Runaway Rant. Instagram – Tit for Tat – Spammy artists…

Detail of #14, The Sphynx.

Sometimes I wake up and it just seems like everything is stacked against me, though not me in particular. As people like to say, “it’s not personal”. No, it isn’t. It’s an affront to the personal and the individual. It’s calculatedly indifferent. It’s clinical. It’s commercial. It’s about power and money, money and power. It’s business as usual.

Social media is increasingly suffocating, as in you breath in more carbon dioxide than you breath out. It used to be a platform for the individual, but now it is increasingly a place where individuals are hostages to advertising, and the ever fresh algorithms help insure that the paid content dominates.

I can barely stand Facebook at all. I get in and out like a worker doing emergency patchwork at the Fukushima power plant. I dislike the use of the word toxic – as in “toxic masculinity”, and “toxic personality” – as I find the potential misuse of the word at least as corrosive as what it addresses. But there you have it. That’s how I feel about Facebook.

Instagram, I imagine, was alright before I arrived. I was late to get a smart phone (I inherited my girlfriend’s old one). Soon after I joined a new algorithm was rolled out that pushed the more popular content to the top of feeds. If you were new and didn’t have much reach, you weren’t going to get it, unless … … you paid for it in cash. [The way to make money is to already have it.]

Yes, now my Instagram feed is filled with artworks by artists or galleries who paid to be in my feed. I don’t follow them. And they are above artists I cherry-picked for myself that I actually want to follow. The hits they receive merely incidentally — when people just like everything in their feed — will automatically propel them above almost all independent, unpaid content in all searches based on popularity. If you don’t pay, you don’t play.

Years later I have just over 600 “followers”, and something I posted yesterday today has 17 likes. This is less than the first thing I ever posted reached within an hour. At this point I have to ask myself if it is even worth bothering with either of these platforms. The only way to get views or likes on either is tit-for-tat: you like my shit and I’ll like yours. Those likes just cancel each other out.

Some artists try to survive by being uber-spammy. I don’t even know how they have the time to post so much on so many platforms. While they annoy the living F out of me, I understand why they do it. If you are an independent artist and you are trying to survive, you are going to have to make heroic efforts just to be a drop in the bucket. It’s a necessity. But these artists who are scrambling to have a career at all come off as salespersons who call you several times a day.

The situation reminds me of when I was in China and a student explained to me why there is so much corruption. She said that so many people are cheating you that if you don’t cheat back you won’t be able to keep up. If you got in early with the Internet, you had a shot, but by now you need to be spammy and game the system to hope to not be extinguished.

My favorite place to publish is my blog. Most the traffic I get, however, does not come from my “followers”. It comes from internet searches of topics I’ve written about, or image searches where some of my content appears. Nobody is reading the article I wrote on censorship because it is by me. They are reading it because it is being read and shared by people, and thus has modest ranking in searches. Same goes for a lot of my most popular material. Some articles are even assigned in college classrooms, which I discovered because of various colleges linking to my blog from their syllabus pages.

In other words, I don’t really get any credit for it. People who read those articles don’t then go and try and find out about the author, or look at my art, with rare exceptions. There is satisfaction in knowing that those articles are getting read by thousands of people solely because of the quality of the content, even if it doesn’t translate into anything tangible I can take away from it. The articles are successful almost in spite of me.

Honestly speaking, the amount of reception material I share gets is not just not rewarding or encouraging. It’s not just insulting. It’s a beating.

You know how in Monopoly you start off with $1,500? Social media is a bit like that. You get a little boost in the beginning. My very first post on my blog had 5 likes within minutes. And then slowly you build up an audience.

But in my case I find that regardless of the audience (this blog supposedly has over 2,000 followers) I am still at roughly $1,500. In fact I am below that because without tit-for-tat I’d be at $300 or even $200.

The solution is always selling out. One has to subordinate oneself to popular tastes and cater to external criterion. Sex sells. Traditional skills sell. Piggy-backing on celebrity sells. Feel-good, delusional tripe sells. Shit sells.

