I have rules about social media: no Facebook before 12 noon, no Twitter after 8 pm. Because if I start my day with Facebook, I’ll miss the benefit of my most creative working hours and if I check Twitter too late at night, I can’t fall asleep.
For many creative people, social media can feel like a necessary evil. It’s changing the way we live and we think. And, as a writer who spends most of her day at a computer, it’s too tempting a way to distract myself when I should be working.
In this issue of the magazine, with its focus on inspiration, we wondered how artists were using social media to inspire their business and their art – not detract from it. To answer that question, I interviewed four visual artists and one writer about how social media fostered their creativity and careers.
BRING THE BIG CITY TO YOUR TOWN
In 2007, Mike Biskup (mikebiskup.com) put away his dreams of becoming an artist and took a job managing a software sales website. This decision followed five years when Biskup had exhibited his watercolor and India ink imaginary landscapes in every venue in his hometown of Port Townsend, Washington, population 10,000.
While the reception for his paintings was warm and rewarding in its way, “it was not looking like a solid pathway to making a living,” he said. He loved his hometown for its quiet beauty and family-friendly community, said the father of three young children. But he knew that if he wanted to have a serious career, he was going to have to move to a big city.
Instead of moving, he took the job and put his art away. Then, something happened while he was working at that job and ignoring his art.
“During my seven years working online helping small, independent software developers market and sell their products, I watched the internet explode as a network for sharing anything with anyone,” he said. “In the back of my mind I wondered if eventually I would find a path to sharing and selling my artwork.”
He joined a men’s group, he read the book The War of Art and “after 35 years of self doubt, fear of starving and general sidestepping, I committed to unwaveringly follow my childhood dream of becoming a professional artist.”
He began by committing to paint every single day. Then, he started posting his work daily on Instagram and following other artists. Instagram became “an amazing way to easily discover artists working around the world. Meanwhile a growing number of artists and others were discovering me.” An informal group of artists started coalescing, with everyone sharing art.
One evening in mid-2015 he posted a painting to his account and tagged several artists who he admired with a note which read in part, “I’m sure I’m seeing influences in my work from paintings that some of you completed yesterday—on the other side of the earth! We’ve got an amazing system of sharing here that creates a whole new set of dynamics for creativity and painting… I appreciate being able to swim in this giant pool with you! This worldwide instant creativity sharing platform functions in some ways as a single being. Your Thoughts?”
The artists he tagged responded enthusiastically. Cut to April 2017 and Biskup has just finished curating an international art show at the Northwind Arts Center in that the same small hometown of Port Townsend. Nineteen artists from all over the world mailed him 1-2 works of art apiece for the exhibit. Appropriately titled Thanks for Sharing: Art of Instant Global Inspiration, the show highlights “the evolving practice of artists forging real-world community online,” Biskup said. It also connects his relatively isolated hometown to this global online arts community.
“We all know the internet can be a black hole that any of us can dive into and lose ourselves. This exhibit demonstrates one way out,” Biskup said.
USE RESEARCH TO INSPIRE
Writer Peter Korchnak (peterkorchnak.com) uses Facebook to inspire the novel he’s writing, which takes place in 1980s Czechoslovakia. To do his research, he follows several pages on Facebook that publish photos of objects and events from that era “mostly in the Czech and Slovak languages but also a few Hungarian and Russian ones,” he said.
When he saw a photo of a bubble gum wrapper on one of the ‘socialism nostalgia’ pages, something clicked. “The pink gum, called Pedro, cost the equivalent of half-liter of milk, and was a staple of my childhood. The deep red of the wrapper, the drawing of a boy in a sombrero named the Spanish equivalent of my own name (and that of a character in my novel-in-progress), and the memory of the gum’s flavor all conjured images that I then used to enrich a scene in my novel,” he said.
Like Korchnak, conceptual artist Brittney West (brittneywest.com) has created a personalized newsfeed. West uses social media for research and to stay educated on global news that becomes the influence for her work.
