When Do Artists Need Social Media?

I'm not against social media. But I not completely for it. If you've read any of my previous posts you know I am interested in balance. Where is this coming from? A friend told me about a student who brought a piece to be critiqued. My friend suggested some improvements for the piece: didn't feel it was working. "But," wailed the student, "I got 23 'likes' on Instagram!" Both my friend and I were surprised and a bit sad that this would have such an impact, and what do those "likes" even mean?

I got to thinking about it, two ways. The "likes" are a current form of bonding and social currency. They make us feel connected, perhaps even give us a little jolt of happy. We need those connections. Those little pellets keep us going. Life is hard enough as it is. But they are sadly shortlived, however, because everyone keeps moving, moving, moving on to the next new thing. And forgotten in the hyperactivity that is the web. So we try again and again. A constant craving. My friend says it is part of "Fear of Missing Out" a.k.a. "FOMO," that you will miss an opportunity.

Bonding is one thing, and a valid one, but to pretend that "likes" are an indicator of talent, I believe, is a mistake. As an editor, I have nominated stories to various contests. For a few years, one of those contests, by a reputable literary magazine, had a public forum to judge and determine the "best" story, and thereby the winner. Because it was open, I watched the votes trickle in. But every now and then an avalanche of votes would come in for a certain story. Then for a different one. What was going on? Someone had tons of friends and was very good about getting their friends to vote for them. Ultimately, the one with the most friends won, and it was not necessarily, in fact not even reliably the best story. "Likes" are popularity contests. Someone was good at being popular.

My friend mentioned hearing about how certain marketing businesses tell artists they have to post every day even if nothing is happening, that they should be posting 50% of their time. Quantity over quality. If getting eyeballs is the goal, if repetition leads to familiarity and familiarity leads to fame, the artist then gets famous for posting rather than for the quality of the artwork. Ultimately the person may become a master at posting, knowing what will get likes and what won't. But what kind of art is that when an audience is shaping what you do? Art is not made by consensus, and we shouldn't need to ask permission; we make what we need to make. Art comes from within, it's a driving force.

The examples above are extreme cases, and I don't believe everyone is as caught up in it as it sounds. Still, the questions are real. In this day, then, how does one both work on one's art (I include writing in this category) and get someone to see it? How can you get appreciated for what you do? As an artist you must market yourself on some level because who else is going to do it? A few thoughts.

Writers. Read quality magazines or any magazines, and find works you like, that resonate with you, ones that seem to show your attitude and outlook. Are they gentle? snarky? absurd? contemplative? Pick an adjective, no, pick three adjectives for yourself and look for work in the magazines that reflects them. Send your work to those magazines. If you're not accepted, try again a few times or try somewhere else until you can find an editor that likes your work. Popularity won't work, here. Not everyone will or can like your work. We are all different, and with different tastes.

Artists. Think about those adjectives again. The concept is very similar to the above, but galleries are making more money than magazines (they have to, they usually have a brick and mortar presence, marketing costs, utilities, etc.) so the stakes are higher. Galleries are a business, a business that sells artwork rather than clothing or toothpaste, but it is much more complicated than that. If you are lucky you will meet a gallerist with whom you get along and who likes your work and who may even agree to show your work. If you do, hallelujah! But it's not an easy connection, especially for shy people, and it is unlikely you will be able to do this without meeting face to face.

Book Artists. We are a different case. I've had the best luck selling work after connecting with the special collections librarians at universities and institutions across the country. One way is to send email, which may or may not be read, and a librarian I know says she does not like links to websites. Better to send a physical card or photos with a sampling of your work. It's so easy to make a print-on-demand catalogue or design some cheap but high quality postcards these days. Enclose a handwritten note. There are also a few dealers that specialize in artist's books. I've heard of great luck had by book artists (and/or their dealers) traveling the U.S. with their books and making appointments with the librarians as they go, face to face. A book in the hand, and all that.

Additionally, I would never pay a fee for someone else to list me online (unless I have control over my own store there), just as I would not pay a publisher to publish my writing. (That last one used to be called a "vanity press.") But whatever you are making, if you want it to be seen or to sell, you really must have your own website. You do need an online presence. And a corresponding type of social media can point to it. Using these "ads" in moderation or in a creative way can be helpful in generating interest. Using social media to begin a connection or to continue connections you have made in person can be a way to strengthen those bonds.

I once read an editor's advice (I'm afraid I've forgotten where and who), and she said to keep working on your craft. Send it out when it is ready. There is no rush. Opportunities will keep opening up.

We tell ourselves we want to be liked, but it is possible we really want sincere respect for what we do. This can only happen by maintaining a practice and putting in the hours. There is no rush.

©2020 Alisa Golden