformed the dynamics of artistic production and consumption in equally profound ways (economic and proprietary contexts).
The world’s first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant, appeared on the streets of London in 1702. Published by Samuel Buckley, the newspaper restricted itself to the publication of news and facts, without opinion pieces. Operating on a model still imitated today, the newspaper sold advertising space in its columns to generate revenue and, importantly, to avoid direct political interference with the published content. And while it is safe to say that many of today’s private media enterprises enjoy a great deal of independence in publishing without direct government interference, the need to generate revenue and stay afloat as a business operation has far-reaching effects in terms of what journalists may or may not write or publish. Nearly all news publications attract a particular readership that is based precisely on which facts and points of view are regularly expressed within their pages, whether conservative, liberal or radical, although content and presentation are mainly the responsibility of editors and publishers.
As in the world of art, computer technology has turned the traditional media landscape on its head. Print media are ceding ground to online news publications. Journalists who once spent the majority of their working day outside the newsroom chasing down sources or following a lead or scoop can nowadays track events via online sources, correspond by email or cell phone, and string together information gathered without having to leave their desk. Stories can be published online immediately without first needing to be laid out amidst other content and sent to the printer.
These developments have obvious advantages — both for the journalist and the reader — although there are significant drawbacks in terms of the journalistic profession. Publishers assume that the vast majority of online news consumers have less and less patience to read lengthy, in-depth reports about major issues. They therefore invest fewer resources in employing journalists to research and write investigative content, preferring "clickable" pieces that are easy on the eye and easy to digest. With fewer serious journalists employed within the major media, the quality of journalism suffers, which tends to result in broad swathes of society being less capable of thinking critically, and therefore more susceptible to propaganda and semantic manipulation. In other words, ideal conditions are created for would-be authoritarian governments and unscrupulous advertisers. Nevertheless, in vibrant democracies journalists occupy an elevated position in people’s minds — they are seen as people with deeply held ethical principles and an unquenchable desire to discover and reveal the truth.