Instagram’s TikTokification is hurting artists

San Diego provides an arts scene for painters, poets, activists, comedians, sculptors and photographers not only through the many art institutions, galleries and learning spaces scattered throughout each neighborhood, but also through the City of San Diego’s efforts to finance art. Home to the San Diego Museum of Art, Spanish Village Art Center, North Park Murals, Museum of Photographic Arts, The Old Globe, Bread & Salt Gallery, La Jolla Playhouse and many more art venues, San Diego has positioned itself as a central place in the art world. Many universities prepare graduate students for Southern California’s thriving arts employment sectors, positioning them as innovators, free thinkers, and mavericks…and also social media marketers?

Is an Instagram following what it takes to be an artist in modern America?

Artists rely on social media to be discovered by potential buyers and investors, but the relationship between maker and buyer evolves in sync with changes to the platform through which they interact. Not only do developments on Instagram harm an artist’s ability to market themselves, they also negatively impact an artist’s ability to express themselves.

Joshua Mannila (@joshuamannila), a 19-year-old photographer based in Oregon and Los Angeles, said Instagram’s shift in focus to video seems unfair to photographers and creators who produce content based on the photo and depend on it for their income. He noticed his engagement had dropped and said he had been stuck for months, even losing followers.

Mannila said Instagram started with photos and then introduced Stories like Snapchat and Livestream like Musical.ly. Now Reels like TikTok.

“They lose their own identity as a social media platform,” Mannila said.

The art that kills slowly

As artists attempt to navigate this evolving tool, the line between being an artist and being a business executive is rapidly deteriorating.

“I really stay away from orienting my art and design towards what’s trending because I believe that (as artists) we’re the ones who are able to set that next trend,” said Kyle LeBlanc (@leblanc_co), 26-year-old contemporary artist based in San Diego.

LeBlanc has been a full-time artist for two years. He said Instagram is where people find out about him and where he makes around 90% of his sales. LeBlanc has adapted to Instagram’s changes by creating reels that capture her artistic process and often display her paintings from start to finish. For LeBlanc, the videos help him tell a story about the kind of artist he is.

“Having an entrepreneurial spirit is going to make art less personal, and it’s going to slowly kill the art,” LeBlanc said.

“I’m a bit cynical about what I think the future of art is going to be,” said Spencer Little (@spencerlittleart), a 46-year-old San Diego-based sculptural artist best known for his metal sculptures. wire which it integrates. in streetscapes. Little is represented by a gallery that exhibits internationally, but he primarily exhibits in galleries in Los Angeles. After being adamantly against smartphones and social media, Little bought his first smartphone and joined Instagram in 2015. Little said he was lucky to have established real-life customers who regularly collect from him and d have opportunities to work with museums and institutions to build facilities.

Since her career began before the rise of social media, Little has seemingly escaped the pressure of building an online following. Yet, due to COVID-19 and the lack of gallery exhibitions, he now primarily sells his work through Instagram.

Little has noticed that viewers interact differently with his pieces when presented online rather than in a gallery.

“If you can’t captivate someone in a millisecond, they’ll move on,” Little said.

When artists look at the analytics of their posts, it’s easy to see what’s being liked. This information, while perhaps helpful to sales, is not, according to Little, true art. In a perfect world, expression and profit would go hand in hand without one affecting the other. But it’s not a perfect world and artists need to promote themselves the same way Instagram tries to make money: grab attention. This economic model threatens the art world, which relies on redefining what is popular.

Katrina Frye, founder and CEO of Lauretta Records, an independent music label based in Los Angeles, said social media has updated and evolved to become insatiable, a turning point she says happened when Instagram was purchased by Facebook (2012) and ads were introduced to the platform (2013).

“It was a sea change, with no going back, because all of a sudden every artist had become a business. You weren’t a person anymore; you were selling something. I think that really deprived a lot of artists from the joy of just sharing,” Frye said.

Frye previously founded and ran a business development company for artists and creatives called Mischief Managed. She ran Mischief Managed for five years, but continually found that artists were looking for full marketing support, a service she chose not to offer.

At Lauretta Records, Frye works with recording artists to create a sustainable business model. Frye said there are probably shortcuts in the industry, like chasing virality on Instagram and TikTok, but she doesn’t believe in them.

“I have yet to meet an artist who feels loved, supported, returned by social networks.” said Frie.

Although it comes with challenges, there is no denying the need to have an online presence. Artists can’t afford not to show their work, and now they have to prove themselves with hard evidence of their marketing skills. Frye said that many of the vendors and entrepreneurs she works with won’t even look at the artists she represents if they don’t meet the criteria for some amount of following or consistent publication. When industry gatekeepers tell artists they need to meet specific audience goals, artists have no choice but to tweak what they create to be more marketable.

“If anything, it makes everyone want to look more like themselves and it’s really scary. It’s not art,” Frye said.

Many artists with an online presence seek virality, but Frye says going viral is only a marker of success, not an end in itself.

Artists who become marketers in order to find an audience on an app that keeps users blindly hooked on profit are hurting the art world. Once an arena of self-expression and true creativity, the art world is slowly being channeled into the restrictions of social media and calibrated marketing.

“We’re all the clinical trial of the Meta universe and to me that’s dangerous,” Frye said.

According to a Harvard Business Review study, watching videos without interruption contributes to the likelihood of users continuing to watch additional videos and falling further down the scrolling rabbit hole. The success of this business model for social media companies is undeniable. With Meta paying Facebook users to create video content, Instagram’s transition to video comes as no surprise. Yet it is independent artists, without the means of a small business, who are struggling to keep up.

Johnston is a journalism and graphic design student at Point Loma Nazarene University. She is the editor of PLNU’s student newspaper, The Point, and contributes as an editor. Although Johnston covers a variety of beats, she enjoys reporting on and commenting on emerging technology as a way to connect current events with the experience of a younger generation.

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