The Artist’s Dilemma: Refuse the Addiction of Social Media or Fail at Self-Promotion?

The common belief these days is that, without constant presence and self-promotion on social media platforms, an artist is doomed to obscurity. It can’t be denied that the platforms themselves have encouraged this thinking. But how much success can you expect? Does a constant promotional presence on Facebook, for instance, guarantee that you and your work become more recognizable, and most important, that your posts reach those who want to engage with your artwork or your activities?

Drew Zeiba takes on this topic in his article, “Can You Make It As an Artist in 2018 Without Constantly Plugging Yourself on Instagram?” on Vulture Just what is an artist’s role in society, and does that role include the endless need to self-promote? Zeiba says, “There is a long tradition of artists refusing to play the self-promotion game. Isa Genzken and David Hammons are famous for preferring not to talk to the press; Stanley Brown destroyed his early work and his own image. But in today’s globalized art world, in which collectors buy work based on pictures scrolled through on their phones, isn’t logging off forever rather self-defeating? Refusing to be an artist-as-public figure in the era of social media seems almost reckless — like willful career suppression, if not suicide.” Many cite the addictive quality of social media, and how much time and energy can be wasted on these platforms that is best used in making art.

On the other hand, as Zeiba says, there are those success stories that underscore the uneasy feeling that no artist can afford to unplug entirely: “Brad Phillips is in many ways the poster boy for why artists should be on Instagram. Thanks to the platform, he got a book deal with a prestigious British publisher, mounted solo shows in East Hampton and Oslo, and made direct sales by DM (which means he didn’t have to give a gallery 50 percent).”

But as Phillips himself points out, it is a “double-edged sword”. His article “How Instagram is Changing the Art World,” on Vice talks about the love/hate relationship that he, and other artists, have with Instagram and other social media platforms. Phillips writes, “I have, through Instagram, sold a great deal of work privately to people. I’ve had a solo show in Oslo at Bjarne Melgaard’s gallery. I’ve been included in many group shows. I had a solo show in East Hampton at Harper’s Books. Entirely due to Instagram I’ve had a hardcover book of my drawings published by a reputable English art book imprint. None of the above “developments” in my career, none of the sales, were facilitated by my gallery in New York. That’s not the fault of the gallery. The art world right now is a youth-fetishizing cannibalistic death cult of speculation and interior design masked as progressive painting.”

What is the role of the gallery in this new world? In the past, galleries offered validation, support, protection, promotion. It was the gallery that made the connection to the buyers. For that service they often required 50% of any sales, which while it sounds high to the outside world, was the only way that the gallery could be maintained — especially in an essential city like New York, where real estate costs are quite high and the space for a gallery is an expensive proposition. The gallery owner also needed to make his/her own living through the sale of the artist’s work.

The curators of creativity are being muscled out by these social media platforms. Who, now, is the arbiter of taste in the “art market”? Phillips, again: “Most collectors buy what other people buy, and what other people buy is what is happening right now, today, and if Instagram is anything, it’s an encapsulation and display of the most urgent present moment. Knowing that they can cut out the middle man, knowing that artists will be happy to sell work privately means collectors can arrive at the same point for half the price.” The point worth emphasizing here is that collectors can arrive at the same point for half the price That means that the artist is no better off in terms of profit from sales. It also means that the artist now must be his/her own promotor and curator, a job that was formerly a full-time job for someone else, someone who was devoted to being the social arbiter of artist’s work — and most importantly, who had a more extensive understanding of the artist’s work, and how it was positioned within the history of art movements and styles — a larger picture and a much more erudite approach. That, it can be argued, is a great loss. And, with the artist taking on the work of promotion, where is the time to grow and mature and create as an artist?

Obviously, this is not a new issue. Stephen Sondheim addressed it in Sunday in the Park With George — this situation where creative people find that much of their time is spent in doing everything BUT making art. In “Putting it Together“, illustrates the experience of the creative “market” and its demands on the creative person.

