How social media messes with the very point of art

I’ve let my art profile on social media (such as it was…) truly stagnate lately while I’ve been focusing on the priorities of my health and wellbeing these last few months. My new online shop, which I worked so hard to put together all of last summer during lockdown, has done absolutely nothing and languishes out there unnoticed…largely because Ive done absolutely nothing with it to change that situation. My desire to engage with Facebook and Instagram has been at an all-time low and, when I do, I often really notice, thus regret, the vibe-lowering effect it has on my otherwise rallying mood. When I do think about Instagram and my shop (if I do that at all…) I more-often-than-not think about deleting them than rather than working at them. They feel like a millstone around my neck. The sheer amount of effort it would take to brush up my profile and do what it takes to engage with the largely fickle and despondent audience that might otherwise see my output is gigantic and I simply don’t want to spend my life doing that…chasing after that…at all.

I also don’t like is that there is no half-way measure (like being “a little bit drunk”), you are either “of” that social media mentality or you’re not and, if you are, it seeps into your very motivation for doing art at all, colouring the “whys and wherefores” of everything you do, from “why this subject and style?” to how you present it, or, pimp it to its audience. I hate it all, and the very behaviour traits it demands of my persona, with such a vengeance, and hate isn’t a word I use often…but the feeling is really that strong. And I loathe that you have to commit to a daily practice of it to get anywhere, which smacks of slavery, a word I don’t take kindly to (if I could just use social media from time to time to make important announcements I would, but all the algorithms for being seen and responded to work against such intermittency, like a slow suicide through inactivity). The whole platform seems designed to force engagement and to cultivate a sort of neurosis to do with obsessively gauging your feedback (topic of my last post), whether you like it or not!

I don’t even enjoy looking at other artists on social media all that much because these platforms seem to bring out the worst in them, missing the whole point, the very feeling, of their art. I dislike how every single post contributes towards generating a cloud of informational clues as to those who are “clearly making it” (gathering vast audiences and tons of engagement) and “those who clearly aren’t”; a cloud of data for some of the less noticed (which is far from the same as less talented…) artists to choke upon, as though it were dust kicked up in the stampede for attention. Its the equivalent of going to a “quiet” art gallery only to find there is some sort of gizmo fixed to the wall above the art piece, noisily grinding away, keeping score of the exact footfall and length of time that other people have stood in the same spot and playing back their opinions, fatally detracting from all the intimacy and immediacy of your own response; as though you are now stood there in a jostling and opinionated crowd. Art is meant to be personal, real, visceral, three (and above) dimensional, not innert on a pixelated screen nor a crowd-puller or team sport (as an intensely pleasurable visit to an art exhibition in a rambling summer garden reminded me last weekend).

So, can you even get anywhere as an artist without social media (and little to no stamina for the exhibition circuits with their commissions and competitiveness anymore, either)? Is there a point? A happy place? What was that thing I used to say back in the day…I have to paint, its like breathing to me? Is this where I get to prove that very point to myself, as I would still prove the desire to breathe if I was the very last person on earth?

Another reason I recoil from social media as an art-outlet is that I have dived so deeply into the topics of obsession and dopamine addiction this year that I can clearly see the relationship. Yes, those are certainly traits that weave through my ADD personality type and there is no point denying anymore that I sometimes lean into getting the “wrong kind of kicks”. However, getting my kicks out of the transitory thrill of “likes” from people I will never meet and who will have forgotten all about me a moment later is hardly worth depleting my already thin-on-the ground stamina for and I know it, but I do get so easily hooked into the, highly artificial, sense that to be “liked” or responded to, even for just a moment on social media by strangers, is akin to having all the warmth of family and friends gathered around me, giving me some of the attention my inner child still craves to plug in the gaps of her insecurities.

In that sense, I am still that little girl, holding up a picture for daddy when he gets home from work…and that five minutes of grace can carry me through until, well, the next time I need that stop-gap in my emotional splutter…living from one fix to the next. This it not a state of affairs I am at all happy to condone, now that I see it all too clearly as the track-record of my life, as in, living from one moment of vague external approval to another like my life depends on it. That fragmented Approval Seeker persona of mine has been seen now (thank you Gupta Program), and is being asked to give way to the far more authentic version of me that lies deep inside the layer of fake confidence that barely covers the Rejection Sensitive Dysphoric adult that Life has turned me into (yes its a recognised trait involving extreme sensitivity to criticism and perceived rejection and I’ve had it in spade loads for most of my life) and, by the way in case you hadn’t noticed, social media is perilous for the more sensitive personality types. I long to rewind to the essence of the contented and self-contained little girl that I was before Life Happened and that little girl loves to draw and paint, oh how she loves it, but for no other reason than that it brings her JOY! Nothing else, no attachment to outcome to muddy her enjoyment or put her off her next stroke.

It turns out I am far from the only artist who is considering turning their back on platforms like Instagram once and for all. It seems there is quite the trend of it and some of those who aren’t brave enough seem to qualify their decision with “but I daydream about deleting my app every single day” (here’s an article on the very subject). From that article, this quote jumps out being as right on the topic of what I have already said about the dopamine rewards of being a visual artist on instagram and similar platforms. In it, artist Andrea Crespo describes how “Reward systems in social media were influencing my decisions while art making. I would think about what people would think based off of likes and comments.” The article continues: “Because its reception came so fast, and came loaded with so many social and biochemical cues, Crespo began to consider social media activity as an evaluating metric “really bad for art.” You begin making art not for yourself, but for the dopamine rush that comes as each double-tap lights up your phone” to the point it “was negatively affecting his spirituality and mental health”.

I can concur and I guess that is the place I have landed in with a lot of things this year. No longer able to compartmentalise that I am, on the one hand, evolving a-pace and yet on the other I “must” remain a slave to certain behaviours to survive and thrive commercially in the world, I have reached a point where if the one negates the other then something has to give and, obviously, my spiritual wellbeing and health take first priority, always. As-ever the contrarian, the more I feel the growing peer-group pressure suggesting I “have” to master the craft of social media engagement in order to survive, as an artist or anything else for that matter, the more I resist! For now, it all remains in the balance (my public engagements on art-related media, effectively, put on pause) but, the longer that lack of engagement continues, the more it feels as though I have lost all momentum on social media platforms, which only fuels my desire to say “oh well, never mind” and move on.

About Helen White

Helen White is a professional artist and published writer with two primary blogs to her name. Her themes pivot around health and wellbeing, expanded consciousness and ways of noticing how life is a constant dance between the deeply subjective and the collective-universal, all of which she explores with a daily hunger to get to know herself better. Her blog Living Whole shines a light on living with high sensitivity, dealing with trauma and healing from chronic health issues. Spinning the Light is an extremely broad-based platform where she elucidates the everyday alchemy of relentless self-exploration. A lifetime of "feeling like an outsider" slowly emerged as neurodivergence (being a Highly Sensitive Person with ADHD, synaesthesia, sensory processing challenges and other defecits overlapping with giftedness). All of these topics are covered in her blogs, written from two distinct vantage points so, if you have enjoyed one of them, you may wish to explore the other for a different, yet entirely complimentary, perspective.
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2 Responses to How social media messes with the very point of art

  1. cathytea says:

    Seems like a transition phase. I’ve got the feeling it will work out, though moving through transitions can feel a bit awkward or confusing.


    • Helen White says:

      Yes, and I suspect its a transition phase for many people, as the initial novelty of social media starts to wear off and call for some sort of reboot, which is why I felt if was worth airing. If I had a penny for the number of friends who have declared themselves weary of the whole social media “thing” or who have disconnected or deleted their apps lately…


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