OTwo Co-Editor, Lucy Cleere, reflects on the consequences of social media and the Internet on the realm of art.
As the never-ending grip of social media continues to permeate through seemingly every aspect of our personal and professional lives, what can be said for individual artists who possess innate talent for their craft, but lack the skills or interest to market themselves in our digital age?
With the advent of social media consuming the lives of modern humans, it is easy to forget that this technology, in this form, has only been around for a little over 10 years. What happened to the focus on the wonderful things that make life worth living and continuously questioning? Art in all its forms – music, literature, painting, and sculpture – have impacted our species for an incomprehensible amount of time, before the grips of modern technology took hold. And so, the question is, can creativity and modern technology, in particular social media, work simultaneously?
Art in all its forms – Music, literature, painting, and sculpture have impacted our species for an incomprehensible amount of time, before the grips of modern technology took hold. And so, the question is, can creativity and modern technology, in particular social media, work simultaneously?
Social media allows artists to market their work free of charge. This is something that is particularly useful for the promotion of small artists who need to ‘get their foot in the door’ without risky investments. Not too long ago, smaller independent artists would have had to rely on excess income to allow their work to be advertised in print or through paid exhibitions. In this new age you just have to sell your soul to social media instead!
“According to the Hiscox online art trade report 2023, Instagram is still rising as the leading social media for buying Art. Instagram use by art buyers is rising – 74% in 2023, from 71% in 2022. In 2023, 29% of art buyers bought directly via Instagram, increase from 21% in 2022. Consequently, it is almost mandatory for artists to use it” (Very Private Gallery).
While Instagram used to be a source of endless inspiration in many forms, there has undoubtedly been a shift in the past few years, namely beginning with the quick ads that flash between stories, and continuing with the ‘subtle’ change from the profile button under your index finger to this ‘Instagram shop’ that was introduced but quickly disbanded. But hey, your work can reach an audience in a few short clicks, so what's not to love?
Yet, the algorithm. “The success of our work is being dictated by minor biases put into algorithmic code that have self-reinforced over time by repeated iteration” (Ming Thein, Social media algorithms are limiting creativity and subliminally controlling your world view). In other words, what is determined as popular from a general public standpoint will be perpetuated throughout social media. But who gets to decide what is popular? Can art survive in an age where we are only shown a biased, succinct and tiny portion of the artistic content which is available online? “The strong gets exponentially stronger and diversity withers through simple neglect” (Thein). And what is art without diversity? Creativity is being stifled by general popularity, which has never been the purpose of art. In the interest of earning an income, artists are more often forced to make the difficult choice between what feels natural to create and what is popular.
Can art survive in an age where we are only shown a biased, succinct and tiny portion of the artistic content which is available online?
It appears that the artist and the social media influencer are not mutually exclusive anymore. There is an unspoken set of rules given to every artist starting their influencer journey; Post often, post regularly, follow trends, hashtag what is popular, follow similar accounts. It almost sounds like the perfect formula to market your work to a large audience and increase sales. And this does work, some of the time. But what is the artist sacrificing?
Genuine creativity is at a risk of being completely swallowed whole by what is popular or trending, with artists having to sacrifice more regularly what they love to do to cater to a certain audience in order to increase sales. And for many, it may never even happen either way. It’s the luck of the draw, or, the luck of the algorithm. For artists already struggling, what could be worse for stifling creativity than becoming increasingly and anxiously aware that their art, often spent years developing, has for some inexplicable reason a very low level of engagement and sales.
Local artist Elma Kharaghani from Bennettsbridge, Kilkenny, kindly shared her experiences of social media with me. Elma says that her “Experiences over the past few years have certainly been mixed.” She comments that during lockdown, social media was an invaluable outlet for artists to continue to gather inspiration for their various crafts, and many tutorials helped in the process of developing original style when there was little inspiration to draw from elsewhere. In a sense, this has continued into our post pandemic era, but that “there is nothing quite like direct contact with a tutor.”
Kharaghani discussed certain popular forms of art trending online that have been tried by artists in an attempt to make money quickly, one of these being the ‘pouring method.’ This technique is as it sounds; layers of brightly coloured paint poured directly onto a blank canvas, flowing on and outwards, the result being a satisfying swirl of layered colours. In Kharaghani’s own experience she has “tried this [herself] and [she’s] quit. It’s unpredictable, it’s expensive, it’s not environmentally friendly and in some cases if not used straight away, paints will spoil.” This introduces yet another debate surrounding how ethical some of these trends perpetuated by social media actually are. In her opinion, social media could be used in more beneficial ways. Artists promoting their work should be more conscious about using environmentally friendly materials and sustainable practices, rather than money making schemes that are detrimental to the environment.