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How aspiring artists can get the best out of social media

Social media has brought a platform for creators to reach niche audiences and share their stories without having to ask permission from the powerful.

But if you’re an aspiring artist, how do you stand out among all the clutter of brand advertising, influencer content and photos of your cousin’s breakfast? If you’re feeling the pressure to ‘always be posting’, is that really the best use of your artistic time?

“I’ve had a couple of students recently say they’ve gone off social media because they’ve felt the toxicity of it,” says Dr Katie Lee, a lecturer in art and performance at Deakin. “I usually try and talk them into going back on it, because it’s a form of research and knowing who else is out there in the world.”

Dr Lee believes social media is a useful tool for artists to cultivate a creative practice, but there’s so much more to it than just posting pretty pictures.

Putting power back into artists’ hands

Many artists have always aspired to be represented by a commercial gallery, but in the past “it was much harder to get your work in front of the right people and have access to those networks,” Dr Lee says.

“The idea you’re going to be tapped on the shoulder one day is the root of unhappiness for a lot of people.”

Now, an exciting alternative exists for artists to “take back that power” without having to wait for permission from gatekeepers. As an artist, you can reach an audience directly and follow as narrow a niche as suits your artistic scope.

“You can make a decision about how you want to represent yourself, and be forming a narrative with your posts, so people can get behind your interests,” Dr Lee says.

But an easy trap to fall into is to think of Instagram as simply a “publishing space” for artists to publish their finished works, says Dr Lee. An artist with an established professional practice is thinking about and working on a lot more than what ends up on a gallery wall.

“There’s also the bodies of work that sit behind the published outcome of the practice,” Dr Lee explains. “The conceptual development, the process, and the communities of practice. Kind of what we would say was research really, that sits behind artists.”

Using social media to tell your artistic story

Dr Lee says some of the most interesting artists on social media use their platforms for sharing the storytelling of their professional practice. This is about giving your audience a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into your art.

“You can show people inside your studio, or show the relationship of something you’ve seen in the world and how it’s appeared in your practice,” Dr Lee suggests.

This means posting things like a ‘rainy day Thursday’ picture of a half-finished painting, or a post about ‘cleaning out the studio’ showing some rags and paintbrushes.

If your art is humorous, maybe you’ll share some of the funny inspiration you find out in the world. If it’s inspired by nature, perhaps showing the original piece of nature that inspired you, and then the work you created from that.

“Artists are starting to build an identity and a narrative on Instagram,” Dr Lee says. Taking this approach gives artists an opportunity to share “how they think” rather than just “what they do”, she says.

When delving into the work of others, it’s important to “look for how did that artist really push a concept and take it through different stages of development that weren’t just about something at the end that looks cool,” Dr Lee adds.

Reframing social media as a research tool

Many artists who are just starting out don’t feel ready to start telling a story about their own professional practice. That’s OK.

A better approach for aspiring artists and students is to focus on things to look at, says Dr Lee. It can be surprising how few of her undergraduate students are in the habit of actually looking at art, she says. Social media makes it all accessible.

Dr Lee recommends curating your social media feed to serve as a listening tool, to open your awareness to what’s going on in the world. You might even prefer to start a separate account for your art, away from the “bad vibes which we all know exist,” she suggests.

“Start by following more established galleries with artists you like – Tate Modern, San Francisco Contemporary Art Gallery, all the little galleries in Fitzroy, Brunswick and the city… It’s about identifying a sector of the art that you value and find interesting, whether that’s experimental practice, painting practice, or something else,” Dr Lee says.

“Then, as your confidence grows and you know how you want to use Instagram, you can start to build an approach that suits you. Not just sharing everything you’re doing, but making careful selections that help to build a story of your practice and help people understand your work.”

Defining what success means to you as an artist

Dr Lee says one of the keys to enjoying success in your art is critically evaluating what success actually means.

“One of the problems with creative arts that’s got to be demythologised is that there’s a certain genius – that people who are worthy will be ‘discovered’. That’s just not based on reality,” she asserts. “So many people are doing fabulously interesting things but we can’t stop this desire for fame, which is just toxic.”

In Dr Lee’s opinion, the secret to artistic success is to realise that there’s no meritocracy, and to focus on longevity and continuing to show up in an artistic community.

“If you continue to make your work for 20 years, you become well-respected because of your commitment. You’ve contributed to your creative arts field through your dedication and participation.”

Social media is just one of the tools available to let you take control and curate an artistic life that works for you, connecting you with a community of people and giving you access to projects that make you feel good.

“Everybody who goes through and commits to it, succeeds. The only thing you can do wrong is to give up,” Dr Lee says. “You just can’t be a lazy artist.”

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Dr Katie Lee
Dr Katie Lee

Lecturer in Art and Performance,

Faculty of Arts and Education,

Deakin University

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