Thoughts & Process: Art Social Media Bad

While the title of this blog sounds more like a shit-post, it’s a conversation we as artists need to have. Right now, in 2021, there are many problems surrounding the construction of the major social media websites that make an artist trying to showcase their work struggle. And no, I’m not talking about elements like “cancel-culture” or any other websites having an agenda to push, that would be a topic better left for someone else to cover than myself. I’m talking purely about how each website is constructed to work, and why these structures cause problems for artists. So this is why…art social media bad.

One thing I want to address before we get started is this: what defines as growth for an artist? Some people would say the obvious follower count, how many likes and shares an artist gets on their work, and how much money they make off of these numbers. This isn’t a wrong take, but it does ignore the issue that large numbers do not equate to actual growth or popularity, especially when bot accounts and the ability to purchase followers exist. There’s also other factors, such as fan artists normally get more attention than original content artists, one artist may be more willing to advertise themselves more than another, and the idea that sometimes people like the artist’s character more than the art themselves, such as the case of some story time animators. Next, what about the artists who just want to share their passion, and for whatever reason, might not be trying to make money off their work? Those types of people might value comments and discussion on their art higher than likes themselves. Finally, large numbers also do not necessarily correlate with the artist’s skill level improving. I just wanted these factors to be made aware, but for this blog post I will be generalizing growth and development as:

  1. Likes
  2. Comments
  3. Shares
  4. Followers

Let’s begin

YouTube/Twitch

Yep, I’m starting with the big ones. I’m pairing these two because it seems exceptionally rare for one person to have an account on one platform but not the other, and for both of these platforms not to be used to their fullest. For those who don’t know, Youtube is a pre-made video viewing social platform, while Twitch is focused on live-streaming video. Many a people I’ve seen dreaming of becoming a Youtuber/Streamer, whether it be for art commentary, gaming, or even just vibing. When it comes to actual artists, I’ve seen artistic uploads in the forms of animatics, animated videos, speed paints, tutorials, and even a mixture of speed paint and commentary based on current events. With the way you can monetize on YouTube and Twitch as well, creating a platform on these websites becomes all too enticing. No matter the type of content creator, it appears that monetization can be difficult, as both platforms have very strict rules about the type of content that can be monetized, and those who try to make these two platforms their full time jobs too soon face serious financial struggles. Youtubers that seem like large channels, with 100k-500k subscribers, still deal with these problems, although these numbers still can average about $3,000 a month with sponsors included. As for Twitch, this study indicates you’d need an average following of 15-500k subscribers to get to sustainable full time income. There is definitely a money market here, but it’s good to recognize the red flags with these two websites.

But what about the structure of these two websites is it that makes art sharing and engagement so difficult? Well for starters, inanimate artists, or artists whose work are flat immobile pieces such as paintings and drawings, are forced to make their work in video format. This can be done through either process videos or commentaries, so there is significantly less focus on the finished piece itself. In both of these instances, the art is sharing focus with either the commentary, some tutorial voice over, or music. Because of this shared focus, the like/dislike feature on Youtube doesn’t necessarily represent the idea of the artwork, while the comments can more effectively communicate this. And if you want to just make a slideshow of your work in video format, that tends to be a boring and unsuccessful presentation. While all this doesn’t completely ruin the social media experience for artists on these platforms, it does make showcasing proper portfolios and bodies of work extremely difficult.

Instagram

Instagram, an image hosting website, is a rather interesting platform for art, that seems to have plateaued in terms of actual engagement. There’s no sharing feature on Instagram, which acts as both a blessing and a curse for artists. Artists want people to share their artwork to their followers so their content can garner more attention, but at the same time, they have to share others’ artwork as well, and some creators aren’t as willing to share work because it will “make their own artwork on their pages harder to find.” With Instagram not having this feature, this removes that odd double standard and encourages likes on their content, engagement that only costs a click of a button. You can also add comments on Instagram, but I’ve found this to be pretty rare, and the main hurdle on the site. A comment of praise and admiration is the best form of personal engagement you can get on Instagram, but it seems the audience is, for whatever reason, satisfied with liking the creation, and scrolling past after that 2 second glimpse. Despite this, Instagram is still considered one of the best platforms for showing your artwork, even though the actual platform feels more like a robotic schedule and practice. But to be fair, it is still better than…

Update 7/6/2021: Due to Instagram’s new direction announcement, I no longer agree with Instagram being one of the best platforms for inanimate artists. Read more here.

