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Artists of all stripes have bought into the idea that they have to be engaged online to promote their work and stand out in a crowded marketplace. Some slide into this role with ease and enthusiasm, putting their best face forward, selling work, asking for donations — even singing songs or reading poetry over the phone to crowdfunders. Other artists, not so comfortable in their digital skins, want to bang their heads against a wall. They secretly wish they were born in a different time — a time when “extending the self” meant chasing a whiskey with a beer, not turning up in crowded, emoticon-filled timelines.

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We’ve built up a profile of the next-generation artist, and the casual, hobby artist, too: She is entrepreneurial, a little bit socialist, passionate, progressive, and engaged. And some real love is being thrown her way. Jeff Koons says that the most stimulating thing you can do as an artist is to keep everything in play. The new artist is extended, online and in the real world, speaking, teaching, being heard and seen, and reciprocating this love by sharing and connecting.

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We live in an age that is addicted to reality, and hungry to grab it, claim it, divine it, and shape it. Politicians are claiming it. Artists are claiming it. Poets are wholeheartedly embracing it. Social media personalities are creating their own realities — and then inspiring others to inhabit them. It’s a crowded scene, and getting even more so with technological “enhancements” — such as virtual reality and augmented reality. Artists are rightly fearful and hopeful at the same time.

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The personal is always deeply personal on British television, like a tightly wound Greek drama. Characters who look and act like real people, not models or heroes, find themselves at the centre of morality plays, where you can feel the fates at work. Self-knowledge can be won, but the price is steep, as every deep line and twitch on characters’ faces show. The British crime drama is an elemental land of fates and furies. The sky is never an upbeat blue, but a threatening, unforgiving grey. This is where I want to live in art.

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Almost all of the arts rely on illusion. Its capacity to seduce was one of the crucial reasons why Plato distrusted the arts for much of his life. But when the arts are held up to the bracing light of reality, it’s novels that usually fall short — not movies, which are the textbook case of grand illusions. That may be one of the reasons why the defense of fiction is so unrelenting lately. Every day new findings are released showing that reading novels boosts empathy, helps us see the way others do, reduces stress, lifts self-esteem, and makes us better human beings. And those are just table stakes. Fiction is taking its last stand against boredom and irrelevance!

Image of man and page - Fictional Man