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  • Writer's picturePiotr

Artist IRL

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

How many likes did you get for your most recent art post on Instagram? How many comments? How did they make you feel? Do you have many followers? Do you follow other artists? How long ago did you join the platform? Do you know any good hashtags? A lot of concerns have already been expressed about the ways social media transform our brains, about how it became a grand monetization machine that feeds off of instant gratification, instant reactions and instant attention. Feel free to scavenge the abyss of the world wide web to find articles written by psychology and sociology experts of the world on the subject. They are EVERYWHERE!

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I joined Facebook long time ago. I use it mostly for playful musings and enjoyment of looking into what some of my friends are up to. Posting art on Facebook has been resulting in awkward silence or mildly strange and irrelevant reactions. That’s why joining Instagram in 2019 seemed like a good idea, especially when the Covid-19 lock down limited the outlets for showing artwork to audiences.

I have been using Instagram for only a few years and as of today I have only(?) 530 followers, many of whom are silent. I receive more or less regular reactions from only a handful of regulars, occasional likes from the outside of my list and last but not least, the likes and comments from the Hyenas of Instagram: the entrepreneurs, the attention peddlers, the nifty NFT schemers and social media savants promising me God knows what if I only find a moment to DM them about a once in a lifetime collaboration opportunity. Then there are periods of silence when it seems like my art posts are either too inadequate to merit any kind of reaction or hidden from my followers. I tend to lean towards the latter. Why do I even care? Shouldn’t I just focus on enjoying my art in solitude the way I’ve always done? That’s exactly the problem. Problem #1 with posting art on social media: REACTIONS TO ART ON SOCIAL MEDIA BECOME THE ONLY MEASURE OF ITS WORTH OR SUCCESS. Solution to the problem may be a simple periodic reminder that when we post art on Instagram, we are showing it to an audience of squirrels scrolling through multiple posts always looking forward to the next one down. With this instant gratification state of mind, the reception of an art piece may be too quick and superficial. To understand what it means, just look at your own self using a social media platform. What is your attention span then? I have noticed that paintings with more contrasting color combinations like red and green tend to score more likes than deep reflections on existence maintained in more subdued tones. Sorry Mr Rembrandt, make way for Mr Matisse! But is flamboyant Matisse inherently superior to gloomy Rembrandt? It can’t be determined of course until tastes seize to be subjective. So before allowing the number of likes determine the fate of your work, ask these questions: - what time of day (week?) was it posted? There are certain times when the traffic on social media spikes. It’s something like before 9 AM on Wednesdays and Sunday afternoons - I can’t remember. The most fervent popularity contest strategists are serious about posting at the right time strictly because of how many more reactions they can harvest. - was there a cute animal in the frame? Yes, an adorable cat photo-bombing your abstract painting can boost the number of likes tenfold. Yet another proof that likes don’t determine the artistic value of the piece. - was your artwork colorful or complex in shape? Cool complex shapes and colors make happy! You can post a bunch red, orange, blue, green blobs and get more likes than Anselm Kiefer ever would for his gloomy monochromes.

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It’s not easy to restrain our monkey brain from seeking an instant reward. Posting half baked quickies even before the paint dries, is becoming a compulsion. As long as there is funky hashtag and fresh color, slightly modified with filters, the likes, fire emojis and comments should flow in fast enough. It should keep my art ego going for another 24 hours! Here lies the problem #2 with posting art on social media: INSTAGRAM IS... INSTANT. NOT TAKING ENOUGH TIME FOR THE PROJECTS TO MATURE AND DEVELOP BEFORE THEY ARE CONSIDERED FINISHED AND READY TO SHOW. Posts on Instagram expire rapidly, even faster than organic produce that withers and dies on the conveyor belt even before it gets scanned and paid for. First few minutes is all that counts. That's when our post appears on top of the feed to be soon topped by fresher and more exciting posts. Sadly the end of that brief honey moon is often met with a feeling of emptiness. It almost feels as if not the post but the artwork itself lost its shine like a sea shell brought home from tropical vacation. Possible solution to problem #2 might be creating a cut off time: a period in which we ban ourselves from posting while working on a series. It’s perfectly fine to post updates on a Work In Progress as long as it is clearly defined as such (#wip). However, even then, constant updates may be distracting and could influence the way our project develops especially when we allow the likes and comments influence the process. (See problem #1) “This one didn’t get enough likes to continue” is a sure way to put a stop to potentially brilliant art projects. “This one got many likes! I better focus on this one!” Is a recipe for shaping a series or perhaps the entire body of work for the wrong reasons and based solely on the tastes of the cat loving audience with feeble attention spans. Here comes problem #3 with posting art on social media which is somewhat related to the problem #1. DISTRUST IN ONE’S OWN JOURNEY AND TOO MUCH RELIANCE ON THE PUBLIC TASTES AND A TOTAL DISCONNECT WITH OUR OWN INNER ARTIST. Henry Darger created his grand opus in a crammed apartment in a Chicago housing project. His elaborate and bizarre watercolors have been found after his death and became one of the most iconic examples of American art. Darger never knew what it was like to experience a reaction to his work from the outside world. He stack with his vision in isolation without any external judgement. But his isolation wasn’t total. It was merely one sided because when it comes to the input, Darger derived a lot of his inspirations from newspaper comic strips, literature and the predominant art trends of his time. In turn Darger closed off the valve of output totally. No one was meant to witness his private work. How many brilliant artists of this kind are still out there today in the era of Instagram? It’s impossible to tell because they create in secret and their work may never see the light of day. Henry Darger’s example is the opposite extreme to the contemporary artists on Instagram but it might be an example that still yields better results because the reactionary nature of relying on social media reacts is not influencing the work in any way. I couldn’t come up with a convincing segue to highlight perhaps the most pressing problem with posting art on Instagram. It may seem pretty obvious but: Problem #4 with posting art on social media: ART ON INSTAGRAM IS NOT ORIGINAL, NOR DOES IT MEASURE 2 INCHES ACROSS. The experience of a large painting by Cy Twobmbly will be hugely different in person from viewing it on a browser or even as a reproduction. Unless the artwork is largely conceptual or web based, many if not most creations are best experienced in real life. Posts on Instagram look tiny and cute and the colors seen on a glowing screen seem much more saturated. It can either be advantageous or detrimental for the artwork. I’ve often felt disappointed when live viewing art that I’ve grown to admire in a reproduction and vice versa: I've appreciated an artwork only after witnessing it in person. (Nick Cave comes to mind from the top of my head). Solution to this problem could be to expect that the JPEGs are featured in social media just as a promotional preview. When we react to an artwork on Instagram, we often react to its postage stamp sized proxy, not to an original piece. If we remember to always take it into account, we will feel better about our own art and about art in general. Go! See the original artwork whenever you can! That includes your favorite Instagram artists. You may become even more amazed or... disappointed... which is all okay. Conclusion Social media is a relatively newly introduced tool. When a new thing makes an appearance in the world, humans tend to misuse it at first until they familiarize themselves with the “user’s manual” and potential side effects of misuse. There is no “user’s manual” for social media of course, so we need to learn to use it by trial and error. For my part I will try to keep in mind that oversharing art on Instagram is (mis)shaping and shallowing my creative experience. Implementing certain restrictions might help with controlling the compulsions of relying on the instant reward of likes as well as the feeling of utter failure when the artwork doesn’t receive too many thumbs up. Unplugging for a while and learning how to control the instant gratification monkey, will help us develop deeper practice because in order to create a deep practice free of distractions, we all need to become a Henry Darger even if for a little bit without showing our work to no human or if possible showing it to our humans in its original form IRL.

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