The digital world, however, presents other problems — one being the security of the artwork. Much like the problems with piracy that have plagued the musician or the writer, there is the issue of image theft for the artist who puts work on these platforms. Phillips bemoans this for himself and his colleagues, “But a key issue artists are coming up against now, myself included, is the loss of control over the imagery we post. Our work is screenshot, then disseminated without consent. In an age where a JPEG has almost as much value as the physical object, this is problematic. Artists I’ve known have had their work taken off Instagram and included in publications without being compensated, never mind notified. But at least there their work is identified as their own. Straight up duplication and theft is equally common. I’ve seen my own art recirculated back to me without credit or worse, credited to a stranger. Some people think artists should be flattered by imitation but in the end it just makes it harder to use those images later for artwork and there’s the risk of being accused of appropriating your own work after it’s recycled and reposted on the internet thousands of times.”

Another issue is the erratic, unfathomable application of censorship rules on these platforms. Many artists complain of having work flagged, or removed, or having accounts taken down completely even when the work does not violate whatever the terms of the platform might be. There are often no humans with whom you can speak. There are often no clear reasons for the haphazard ways in which the “rules” are applied. Censorship, it appears is visited upon women artists much more often than upon men, for instance.

Zeiba speaks about the response of artist Jake Borndal, who quit Instagram, citing several issues, addiction being among them. He quit Instagram when he quit smoking. Borndal also wants to remind everyone that these platforms, in particular Instagram, which seems to lend itself so well to the visual, is anything BUT a creative space. Writes Zeiba, “It is a space bound by certain social, aesthetic, and user-agreement constraints, all of them prescribed either top-down by Instagram design or policy, or more amorphously by cliquish consensus among a segment of users, in turn shaping the kind of content that might be made and shared.”

Bottom line: for the so-called benefits that might be offered through the use of these social media platforms, the loss — of time, of creative freedom, of quiet and personal rumination time — may just be too high. What does that mean for artists in these current times? Might there be other ways in which artists can find each other?….can find their audience? One suggestion: might we begin to think seriously about creating our OWN social media platforms where artists, writers, musicians, performers, can gather, can curate the work of each other, can provide a sort of gallery/performance space? Might there then be the possibility to address such issues as piracy, since these platforms are created by, run by and meant to benefit the artists themselves?

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Arts for Assets Sake

What’s Art Good For? Apparently, for collateral.

It is long known that the “art market” is filled with speculators and asset hounds who are hoovering up the “hot” artists not for aethestic purposes but as investment. The horror stories of what that has done to the art world abound. But I confess, I had to read Georgina Adam’s article, “In Debt We Trust” in The Art Newspaper several times before it began to sink in and I started to realize, with horror…..My God…..this is really happening.

Those same investors who have been turning the art world into a kind of Thunderdome are now part of an increasing trend: Art-secured lending. What does this mean? It means that the owners of art-as-asset are now borrowing against that art in yet another layer of frenzy – creating a bourgeoning market for lenders smokin’ hot to get in on the action.

Adam writes, “Warhol or a Wool hanging on your wall may give you great pleasure, but it used to be that art gave you no monetary return—unless you sold it….No longer. Today that work of art can remain on your wall and at the same time give you cash in hand, allowing you to buy more art, inject some money into your business, cover a guarantee at auction or pay off an urgent tax demand.”

If you have any doubt that this is becoming a huge market, “…according to a report published last year by Deloitte and ArtTactic, in 2017 the global total of loans outstanding against art was eye-popping: between $17bn and $20bn.”

Piles and stacks of money – coins and US dollars.

Evan Beard, who is a national art services executive at US Trust claims that “the market” of art-buyers are less likely to purchase art for aesthetic purposes, but as what he called a “strategic asset”.

Aside from the overwhelming nausea and disgust I feel toward the kind of people who treat the creative effort of the arts community as little more than a stock option, I have questions about what this means for the artist him/herself. It has long disgusted me that art is sold, resold, sold again, auctioned — and that the rising prices of any given piece of art do not benefit the creator of that work of art, but those who “own” it through purchase. It seems to me that some portion — if not the lion’s share — of the increasing value of a work of art should go to the artist or his/her estate. I know that this is distasteful to those who don’t want to monetize art at all — and I understand that completely. But my argument exists within the boundaries of a rapacious capitalist economy, fueled by greed, where it seems that the same, very few, elite at the top of the food chain are the ones who see ALL the increase. If we are forced, as artists, to live in this world, why shouldn’t there be new kinds of contracts upon the sale of a piece of work that withhold a certain portion of any financial increase for the artist alone?

