I am slowly working my way back to regular sharing and writing, but a bit of a social media detox was needed. And so it has been a few weeks of introversion and peering into greenery.
I love to share this work with you: hardwood tools well-worn, photographs of Clover’s furry legs stretched luxuriously across my workbench, pieces beginning to take shape in my hands, piles of silver dust, inspiration flung around the studio to breathe in at every turn, silhouettes carefully sawn, all of it! But in the last month or so, I became a bit disheartened by social media.
In recent years, there has been a lot of conversation about authenticity on social media. By the very nature of it, we are choosing what parts of our lives people see, by curating images of our day in pleasing patterns and presenting it with the viewer (or perhaps our future selves) in mind. Is it possible to utilize social media without doing this to some extent? Doubtful. Some argue that that renders true authenticity impossible on social media. But I do not agree. I don’t see a difference between sharing a photo of a beautiful meal just prepared, and putting on a dinner party where you use the fine Wedgwood china. Does putting on a pretty floral print dress before going into public render you inauthentic? I don’t believe so. I don’t think we should only share our raw, unfiltered selves in the name of authenticity, because there is a pride and dignity to be gleaned from a tidy space, a beautiful portrait, a funny story, and a work of art, especially when shared.
But the question of authenticity and artistic integrity has become more murky when it comes to the art community on social media. There are a smattering of artists, potters, painters, metalsmiths, and writers, whose work I had followed since the days before Instagram. Creative men and women who welcomed me into their lives through words written on blogs, photos shared in Flickr groups, insights revealed in interviews dotted around the Internet. Artistic output I had relished for years and had felt pride in supporting. But recently, I all at once saw a change in a few of these artists. I don’t know when the change happened, but I only just recognized it.
A few of these artists have gradually evolved into something that feels false to me. Big companies unrelated to their art are tagged by the artists right in the photo descriptions, who are then drawn to their large followings and see opportunities to monetize on their influence. Photos sponsored by corporations are then posted on their art pages; the sharing of art reduced in favor of outside advertising. These spaces that once felt personal and warm are now fabricated to attract or retain sponsorships. Every post feels like a commercial for something I don’t want.
A few years ago I read an article about the “rise of the influencer,” and I never really cared about any of it because it didn’t affect me. If young men and women were being paid to travel to Italy just to take one picture wearing a brand-name hat, or being sent piles of free merchandise in exchange for a review on their social media, all the power to them! They are lucky ducks for nabbing free trips around the world. But I never looked to those people to be anything else and no one was requiring that I follow them. I welcome sponsored posts from fashion and home decor bloggers I do follow, because sponsorships and advertising are intrinsically wrapped up in the type of work they do.
But independent artists I have always held to a different standard. I look to their spaces to purchase their art, to join their conversation, to be shown glimpses of their lives; I do not wish to be forced into viewing a commercial for a product entirely unrelated to their art. And now that some long beloved creatives have gradually submitted to that siren call of easier money and quicker notoriety, I feel disenchanted and disappointed. I find myself looking first to the hashtags before bothering to look at the photo, especially now that Instagram strongly requires influencers to disclose paid content through the hashtag # ad right in the photo description. I check to see who paid for every haiku written. I look for the paid product placement carefully integrated, like camouflage, into the landscapes of their lives and art. Lives and art that was once honestly and freely shared, now feels like it is being used to trick me into buying a bottle of perfume. Those fashion and home decor bloggers that I have long followed have always been forthright with their affiliations. If they are telling me about a product, sponsored or not, I take it for what it is and continue to look to them for honesty. But about the artists who have attempted to seamlessly slide into the role of influencer for money (because let’s be honest, who would sell the landscape of their personal lives and the trust earned with their viewers for anything else…), I feel crestfallen and a little sold-out.
As a maker and a businesswoman, I know the realities of money and am not naively perched in easy idealism. I navigate these waters daily, and am constantly holding my notion of artistic integrity up against the requirements of business to find the right path. But one of the fixed stars in this area of art as business is that honest sharing should remain sacred, and not a space to be purchased by a grocery delivery service or backpacking outfitter. I don’t want a painter to share a photo of a workspace wherein the fine print reads “Styled by Anthropologie.” I don’t want the president to try to sell me a time share. I don’t want religious leaders to sell ad space in their sermons. There are some spaces that should remain free of corporate money and the pursuit of notoriety. Unrealistic? Perhaps… But I will not believe anything else.
Rather than continue to feel sold out or manipulated by these artists, I have decided to simply exclude them from my world, because if nothing else, social media is a world that we curate for ourselves, and I no longer wish for them to take up space in mine. I want these places I look to for community and sharing to feel untainted and beautiful, and so I have unfollowed their accounts and deleted their blog bookmarks. There are so many other artists out there who believe in authentic sharing and connecting honestly with audiences. I don’t have to worry about being told a story from their day wherein the conclusion is a sales pitch for a new exercise app. If they share a scene from their lives, I know that every vase, couch, and paintbrush set is there because the artist loved them, and was not just being paid to pretend everything was placed and purchased organically while a furtive sponsorship lurks in the corner.
I thought about tucking these thoughts into my notebook and not speaking on this, but not honestly sharing about honest sharing seems a little absurd, no? I wish there was a hashtag to find more artists who refuse unrelated, outside money. Other dear souls who are not being paid to integrate products into their personal lives as though they had always been there. Creatives who feel that sharing their work and lives is enough. That community and the organic support and purchasing of artwork is enough. That connection is enough. Artists that value the trust placed in them over money and online fame. Perhaps we should start a hashtag, you and I, for those of us who wish to find other kindreds. Other #adfreeartists? Or photos of #justmyart ?
Because I want to find all those artists and pull them into my world. I want to wrap them all up in a giant hug of camaraderie and like-mindedness. Because therein is the true beauty and soul of social media and the Internet, we can find each other. We can become points in the landscapes of each other’s lives. I can become like that fruit vendor at the farmers market you see on Saturdays. And you can become like the postwoman I always offer cold water to on the hottest days in July. (Did you know that those mail trucks have zero air conditioning??) We can flit in and out of each other’s lives with words of encouragement, book recommendations, and hearty banter. You can tell me why garnet is your grandmother’s favorite gemstone. And I can marvel at your subtlety with watercolors.
And neither of us will be paid to do so.