While her research “can detract from studio time, it’s a necessary step in deciding what issues speak to me, which are most pressing and which I’d like to convey in my conceptual artwork,” West said.
Several years ago, her research led to an article on the Huffington Post about factory farming. This article became the catalyst for her installation piece Into the Fold which is “comprised of hundreds of handmade origami cows made out of vintage meat and dairy recipes as well as traditional origami paper.”
The tiny cows “are hanging upside down from hooks on a wire, representing the billions of cows processed at factory farms, bred to be a commodity, a recipe. The fragility, uniqueness and seemingly disposable quality of the paper cows parallels the lives of the animals made to endure factory farms,” West said.
She then shared the finished work on social media where it inspired discussions about factory farms and engaged “inner and outer dialogues about our relationship with animals,” she said.
Artist Maryanne Pollock (maryannepollock.com) has used social media to get to know potential customers, a practice which has helped her make sales.
“One time I read an article about macroeconomics on the Twitter feed of a potential patron before I met with her for a possible painting purchase,” Pollock said. “She was so impressed that anyone outside of her field would actually take the time to read her work.” The potential patron became a customer and bought two paintings, helped by Pollock’s Twitter research.
MAKE VIRTUAL STUDIO VISITS
Research takes the form of studio visits for ceramicist Deb Schwartzkopf of Rat City Studios (ratcitystudios.com). She uses Instagram to “see what other people are working on and grow the breadth of the forms we make.”
Schwartzkopf’s visits are motivated by these questions: “What forms would we like to try but haven’t? Is there a technique someone uses that could create a new avenue for our work? It’s good to get away from making mug after mug and expand our clay vocabularies,” she said.
She also finds Instagram a tool for investigating galleries she might want to contact about showing her ceramics. These virtual visits allow her “to see if our work will fit the aesthetic of the gallery and if the gallery promotes shows well,” she said.
Pollock also uses social media for virtual studio visits with other artists who she refers to as her “co-workers all over the world.”
“I use social media to see what my fellow creatives are up to, get glimpses into their messy studios (stress reliever) and their daily lives and travels. It’s like permanently being an artist in residence without having to leave my studio,” Pollock said.
GROW AN INSPIRED COMMUNITY
Schwartzkopf also uses Instagram to build community and grow her audience by hosting giveaways. “To be entered to win one of Deb’s mugs, our image had to be reposted with a link to a ceramics related resource or book, which helped us expand the resource library on the Rat City Studios website,” she said.
West hosts giveaways also but hers are designed to invite her followers to experiment with their eating choices. “I offered a free print for every week people experimented with plant-based meals for the month of January and February. To my surprise, it became a huge success and the proposal was shared wide and far, inviting many strangers across the globe to partake in a chance to better educate ourselves on issues that directly affect us, meanwhile receiving free art in exchange.”
Nothing can be quite as motivating for an artist as an engaged and inspired audience.
Artist Annamieka Hopps Davidson (annamieka.com) finds the enthusiastic responses from her followers very motivating. “They are rooting for me,” she said of her followers. “It’s fun to delight them with new artwork, new process videos, new stories. I mean, it feels really complete to make something and then have a public to share it with.”
She also finds communicating with her online following much more practical than having to show up in person. “It really saves me energy to be able to post it online versus having to schlep everything to an art show to get a response from the public,” she said.
Social media is a powerful tool that, when used with care, can inspire both your inner and outer worlds. Schwartkopf advises artists to “think of social media as a hammer rather than a Nintendo game. Though Instagram is visually stimulating and fun to use, it is a professional tool and should be used accordingly. Set goals for yourself regarding how often you want to post and what type of content interests your target audience to keep your momentum going. Be consistent!”
Maybe you need to start making one piece of art a day to post online. You never know where that may lead.
Gigi Rosenberg is an author, artist coach and editor of Professional Artist. She wrote The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing (Watson-Guptill) and coaches artists to help them find funding, blast through creative blocks and launch vibrant marketing plans. To sign up for her smart, art-filled news, visit gigirosenberg.com/blog or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.