What’s It Good For? How Artists Navigate Social Media

by Debbi Kenote

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Jake Reller, Arcade, 12″ x 20″, oil on panel

From Taos, to Bellingham, to Richmond to New York City, Open House corralled some of the most interesting contemporary emerging artists of 2017. They were kind enough to share with us some of their secrets to navigating the powerful social media path and their insights on how they use social media. Along the way they put some of our mounting suspicions to rest, discussing the make-or-break reaction to likes, and what kind of benefits they are really seeking–and getting–from Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.It is safe to say a few things are certain and that while not everyone needs the help of the internet to survive in the art world, it does seem that most believe it is a valuable tool. From researching artists to posting homemade cat gifs, these artists are not only creative with their posting, but also personal. In the age of social media, where all images, as Jake Reller says “are not fit for mass consumption,” perhaps it is this personal touch that keeps us interested in what these photos on small screens have to offer.

  1. WHAT MEDIUM DO YOU WORK IN AND WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
  2. ON AVERAGE, HOW OFTEN DO YOU POST IMAGE OF YOUR WORK OR PROCESS O SOCIAL MEDIA? DO YOU PREFER INSTAGRAM, TWITTER, OR FACEBOOK?
  3. WHAT DO YOU DO TO ACTIVELY ENGAGE OR INCLUDE YOUR FOLLOWERS, OR DO YOUR POSTS FUNCTION MORE AS GLIMPSES INTO YOUR ART PRACTICE?
  4. DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA FOR RESEARCH PURPOSES, OR TO MEET/ LEARN ABOUT OTHER ARTISTS? ARE THERE PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE YOU WOULDN’T HAVE MET WITHOUT SOCIAL MEDIA? HAS SOCIAL MEDIA EVER LED TO A SALE OR OTHER OPPORTUNITY?
  5. DO RECEIVED ‘LIKES’ AFFECT HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THE CONTENT YOU POST?HOW DO YOU THINK THE ONLINE RESPONSE AFFECTS YOUR WORK?
  6. CAN ARTISTS COUNT ON PEOPLE SEEING THEIR WORK WITHOUT USING SOCIAL MEDIA? DO YOU KNOW AN ARTIST WHO DOESN’T USE SOCIAL MEDIA? 

WHAT AND WHERE? Drawing, painting and printmaking in Richmond Virginia.

PLATFORM? FREQUENCY? I used to post work immediately after I finished it, but now I let things sit around a bit more to make sure it’s even worth leaving the studio. I use Instagram.

ENGAGEMENT VS GLIMPSE? More like glimpses.

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Jake Reller, Penuel 2, Graphite on paper, 10″ x 10″
RESEARCH? I keep up with my friends’ work or artists I respect. Most of the time I find social media to be like a yard sale. Sometimes you find something good but it’s mostly just junk. I used to sell my work through it but now I’m a little bit more selective and prefer my work to end up in the hands of the right buyer. Plus people flake online all the time or think you’ll sell a $400 painting for like 40 bucks because that’s how much a band poster or giclée reproduction would sell for at target or some shit.
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Jake Reller, Book Burner, oil on paper, 7″ x 12″

LIKES?
If you depend on likes on the Internet for validation about your work you’re most likely going to end up making work that’s boring or formulaic. That’s why the radio sucks. It’s why black flag is a good band. No compromise. You shouldn’t give a shit about what people think, because then there’s no room for innovation. You’re not running for prom queen. I was talking to a friend about Felix Gonzalez Torres and he made a really great point about how if you saw “perfect lovers” on Instagram you probably wouldn’t think twice about it. But that piece should make you feel hopeless and desperate and mortal. It’s not a viral image, it’s not fit for mass consumption, it makes you work for its appreciation. Not vice versa.

Social media also breeds an environment where people become taste makers instead of just makers, where curation is more important than creation. And I like what Ian MacKaye said in that Minor Threat song “In My Eyes”:

“At least I’m fucking trying
What the fuck have you done”

NECESSITY?  Yes. Thomas Pynchon.

VALERY JUNG ESTABROOK

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Valery Jung Estabrook, Twinkies, Wasps, and Avatars, screen shot, single channel video, 2015-2016

WHAT AND WHERE? My most recent two projects are installations that combine video and textile elements. I currently live in Taos, New Mexico.