But, I prefer to hold out. I don’t even know if I’m capable of selling out. For me it would be phony, whereas for others they may actually enjoy making fan art, or making abstracts for the foyers of Fortune 500 companies, or fantasy art with big muscles and big boobs, etc…

If I wanted to, I could make paintings of dragons, but, I don’t think I could help but subvert it. Even if I consciously was dedicated to hammering out something that would satisfy people’s cliched ideas of what art is – and a painting of a dragon in which all the scales are articulated meets the bill for many – my subconscious might rebel.

Finally, I realized the secret. The art and writing that I most like is NOT popular at all. In fact it is wildly unpopular. Unless, that is, or until it is picked up by whatever authority and put on a pedestal. Without all the attention from critics, for example, most people would reject Francis Bacon’s paintings on sight, and the same goes for Van Gogh (these are still my two favorite artists), as evidenced in only one of his paintings being sold in his lifetime. And many of the best novels are the same ones that were the most rejected before finally being published.

Deep down I know that if I make a work of art and it goes viral I’d wonder what the hell I did wrong. It would be a bit like reading Nietzsche on a greeting card. Did someone misinterpret the quote? Which reminds me… Francis Bacon once said something about how he didn’t want certain people — I believe he used the word “cows” — to like his work. It kinda’ takes it down a notch depending on what kind of art you make. “Oh, yeah, my grandma loves Slipknot. She listens to them with her cat while knitting and sipping tea.”

I’d be more impressed if she listened to Gentle Giant, who made a point of being non-commercially viable, because a beautiful duo xylophone solo is more shocking than an exploding head:

Success, today, for musicians, say, is almost tantamount to failure. Most of the most popular songs were not written by the people who sing them, but by the same two guys they buy the songs from. Most popular songs I hear use auto-tune because the singers can’t hit the notes. To be widely accepted as a musician, you almost have to be devoid of originality and authenticity. You are best to be an appropriate and appealing vessel to harness external content and techniques. Should you have your OWN artistic direction, that’s going to need to be squelched unless you have a great love for innocuous commercial pap. Do you kinda’ suspect some of the biggest pop stars are either vacuous or clinically business minded?

I’m not saying all successful pop artists of today or artists on Instagram are necessarily sell-outs or conformists, or that they don’t need to conform because they actually love sappy lyrics and the vaguely robotic sound of auto-tune, in which case they are expressing their true inner selves. That’s just the haystack. There are needles in it. There used to be a much higher percentage of needles, though. Who is the Bob Dylan or Janis Joplin of today? Beyonce you say? Riiiight.

I do think the real talents are being drowned out by the propped-up products created and honed for commercial consumption. The latter are not popular because they are great: they are presumed great because they are popular. And sometimes they are popular because they bought their views.

I used to work with a trombonist for an orchestra. I asked him what kind of music his daughter liked. He said, “Whatever they are promoting”. And that pretty much nails it. To be a successful artist, you need to be a part of the whatever that is being promoted. Without promotion, chances are, no matter how good your work is, it will tumble from your easel into a sump. This is why they say that you should never presume that you can just make a great painting and then you will have a career, even if that’s the most difficult and important part against which everything else is either irrelevant or extraneous. They say making money is the highest form of art with a straight face.

Little hint for people wanting to make grandiose statements about art. There’s something you learn I think it Philosophy 101, which is to take your universal idea and apply it to a second scenario and see if it still holds true. Let’s try that. “Making money is the highest form of music.” Oh, no, that doesn’t work at all, does it?

As long as you don’t give up, lack of reception can provoke you to work harder and improve your game. If your work truly is good, people will catch on sooner or later, or much later, assuming it doesn’t get destroyed. I believe in making your weaknesses your strengths, and there’s something in your particular idiosyncratic recipe that needs to be nurtured rather than steamrolled. The path to success suggested by “How to make it as an artist” books and seminars and whatnot is to find out what’s popular and imitate it. That’ll probably get you some trickle-down rewards, but it presumes you are 2nd rate from the get got. Some people aren’t imitating shit. What’s the point of expressing yourself if it’s not even your own voice?

