Art Without Social Media
I quit social media in early December, 2021. Specifically, Instagram and Facebook. The accounts were deleted six weeks later (finally!) after what felt like an endless wait. This isn’t the first time I’ve quit. I fully deleted my accounts at least twice before and relapsed both times. Before that I had tried to simply curb my use: daily time limits, uninstalling the apps from my phone, and installing website-blockers but no luck. I routinely sidestepped these obstacles and binged on my feeds for hours. Will power didn’t work for me. I needed a full stop.
This time feels like it will be different. I’ve had a growing awareness that I’ve wasted tons of time on these platforms (16 years since I initially joined FB in 2006 and later IG). One reason I stayed glued to social media for so long was to keep up with geographically distant friends. Another reason was to advance my art career. To publicly proclaim “I’m an artist!” To get my work out there and inform the world that I exist. (This reminds me of the saying “If a tree falls in the woods but no one’s around does it make a sound?” I often felt like “If I make something in the studio but don’t post it to my profile does it really even exist?”)
Staying on social media made less and less sense when I actually considered my lived experience. I can’t think of many opportunities I got from social media but I can easily point to a multitude of drawbacks: years of wasted time, misspent energy and attention, and a waning sense of contentment to name just a few.
There are a number of reasons why I left social media:
First, scrolling through pictures of friends wasn’t as rewarding or fulfilling as seeing them face to face, talking to them on the phone, sending them an email, or even texting. Usually, I could only give friends’ profiles a quick glance before getting distracted by some shiny, algorithmic interruption. When I did manage to maintain my focus, I often felt lonely, jealous, competitive, or disheartened by my friends’ amazing highlight reels.
Second, social media made it too easy to avoid working in the studio. Making art isn’t always a lot of fun. Challenging? Yes. Worthwhile? Yes. Rewarding? Usually. But not necessarily “woo-hoo fun.” It requires lots of energy and creates plenty of opportunities for frustration, disappointment, and self-doubt. Making art is already challenging enough. I don’t need social media making it any harder. I could almost justify scrolling IG as “research” since my feed was mostly artist and galleries. But in my experience, real research is active and purposeful. It requires more attention, thought, and reflection than blankly scrolling my IG feed.
Third, promoting my art via social media was fairly fruitless. It might have been more effective to stand on a street corner and toss business cards at passing cars. Posting pics let me trick myself into thinking I was proactively promoting my work. In hindsight, I was just going through the motions and not really doing anything effective or worthwhile. I realized that nothing would happen with social media unless I was willing to spend even more time creating “Insta-ready content” or spend money to boost my posts. And I didn’t want to do either.
Fourth, I realized I was starting to create more “social media content” than actual art. Chasing likes and followers started taking more of my attention. Posting updates of my work became the priority and making art was becoming a secondary byproduct. As such, the resulting “art” started feeling a little hollow and unfulfilling. I decided it would be better to promote myself when I had something substantial to announce like a new body of work or a show and to do so via my newsletter, blog, and other publications. Those kinds of updates feel more valuable and substantial when I receive them from other artists.
Fifth, I feel calmer, happier, and more content without social media (or my phone in general). Every summer, my family and I spend a week at a family camp in northern Minnesota. Cell service is limited and the camp culture encourages spending face-to-face, screen-free time with family, friends, and nature. I am not what you would call a “camper.” I don’t like hiking or swimming. I hate mosquitos and how everything I eat ends up tasting like bug spray. I don’t like using outhouses or experiencing summer without air conditioning.
However, I really like spending quality time with family and friends. I like eating meals together, sitting around talking, sketching, reading, occasionally singing, and maybe even taking a nature walk (…maybe). I like the mental space this screen-free time provides. I feel calmer and less overwhelmed. By the end of the week I am always ready to return to air-conditioning and indoor plumbing. But leaving also produces a twinge of sadness and anxiety as I feel myself inevitably pulled back toward my phone's gravity. Noticing this sense of powerlessness and compulsion was another reason to quit social media.
Some artists are already established enough and don’t need a social media presence. If it isn’t obvious, this isn’t me. I haven’t “made it” in the conventional sense. I’ve heard artists say “I’m just on social media until I (…fill in the blank: get gallery representation, reach a certain financial benchmark, get published, etc.)” For them, social media is just part of doing whatever it takes to reach their goals. Ironically, I’m sort of in this camp too. Except for me “doing whatever it takes” means getting free of social media.
I quit social media to make more art, better art, to promote my work more intentionally and effectively, to be independent of these platforms, to use my time in wiser, more satisfying ways, to connect more meaningfully with family and friends, and to have more time and energy for imagination, creation, and reflection.
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