PLATFORM? FREQUENCY?  As it relates to my art, I think social media is very important, especially now that I don’t live in a big city. It helps me keep in touch with artists and friends no matter where I happen to be. I primarily use Instagram and Facebook. My Instagram account is very stream-of-consciousness and I post a few times a week. On there you’ll find images of my works in progress, snippets of video art, things I stumble upon in real life that I wish someone else could see.  And cats. Lots of cats. I try not to fuss over it too much.

I have two Facebook accounts. I’ve had my personal Facebook account since the Friendster days, so it’s gone through some changes to say the least. For a long time I kept it extremely private and hidden. Now I post and share things about my art, works in progress, politics, interesting articles, and occasionally something personal. As my real-life friends and professional contacts increasingly overlap, I’ve found it less necessary (and less confusing) to keep my account so guarded. But that’s not to say it isn’t curated.

I’m aware that on Facebook I’m casting a very wide net: artists, friends, old colleagues, and family, all at the same time. I try to make sure that the information I’m posting is relevant and interesting to one of these groups. And I take advantage of the privacy setting: is this something I want completely public/google-able? Is this really just for my friends? Does this warrant a post or should I really just be messaging a couple people privately? As important as it is to post regularly, it’s also important to edit what you’re putting out there and making sure you’re actually contributing to a conversation and not just adding noise.

I also have a “professional” page on Facebook, which is kept strictly to things related to my artwork: work in progress images, show announcements, art news, etc. It’s basically a distilled version of my other accounts.

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Valery Jung Estabrook, Miss Korea, nylon pantyhose and acrylic paint, 2016

ENGAGEMENT VS GLIMPSE? When I post on Instagram, I want my followers to see not just what I’m doing, but to also see who I am as a person. My artwork is very personal so having a window into my life, my family, and my sense of humor gives the work additional context. On Facebook it’s a similar concept, except on there I’m writing and sharing more content rather than just images. People can read for themselves my thoughts on current events, and which social issues I think are important and relevant to my life and my artwork. And when I do post about what I’ve been working on, my hope is that people will see and understand the connections.

RESEARCH? I absolutely use social media to research other artists. I find it difficult to meet artists and make deep connections outside my personal circle of friends. However if I’m able to connect with someone online, in addition to seeing more of their work, I get a glimpse of the real person behind the art. It’s also so easy to stay up to date with other artists and what they’re working on. A painter friend of mine, Matthew Schwartz, had moved out to Washington State a few years ago and hadn’t posted much in a while. Then just a few months back he started posting images of a new body of work on Facebook: beautiful psychedelic landscapes of Mount Rainier and the West coast. Even for artists who’ve taken a break to work on something new, when you see a flood of new work on their account, it’s really exciting.

Having an internet presence has definitely allowed other people to find and connect with me too. A couple years ago Laura Miner, a photographer, saw a sculpture of mine in a gallery and found me online. We chatted a bit and found that our views on art really resonate with one another. Now we’re working on a long distance video project together.
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Valery Jung Estabrook, Hometown Hero (Chink): Main Street, Lexington, Virginia, 36″ x 60″, upholstery fabric and polyester batting, 2016

LIKES? Positive feedback of any kind is encouraging, especially from strangers or new followers. Although it doesn’t necessarily make me like some of my work more than others. How I feel about a piece is pretty cemented, it’s more that the “likes” remind me that I’m not just throwing my work into a black void, but maybe there are actually people out there that are listening and receiving the work. And that can be a positive motivating factor to keep making things, regardless of how many “likes” each post gets.

NECESSITY? Of course there was a time before social media, and people managed to get their work out to the public. It’s still possible today, but it’s much much more difficult without an internet presence, for an artist at any stage in their career. I don’t think social media is a replacement for the gallery or that viewing work on a tiny mobile screen is in any way ideal. I view it as a communication tool that has allowed me to connect with a wider audience and to stay in touch with other artists. And what’s wonderful about it is there are no rules. It’s easy to be myself, which is refreshing in the age of academicized art.