Don’t worry folks, I’m not really saying that my content isn’t popular because it’s authentic and great. I’m just saying that I do aspire in that direction and I’m just shoveling off the shit that accrued on my head during the night. Now I’m ready to get to work.

Cheers.

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28 thoughts on “Runaway Rant. Instagram – Tit for Tat – Spammy artists…

  1. Eric,
    I think those are the feelings a lot of artists have. You keep plugging away, you feel like your work is better than most of the stuff the famous artists are putting out, and no one seems to notice. The problem for me, and probably a lot of artists is, i’d rather be working on art than promoting art. You almost need to be more of a salesperson than an artist to make it in art. Especially if you don’t live in a city with a big art scene. People won’t just find you on instagram or Facebook even if your the greatest artist that ever lived. This probably is lifting your spirits, but at least we do get to spend a lot of time creating art, and 600 followers looks pretty good to me. That should be enough to get an idea of what’s working and what’s not. Not that that matters but it could be helpful in tweaking things a little from time to time.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Matt:

      “600 followers looks pretty good to me. That should be enough to get an idea of what’s working and what’s not. Not that that matters but it could be helpful in tweaking things a little from time to time.”

      Nah. Most people follow so many people in order to get followers that they can’t possibly go see what’s in their own feed and never see anything I post. Only about 30-50 of my followers ever see anything I post. Of those I’d say maybe 25 could actually recognize something of mine when they saw it and know it is by me.

      With the new series, I’d say less than 12 even realize they aren’t snap shots of family members. I get comments like, “Nice snap”.

      A huge problem with Instagram is people only look for a second, if that, and unless the work is very accessible and self-explanatory, they ain’t gonna’ get it.

      I’ve probably ignored or rejected almost anything anyone has ever told me about my art. I would say that only about 10% of comments are remotely relevant, and of those even less are at all constructive.

      Consider your recent feedback about how you should incorporate sports stars. Let’s just say that if someone doesn’t know who Francis Bacon is, and isn’t a fan of Van Gogh, there’s a lot they won’t see in my work. And if they don’t have a conceptual framework at all, or automatically reject anything done on the computer, well, there goes a whole other group. Lots of people reject any sci-fi content, even if it’s not literal.

      More often then not comments are ridiculous attacks, like in grad school, when anything I did simply had to be offensive, supporting the status quo, misogynist, racist, and otherwise deplorable and evil.

      Fuck ’em.

      And I don’t cater to my audience at all. I don’t deliver what I think they’ll like in order to please them. I just make what I’m interested in, mostly.

      I get ideas about strategies for getting some attention, but they are usually one off pranks and whatnot.

      If I wanted to make money the most likely route would be to make physical sci-fi/horror/Expressionist paintings like Chet Zar. Make those. There’s a built in audience.

      But I’m an explorer. I’m looking for things I haven’t seen before.

      By the way, I never saw anything quite like what you’re doing, which is why you ain’t getting shit for likes. People see it, and they don’t recognize it and it’s not by someone famous. It’s not FAMILIAR. The ones they will like the most are the ones that look the least like your own style and shade into something else.

      But I’m always looking for the unfamiliar.