Another question: If these purchasers and speculators of art can borrow against the value of their collection, can an ARTIST borrow against the value of his/her own unsold work? Or is such financialization reserved only for those 1%-ers who play in this game of capitalist roulette?

I’d love to hear from you about this. As visual artists, what do you feel about what has happened to the art market? As collectors, how do you feel about the direction that art-speculation is going?

Defining Creativity

“What is an artist? A provincial who finds himself somewhere between a physical reality and a metaphysical one…. It’s this in-between that I’m calling a province, this frontier country between the tangible world and the intangible one—which is really the realm of the artist.” — Federico Fellini

Questions about creativity, art, the creative process, the artistic life — however you phrase it, the curiosity is based on one thing: the fact that those who do not experience their own creativity are incapable of understanding those who dwell within theirs.

Fellini is right that the artist lives in a liminal world, between dream and manifestation. But so do we all.  The biggest difference is that the artist recognizes that world of liminality; others aren’t aware of the fact that a part of them lives in that place of dreams all the time.

The best way for anyone to understand creativity is for them to be introduced to their own creative energies.

We live in a world that has systematically devalued and destroyed opportunities to experience our creativity.  Standardized testing, rote teaching, drilling and killing — that is too often how our children are “taught”, and with that kind of numbing out, adults rarely have ever felt their own creative energy.  And to live a life without ever having felt your own creative energy surging through your mind and body — well, that’s not living at all.

Pedagogical theorists are, finally, realizing how under-developed our students are when they are denied time to explore creativity.  But after reading mountains of educational theory on “teaching creativity”, I’ve come to the conclusion that none of them know what they are talking about.  Unless you are an artist, you cannot introduce someone to art.  I saw this in the years when I was a residency artist in the state arts council programs.  I remember one day, walking down the hall of a public school in New Jersey, overhearing a kindergarten teacher giving instruction to the children:

“We’ll be drawing pictures of apples today.  And what colors are apples?  They are red, green, yellow.  There are NO purple apples.  No blue apples.  So, let’s be sure that we use the right colors, everybody!”

I wanted to scream.  I wanted to rush into the room and push her out of the way, and tell the children, “YES there are purple apples!  There are blue apples!  There are polka dot and striped apples!  And where are they?  In your imagination!  So draw whatever kind of apples you can imagine!”

It is impossible for a non-artist to teach creativity.  There, I’ve said it.

So what we need is an avalanche of artists, a flood of artists, entering all levels of the population — interacting with the youngest children and the oldest seniors — inviting them to see their own purple apples, to imagine their flavor, to smell their perfume.

Our society needs its artists now more than ever.  They are the shamans who will lead the way into that liminal province, that is the place where all is possible, pre-manifest and yet real.

So how does one begin to experience their own creativity?  Here’s how:

Go find the artists.   Turn off the TV, the computer and the smart phone.  Surround yourself with live art, if only a little bit, each and every day.  Go to an art museum, listen to all kinds of music (not just the kind you are most used to!), learn about the theatres in your area, and buy tickets — or better yet, go to their preview nights, when audience is often invited to view for free.  Watch live dance performance. Go to poetry and literary readings. Attend open mics in your neighborhood.  Read books – all kinds, but especially literary works and poetry.

Carry a notebook in which you can sketch and write.  Consider taking music or singing lessons.  Try acting.  Draw.  Take a pottery class.  Dance — even if it is only in your living room when nobody is watching.   Invest in some inexpensive art supplies – a sketchbook, some pencils, maybe some water color.  Buy a cheap camera and start taking pictures.  Buy a box or two of those magnetic word poetry kits and play with word combinations on your refrigerator each morning, as you wait for your tea or coffee to be finished.

Buy yourself a copy of THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron and read it.  Do the exercises.  Follow her guidance.

Hang out with artists.  Get to know some of the people in your community who are involved in the arts, and spend time with them.  Get involved with what they do.  Your life will begin to change.  It will widen, and suddenly feel more infused with energy.

YOU will feel more alive.  You’ll realize that artists are all around you, and that the world is filled with creative wonder.  You’ll begin to feel the flow of that creative energy moving  around and through you.  You’ll never need to ask again, “What is creativity?”  You will know for yourself, and it will feel wonderful.