Do I know an artist that doesn’t have a social media presence? I do, but you’ve probably never heard of them 😉

KELSEY S BREWER

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Kelsey Brewer, still from Hungry: Part 1. “It’s about the death of fantasy, in which a woman makes out with a chocolate bust of man until it collapses.”

WHAT AND WHERE? I’m a filmmaker, I live in Crown Heights, [Brooklyn, NY].

PLATFORM? FREQUENCY? I post about my work maybe 2 times a month on average? It’s hard to know what’s normal because I feel like I’m still adjusting to social media in a big way and how I use it is always in flux. I prefer Instagram for sure.

ENGAGEMENT VS GLIMPSE? The latter – I’m not great at engaging followers, and I have no idea how to “include” them successfully. I post mostly to have some kind of presence if someone happened to look me up. The most successful “engagement” I had was on FB mostly, and was about a week and a half of posting about 6 times a day with very short and enthusiastic messages and really colorful in-your-face gifs. I was trying to get people to vote for me for a competition, and it worked!

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Kelsey Brewer, Looping Portrait, looping stop motion video. “It has to do with visually expressing pain and the feeling of emotionally/mentally/physically being pulled in different directions.”

RESEARCH? Not much, although I’ve realized more recently that Instagram is a great portal for finding working artists, so I might find myself using it for research or (more accurately perhaps) discovery increasingly. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone or had a particular opportunity solely because of SM… but it has occasionally helped me connect with people/ groups and given me and my work some amount of limited exposure. The first film I made got over 60k views in a few days after a cellphone company posted it to their FB page (in connection to their film festival).

LIKES? I have to admit that getting likes feels good, and not getting any/ getting “too few” feels bad. Not getting a response to artistic things I post can discourage me from being more proactive about posting. It feels like you’re trying to communicate with a brick wall.

NECESSITY? I don’t think its wise for artists to count on much of anything besides themselves. If you can find a way to get yourself out there, do what you want to do and get the recognition you want for it without SM, that’s fucking awesome. If SM is how you do you, more power to you. I think getting your work seen has more to do with you than what tools you choose to do it with. I don’t think I know any artists who are completely off of SM, but I know many artists who aren’t ardent about their SM usage. Myself included.

APSE ADORN (Hayley and Jarod Faw)

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Hayley Faw and Jardon Faw, Floor Plan-3, mixed media on paper

PLATFORM? FREQUENCY?  About 1 – 2 times a day. We use Instragram, however, let our IG flow over to our FB.ENGAGEMENT VS GLIMPSE? We try to be sure we are giving back to our followers, whether that’s with an actual giveaway, free designed goods, coupons in our shop, or pieces of writing that encourage or empower them to take loving action in their lives. Its about 50/50 photos of process or products or events, and tidbits that give back to them.

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Hayley Faw and Jarod Faw, Floorplan-2, mixed media on paper

RESEARCH? Most definitely. It’s often a source of real, authentic connection that we can tap into daily. Through our Instagram, we have gained all of our current retailers. We have collaborated with several other artists to do multiple giveaways and interviews, and experienced a lot of networking opportunities. It primarily has been our greatest networking and marketing tool.We often have followers purchasing items from our shop and even using IG as the venue to ask us customer service questions about products they have received or want to buy. As well, customers often post photos of pieces on their IG’s, which is honestly the most trustworthy form of marketing.

LIKES? The likes we receive on a post don’t really affect how we feel about our content. We understand that a lot of our audience is following us for our work, and not for pieces of writing or other aspects of our business model that show up, so before I even post that type of content, I know they wont get as many likes as a photo of earrings. We do pay close attention to what kind of work gets what kind of response, however, posting times play largely into amount of likes, and sometimes I just can’t post at peak hours.

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Apse Adorn (Hayley and Jarod Faw)

NECESSITY? Yes. If an artist is willing to travel and/or put in the effort that pursuit of opportunity takes, then there is no reason why they couldn’t get amazing exposure without social media. I think that social media has, in a way, become a more legitimized resume. So, curators I’m sure will reference it. But social media, especially IG with a collection of images, can really take the burden off an artist.

What’s It Good For? How Artists Navigate Social Media

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