      Like

  2. I feel like I could have written this post myself, I agree with so much of it. One thing that has always encouraged me as an artist has been the praise of other artists, especially artists whose opinions mattered to me. When I was at the Academy I had a teacher tell me that I was a better still life painter than William Bailey, and another, with a national reputation, tell me I was a good painter. Those comments meant more to me than all the vacuous praise coming from the uninformed.
    As for the blogging, I’ve been doing it for a year and have considered stopping several times. But I think now I’m going to do it. You have to go cold turkey and just drop the thing. I only did it because my son said I needed more presence on social media after writing a book. Like you, I’ve read all the things you can do to make your blog more popular, but I’d feel like a phony doing it. And I don’t have a good opinion of most bloggers anyway. Not a club I really want to belong to. By the way I finally found something we disagree on. Not a big fan of Bacon, the artist not the food.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bacon is an acquired taste. I’m not a big fan of Matisse or Cezanne. Some things are just a matter of taste. But to me Bacon is a bit like Monet. His canvases are so lush and colorful that I’d think people would like them for the beauty alone, if he didn’t have such dark imagery which puts off a lot of people. Others are geared more to much more representational renderings. No biggie there. It would be boring if everyone loved the same artists.

      Like

  3. You dialed a wrong number on me this time, Eric. My dislike of Bacon has nothing to do with the somewhat non-representational quality. I’ve always liked Pollock, Diebenkorn and Clifford Still just to name three. And to be honest, I don’t find Bacon’s work all that dark.
    Like you, I’m not a big fan of Matisse especially his later stuff, but I think Cezanne is one of the best and purest painter to ever pick up a brush. I didn’t like Cezanne myself until I saw a retrospective in Paris in ’78 and had kind of an epiphany about him. He definitely is an acquired taste. But like you said, we all have our favorites.
    I deleted my blog, but I may still check in to see what your up to from time to time. Good luck. I only follow three blogs anyway. One you may want to check out is Painting Perceptions.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a terrific essay. I’m glad to have found your blog (via your “Like”). You capture much of what I’m feeling and discovering as a novice blogger. I was inspired today by a remark by Becky Hammon, a star basketball player: “I can’t be consumed with how you feel about me.” (Quoted by Frank Bruni in the NYTimes.) Thanks for noticing some of my things. I’m trying to find the bottom of my preoccupation with “toxic masculinity” (sorry for using that phrase!) and gun culture. I’m still a long way from spending the proper time consuming the work of other bloggers, but I’ll get there. I’m aiming for the long game, and thank goodness I don’t have to make my living at it!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. I don’t make a living at blogging either. I have to work in the real world, so to speak.

      The thing about “toxic”, by the way, is just that the term is so extreme, damning, even stigmatizing, and yet unspecific. Imagine if someone labeled you “toxic”. Well, than everyone should really avoid you at all costs. It’s like you exude radioactivity. So, with “toxic masculinity” sometimes it’s used to address a presumed uber-macho, exaggerated, violent or stupid strain of masculinity, and sometimes its used synonymously with masculinity so that all masculinity (or merely being a male) is automatically toxic.

      So, the label “toxic” just seems too harsh to me, unless it really, really applies. That’s all.

      By the way I really like that painting you did of Hoss. It just kinda’ makes me happy. I’m not sure why. Partly because he’s a likable character, as I remember, and then that deep blue sky.

      Thanks for visiting my blog, reading and commenting.

      Like

  5. Eric,
    Thanks for checking out my paintings. It goes without saying that I’m a huge fan of your art. It’s interesting though how different our stuff is since we both have most of the same painters as our favorites. Bacon, Van Gogh, Auerbach, Richter, Nolde. That’s what’s great about art. Two people can have the same tastes and influences and then when you get to work, what comes out is so different. You also have a style that is unlike any I’ve seen before, and I think the thing that draws me to it is the forms are often curved. I’ve noticed I hardly ever use hard angles for some reason. Not sure what that’s all about.

    JMN, I have one thought for you on toxic masculinity. I understand with a lot of bad situations coming to light all at once it seems bad, but the fact that people are secure enough to come out with their stories tells me we’re heading in the right direction. In fact I would be willing to bet that right now is the best time To be alive for women, and minority’s. I remember in the 70s hardly any women having jobs, it was common thinking they should stay at home. That was only 40-50 years ago. Just imagine what it must have been like a couple hundred years ago. So don’t let it all get you down, things are getting better, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right, we do have a lot of the same favorite artists. I think I have more than one style, or that my styles keep expanding and then cross-fertilizing (ex., doing digital sculpting and then making it into an impasto painting).

