Get off your phone

Not everyone is cut out to be an artist, but everyone is capable of depicting a personal perspective through imagery. One might not call all of it art, but we will leave the eternal “what is art?” question for another blog post. Not everyone is willing to lead a life where you spend a lot of time perfecting your skills, and shaping your personal language in order that it may communicate and mean something to others. Let alone having no guaranty that it will ever be recognised, understood or given any value during your lifetime. Every long term artist I know has continuously swung between the purpose and pointlessness of their chosen task. It takes commitment, discipline, confidence and courage to keep believing in yourself and what you do. There are few occasions when you get real confirmation of your work’s worth in the world. There have been a countless number of times when finishing a painting that I have felt my work to be completely irrelevant and futile whilst other people are out saving lives. But that is where the comparison games are pointless.

If we all tried to do and be as others do and are, we would actually offer very little because we would not be giving anything of ourselves. For an artist, it is this process of finding what it is one personally has to express and refining one’s own way in which to express it that really matters. This is why all the work that goes unnoticed, that builds up towards a final outcome is so important (see previous post on the value of what is often unseen). This is also why many artists today can become addicted to the instantaneous validation that comes with posting their work up on social media. Who these people are who “follow, like and comment”, the actual value of their opinions and judgement and whether it will ever lead to anything more than a virtual “like” most often remains uncertain. But for that short moment, one can finally feel less alone because someone is noticing and even sometimes engaging with what you would otherwise be doing in complete isolation. It can often be a double edged sword though, because the need for instantaneous gratification goes both ways. Your “followers” also expect that you will be instantaneous in your response, providing them with more content to peruse and critique. And the pressure to post a piece of art before it really resembles anything and leave it exposed for public validation can become far more lonesome and disorientating than spending the time alone in one’s studio in front of an empty page or white canvas. Artists need moments of “losing themselves” in thoughts, pages, colours or moments of time in order to come close to producing anything authentic. It can become a wasteful and destructive cycle if, in order to avoid the angst of uncertainty and to overcome isolation, one needs validation from total strangers in order to feel that what one is doing is of any worth.

The craze of being connected on social media has created a situation where we can make something out nothing or make nothing out of something. Having social media platforms so readily accessible through smartphone use has created a culture driven by the need for instant gratification and “likes”. I create a lot of my work without any clear idea of what the point is other than to simply produce an image to represent an idea, sentiment or subject from a personal perspective. It requires working through until that clarity of expression is reached. It demands trusting, without guaranty, that there is a point to the process and that at some point it will make sense and resonate with others. To not post photos or be in some way visible on the internet today would be counterproductive to sales and exposure of one’s work. There is no sound reason to go against the way in which the art world has evolved and progressed. The trick is to find the balance between using virtual platforms in whichever way suits you and not letting oneself be used by them. Valuable information can be gathered through following how ones’ own and other artists’ posts trend on various platforms. Certain apps allow us to waste less time following and mapping those trends. Those apps, though possibly less “fun” and of the ego-massaging variety, give real feedback based on collected figures and statistics rather than personal preference. As both fact-based statistics and personal preference are important factors in determining the value of art, it can be useful to keep an eye on both – but not let either define the worth of your work.

The fact that artists can today post photos of their work on the internet, at any stage of its development, and get attention through virtual critique is a mixed blessing. For many, the instantaneous aspect to it all brings the pressure to make every step in the creative process appear as a work of art. It is easy in today’s culture of snapping photos and uploading everything to social media, to destroy the necessary privacy of this time. It is like giving people a taste of a cake before it is fully baked and divulging what all the ingredients are before you let them taste it for themselves. Making your own way and remaining authentic within a world where imagery is today in such abundance demands times of uninfluenced contemplation and lack of external stimulation more than ever. It is why I remind myself - and encourage other artists - to get off your phone and get into your studio.