Thoughts for Artists in the Golden Age of Social Media

In the words of Anthony Fantano, you know this is just my opinion right?

You are not a machine

It is common knowledge that the planes of social media are inhabited by algorithms that seem to have some kind of voodoo power over its users. Hell, even some of the world’s foremost social media ‘gurus’ are simply working off of presumptions that seem to generate results rather than set in stone procedures. Nothing is guaranteed, much to the dismay of the aspiring artist.

I have read countless articles depicting the correct practice for gaining organic followers for your business and artistic practice. Spanning from correct use of hashtags, to not spamming your posts and thus your profile (as a result) being blacklisted (yes, apparently this is a thing if the legends foretold are true).

Some of the tips seem logical enough, post everyday, whether that be via your instagram stories or Twitter page sharing your thoughts for the day or the things that are currently inspiring you.

Likes are great but apparently comments  are currency on Instagram. So the more you engage with the people commenting on your work in a timely manner, the more likely the rest of your followers will see that very same post higher up in their feed because it’s considered “engaging”.

Don’t post your hashtags as a comment in your post but rather in the description or else Instagram sees it as spam.

Sacrifice an apple ritualistically on the eve of a blood moon and Nike will feature you on their Facebook page because “you got the right stuff”.

Honestly? I have tried my hand at all of these points (except the comments thing) and they might as well equate to urban legends. 

Artists can really benefit from some kind of business acumen. And I think a lot of that is seen in how we strive to garner social media attention. I mean, is it not as simple as “the more people who see my work, the more likely I am to get the attention of someone who could potentially give me my big break”? I think it is a justified way of thinking, but can ultimately backfire and get our priorities severely mixed up. 

In my mind, there is no one size fits all approach here, but I think if we focus too much on the idea of pumping out “content content CONTENT” everyday, we may lose sight of the quality of our work. We essentially end up not creating work for the purpose of following our joy in our craft, the materialization of an exciting idea for a brand or reflecting on the many intricacies of society and the soul, but rather to appease an algorithm. And that is hollow.

That being said, here is a quick list that will get your work in front of more people on social media:

Paid promotions.

Sorry to burst your bubble.

Facebook is a business, plain and simple. What is scary is that, organically, your post will likely reach around 20% of your following. When you use a paid promotion, what is essentially happening is that Facebook and Instagram is marking your post as more engaging, thus reaching more of your established following, but also places it in front of people who might not already follow you. You remember back in The Stone Age of Instagram where you could buy followers? That’s all this is. Except this really is you buying the possibility of organic followers.

I think the bottom line is that even with all these tips in mind, it leads to no guarantee of success. But then again, every artist has a different idea of what they envision success to be for themselves, so take my perspective with a pinch of salt. I think I just want artists to err on the side of caution with becoming social media famous as fast as possible because …

Followers actually mean very little

But how could this be? In the world of social media influencers with tens of thousands of followers getting Wacom tablets for free and artists being bombarded with paid collaboration offers from Adidas and Samsung, how could this not mean something? IT MEANS EVERYTHING!

I would first and foremost like to plainly state that I am not saying that these artists are undeserving of these accolades and opportunities. Of course not. We could never even begin to imagine the journeys they have been on and the amount of blood, sweat and tears they have put into themselves and their art. 

I simply worry that aspiring artists want the fame these more prolific artists have, without putting in the work and being misguided that the number of followers they have defines their worth.

It doesn’t.

I would like to bring up the case of the brilliant Ben Tallon. Never heard of him? That is ok. He is a veteran illustrator from the UK who has been in the industry for more than 12 years. He accounts most of his career’s journey in his book Champagne and Wax Crayons which is a fun and engaging read that highlights some of the do’s and don’ts he has picked up along the way. He aims to pass on these tips to the young creative who is ravenous to make their mark in the world of illustration themselves. He has done work for Manchester United, Nike and Doc Martens. For god’s sake, the man has even worked with The WWE! 

And you know how many followers he has in the time of writing this?

Less than 5K.

5K sounds like a lot, but the reality is those are pipsqueak numbers in comparison to a lot of other artists like Ross Draws or Karabo Poppy, and yet he has a thriving career as a commercial artist.

My point is simply this; having a mass amount of followers is not an accurate marker and representation of your success. Clout may mean something to various amounts of people and businesses, but it is not the be all and end all for artists. 

Within the same breath, I would also urge artists to not evaluate potential clients in the same vein. Without tooting my own horn, I have been commissioned to create artworks for individuals who have paid quite handsomely for my work. They also happen to have less than 100 followers. I have also been approached by individuals with over 10 000 followers who clearly stated they can’t pay a cent for the project. Even the exposure they proposed comes with strict T’s & C’s and actually only benefits them, thus defeating the purpose of doing the work pro bono to begin with.

Keep an open mind, and try not to let numbers affect your judgement and in conjunction, your self worth.

The drive for money & fame will not feed you

I speak a lot about the misgivings of ‘fame’ in this post. But I think there is one overarching thing that breaks my heart. From my perspective, it would seem as though artists are becoming more in love with the idea of fame, rather than the work they are creating.

We want to be the next African Ginger, so we shamelessly copy his style hoping people will follow us in accordance.

Instead of digging deep within ourselves to create a style more unique to us, we follow style trends because it is what is popular at the time and we believe it will get us more job opportunities.

We create artworks piggybacking off of social movements and disasters not solely because we want to show support and resonate deeply with the tragedies, but also because we are hoping (in the back of our minds) that we will gain more recognition and following by doing so.

We desperately beg and plead for more established artists to give us a shout out on their page rather than focusing on putting more energy into making our next project the best it could be.

We are happy to undercut our fellow artists in terms of price and damage the industry because it is another notch in our belt rather than meditating on a qualitative pitch for a brand that we believe we can bring value to.

I could go on forever.

The one idea that always sticks with me and guides me through this very tumultuous journey comes from a dear friend of mine and fine artist Kyra Pape. She said that her craft and her work, no matter what, will always be her first love. 

She finds solace in work. She finds expression in it. She finds playfulness in it. 

Her work feeds her soul. And when you hear her speak about her work, you will fall in love with yours all over again.

I bring this up because we need to continue creating in spite of fame, not because of it.

And that, ironically enough, is when people really start taking notice of what you are doing.