      I think each person has a unique set of circumstances that is something their art also addresses. So, for example, one of the reasons I work digitally is I somewhat regularly have to move with only what I can take with me on a plane. But you have some space and I think a fairly permanent place to work and store your work, so there’s no problem for you to work physically. I find these particularities interesting, and I think it’s good when people work with them so that their work reflect their unique circumstances.

      I never thought about the curved shapes. For me that’s probably mostly a bi-product of painterliness, when that’s what I’m going for.

      I think we both like the pure aesthetics of visual art, and painterliness in particular.

      Like

  6. Eric,
    Yes you do have a bunch of different styles. At least 4 in the last couple of years. The black and whites I especially like for some reason. I was referring to the things that I’ve notice that to go across the styles. Another thing I’ve noticed is the eyes usually play a big role in a lot of your paintings. But for me the thing that draws me to a painting is color and form. When I look at my paintings I hardly even see the people, just the forms. So yes the pure aesthetics and painterliness is what I like too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In your paintings there’s something interesting going on with your figures where they are figures AND shapes. You push it to the point where sometimes they aren’t immediately recognizable as figures. It works best, IMO, when you get just the right balance.

      I was wondering where you get the figures. They remind me of shadows, people are reflected in wavy water, and perhaps just using the lit side of a figure. I’m a little reminded of a famous photo of a silhouette of a figure which was created in the Hiroshima nuclear blast.

      Like

  7. In recent months for me it’s been about gravitating to things that make sense for me to be doing, that seem achievable and also creating my own opportunities. Likewise building on my relationships with friends and acquaintances and combining art with other non-art things I already am involved or interested in. It does require a healthy adjustment of expectations for sure, which is no bad thing actually, but (to reiterate) it seems to end up just making more sense and I feel like my efforts are going in worthwhile directions.

    Occasionally I still encounter the ‘you gotta have a social media presence’ and ‘online’s the way it’s all going nowadays’ – well yes and no. Yes if you care about that sort of thing, no if you don’t. Right now I feel the internet and especially social media is a tool which for me has relatively limited utility. I don’t think it hurts at all to be ‘connected’ but it’s totally up to personal preference as to how much one wants to chase that e-dragon.

    For you as a mainly digital artist and prolific writer I think this blog is definitely a worthwhile platform to keep going with, and maybe instead of butting heads with algorithms and whatnot there might be other unique avenues you could explore (or are exploring) in regards to promotion. Also let me just say that while I do follow your FB and Instagram, I mostly check your blog the old-fashioned way by typing in the URL once a week or so to see what’s new!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, the blog I do for the pure love of it. It’s my own space. The other places I’m just a brick in the wall. So far none of them really work for me. I’d throw Deviantart in there as well.

      But how could it be otherwise? I don’t even try to make popular, accessible work, or write what people want to read in the format of the day (top 10 lists and whatnot).

      Even when I find a group with a name that seems like they’d like my work (ex., “Dark Spiritual”), it turns out to be mostly vampires and the usual suspects. There’s not going to be a venue that’s ideally suited for me because if it already exists than I’m not going to bother doing it.

      Thanks for following me. You don’t get an email notification?

      Like

      1. It’s such a great thing to not know where the next picture is gonna come from or what it will look like – the only thing that’s certain is uncertainty. Variety too is great, but as you say doesn’t translate well to wide popularity.

        It is difficult to find art that really excites. I don’t mean that in a jaded or snobbish way because it is out there, just gotta dig deep or maybe stumble upon it – hence why I’ve latched on to your blog and appreciate your pictures. I’m also currently enjoying re-appraising some of my older work and kind of treating myself as inspiration.

        Focus the effort on doing your own thing – create your platform – but by all means use a spare moment curate your ‘brick in the wall’ as well – can’t hurt.