Twitter

Twitter is somehow one of the worst platforms for sharing artwork, and yet one platform professional artists are scared to go without due to its massive audience. Twitter is a mesh of text, image, and video sharing platforms all rolled into one, but with text limits, image number limits, and a focus of quantity over quality when it comes to posting. Posting your artwork there is like throwing a finished piece into a large, endless hole, where someone walking by may only get to see it for a single second before it’s swallowed by the darkness. Twitter simply has such a large amount of posts per minute, that any work shared there quickly gets buried by a plethora of other posters talking about whatever is on their minds at the time. It doesn’t help that Twitter’s character limit means meaningful discussion and critiques get needlessly cut down, the photo crop cuts out vital parts of an artwork entirely, and Twitter threads are hidden from passerby’s on the home view. All this combined makes me think Twitter is easily the worst juggernaut for artists sharing their work period, the only benefit I can think of is it’s kind of nice to see one of your favorite artist comment on passing thoughts, and getting to see a more humane side to them.

Deviantart

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Deviantart back in the late 2000s/early 2010s used to be a fantastic place to share art and find inspirational artists, groups, and subjects to get you to keep creating. However, somewhere along the way, art theft on the website became rampant, and Deviantart became a host of fetish art. If that is your thing, all the power to you, but in today’s age, Deviantart bragging about the being the best art hosting website rings hollow, now that only a very specific genre excels anymore. It is quite common to go onto the front popular page and see some egregious fetish art, or on occasion, some very violent images. Generally, it seems only the professional artists that got big on DA before the 2010s are the only ones still on it, and even then more of these early bloomers abandon their accounts. This website doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon, but it stopped being a viable place for artists to get their foot in the door years ago.

Facebook

My general advice is unless you already have a presence on your art Facebook page, don’t make a Facebook art page. Facebook seems to be the 2020s relic of social media, still alive and still sadly relevant in terms of news, but it’s very clear the website is on the decline. More people are leaving Facebook than joining, the more they get in the news the more the outcry to boycott it becomes relevant, and half of Facebook accounts are fake, and that lone fact has caused advertisers to be royally pissed. It might be tempting because it’s considered a “big wig social media platform,” but not only does most of its social media engagement appear to be garnered through rage fuel culture, similar to Twitter, which frankly doesn’t benefit a typical art poster very much, but Facebook is now only relevant the way Sears was to a mall, and we all saw what happened to Sears.

Snapchat and TikTok

I cannot comment on either two of these platforms very much, I never got a Snapchat account, and I avoided TikTok for my own reasons. However, I can say that the data shows SnapChat on the decline, or at best, has an uncertain future, and therefore I would recommend not bothering with that platform. TikTok seems like it’s here to stay, and I have seen some artists use it to post process videos which are very nice, and also have the added benefit of making art theft more difficult. Not IMPOSSIBLE, just more difficult. Again though, if you’re an illustrator of inanimate media, TikTok might not be the right platform for you, as it is a more video focused website, unless you get creative with how you display your artwork.

Extra: Tumblr

I would honestly have trouble recommending Tumblr. Tumblr is focused on sharing blog posts consisting of text, media, links, etc. I personally have had good engagement and positive experiences on the site regarding my art uploads, and the people who stick around and engage with my content. However, it’s obvious the website has already had its plateau in terms of new comers, and that only more and more people will leave the platform as time goes on. For those who do not know, Tumblr faced a mass exodus in late 2018 after it had reversed its policy on adult content, causing upset users to leave the website. There is more to the story, so if you’re interested, I have an article detailing the exodus here, but my thoughts on it are that even if Tumblr reversed this policy back to what it used to be, it’s too little too late. It’s a definite shame because it seems art on Tumblr goes more appreciated, and reblogs on the website go a long way, and older artworks will still get engagement if the viewer is in a relevant tag. However, it’s very possible you will have a cap on how many followers you’d obtain on Tumblr, and for artists trying to make money off of their work, it would be very irresponsible to only have a platform on Tumblr. Nevertheless, I still felt it worth a mention.

Conclusion

My post probably seems like doom and gloom for the art community, and honestly it’s difficult for me to look at this current era of social media and see the positives for inanimate artists. We’re in a phase of this century where the vast majority of audiences prefer their content through video formats, so platforms like TikTok and YouTube continue to thrive, and other platforms that don’t have a central video focus had to adapt to the trend, like Instagram and Facebook. Frankly, this would be the best time for a new social platform for inanimate artists to emerge, problem is not many people immediately hop into up-and-coming platforms where the audiences are notably small. I have hopes that once video formats get less favored, we could see a return of inanimate art and image sharing on other platforms, but for now we have to keep our ears peeled. For those of you who read this far, thanks for joining me on this talk. I’m definitely looking forward to talking about Mermay next month! I wish you the best, until we meet again.

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