        I don’t get email updates but don’t worry I check your site regularly enough already!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks for the kind words. It’s great to know that I reach some other artists like yourself. If I was sitting on a bunch of money, that’s all I’d really care about (not the money, but reaching an appreciative audience that was serious about the same sort of art that I make and appreciate…).

          Like

  8. Yes, it’s all true. Social Media is a terrible con. Instead of liberating us, it has enslaved us. I can’t keep up. Most people pay platforms to do their post for them – I don’t which is why my numbers stay in the hundreds rather than the thousands. I find blogging very time consuming but I got a lot from the comments & discussions I have had with other bloggers. I like that I “talk” with a huge range of people from other countries.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right, that interaction is nice. Well, I think you do that a lot more than I do. I follow several people, and it’s hard to keep up. And they don’t even right as long of articles as I do.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I think your spot on about instagram/facebook/etc. I’ve had similar thoughts about ‘social’ media as an artist and agree that blogging, even if there’s still minimal interaction/recogintion, is the best route. I think Facebook, twitter, etc are geared towards short attention spans and instant gratification, not critical thinking or reading comprhenesion, appreciation like a blog. On a side note I just deactivated my twitter account prior to reading your blog, for reasons you mention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, exactly. And at least with a blog you are producing something of your own that you like. I’ve also gotten deep into a couple blogs (one is private now and I can’t access it anymore) that only had a few followers.

      I’m pretty sure a lot of the best bloggers throw in the towel when they get very little recognition and pathetic stats.

      A while ago when I lived in China I was on Deviant art a lot (FB, Twitter, and blogging sites were blocked). A few of my very favorite artists had just a few likes. Then I looked up the most popular stuff of all time. #1 was a stuffed unicorn. #2 was cosplay from Indonesia.

      Looking back, Deviantart might be a lot better than those other platforms, and I quite liked Instagram before I got hammered with ads and looking through ones feed became extremely annoying.

      But a blog is like an online book. Even if nobody looks at it, it’s still ones own creation and worth doing.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I hope you don’t give up on the blogging. I’ve learned quite a bit from you, and found a bunch of artists like Kubin who I never would have found without you. He is outside of the art I normally look at. You’ve opened me up to a whole bunch of different art.

    As far as my figures go I do try to push them to the limit. I have a lot that went too far and I’m the only one who can make out what I was going for. Those ones are not typically as good as the ones that are just a little more recognizable. I take pictures of my wife, then try to think of the picture of her partly under water. I’ll draw that and then change it up to get the entire figure kind of flowing. That’s usually the way I proceed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope I didn’t give the impression I would stop blogging. No chance. I’m working part time now so have less time than before, but I’m working on my time management skills.

      I thought you might have taken pictures of people’s shadows on the ground, in which case you’d already have a silhouette on a flat surface (and same idea on surface of water).

      Oh, they are based on pics of your wife. That explains why they are all women. Or most the ones I remember seeing, anyway. If you want see could discuss them in more depth sometime.

      Like

  11. I would be happy to discuss them in more depth with you some time. I change up the process quite often, but yes most of them start with a picture of my wife or friends. A few are of me. I can’t just make up figures from my mind and have them turn out well. They end up looking like Picasso’s. I like them to have a more realistic feel even though they are abstract. Anyway just email me if you’d rather than me talking about my art on your blog. I also have a bunch of questions about how you come up With your images. Or if it’s just start drawing and see what takes shape.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It’s like the old adage ” beauty magazines will only make you feel ugly “, and social media has an isolating effect. I always feel like I’m doing it wrong but then when you look at what gets all the attention you step back and say maybe being out of step isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As you so eloquently pointed out, what’s the alternative? – unicorns and low hanging fruit. Artists are either lucky or ignored; talent isn’t valued until it can be commodified. Having said that, I like your work, it exhibits both talent and thought. Social media was engineered to construct and curate alternative identities and your latest series of work is a sly comment on that.

    Like

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