One of the most common criticisms levelled at social media users, (especially young people), (ESPECIALLY artists) is that they are raging narcissists who will do anything for likes, anything to get those little hearts soaring.
And no, unfortunately, it’s not just Sherlock from “Elementary” that says this.
I get it – we are being bombarded with content every time we log on somewhere. Everyone wants us to like, subscribe, comment, share, share, share. It’s like you can’t have an account online without someone trying to sell you followers, or weight-loss smoothies, or ask you to check out their art, or their self-published book, or their really, really amazing line of hand-made jewellery. (My favourite is when you follow someone who said something interesting in a chat, and they immediate DM you asking you to check out their book page, and maybe buy it.) The Internet is big and vast and we all have very limited fucks to give.
(Should I say fuck on this blog? Is this going to bring down my readership?)
(Probably. Oh, well.)
I like to think it’s not all that bad, though. That there is some benefit to people – and creatives especially – to share their work on social media.
Stop me if you’ve heard of this one: a person likes to make a thing – clay pots, for example. They enjoy what they do and they’re okay with forking out however much they need for materials. But the stuff is starting to accumulate and they’re wondering if they can move some around. Maybe make a little bit of money. (If they’re a child there is a chance they will drop the ‘maybe’.)
Then some well-meaning person (or persons) tell them that they shouldn’t.
That clay pots are fine for a hobby and good for them, but can they really make money off it?
That there are only so many clay pot makers that the market can sustain at a given time.
That people don’t buy clay pots anymore anyway.
And let’s face it – their clay pots need a lot more work.
There are creative people who politely listen to that advice and then go on to do their thing. There are creative people who defy the odds, and there are creative people who find success is different from what they expected it to be, but it is still nice.
There are creative people who overshoot the mark and let their egos get the better of them, and sadly burn a few bridges too many in the process.
But there are also many, many, many creative people who let the doubt get them down. They make fewer clay pots or paintings, because they really are out of space, or because they need to focus on their career. They might go get some new supplies at their favourite shop, but find that the raw materials don’t inspire the same joy they once did. The excitement, the spark of anticipation when imagining what you could do with a new type of clay or ink is gone. Instead, they frown at prices and sigh bitterly whenever they are told of someone else’s blinding success.
Sometimes the bearer of that news is the same person who dissuaded them from putting themselves out there, and the irony meter breaks.
I can tell you all of this because I have been, and still am there.
I’ve drawn and painted and moulded clay (it was first grade) with the abandon of a beginner.
I’ve been told I’m not good enough when I wanted to paint; told I’m too old to learn the piano; told that writers don’t make money; told that knitting makes me unattractive to men (true story!); told that no matter what I do, or how hard I work, there will always be someone better than me, and why would a customer settle for something less than number one?
You hear those things enough times, you take them into yourself and you make them a part of your landscape. Can you imagine going through life with so much bitterness? And don’t think for one moment that this won’t bleed into other aspects of your relationships and career. Once you believe you are not good enough, it’s hard to convince yourself otherwise.
Enter the likes.
Enter the Instagram hearts.
Enter the people commenting with generic “love it”s and “#goals” under your posts and pictures.
It seems like mindless fluff and maybe it is. It seems like stroking someone’s ego and who knows, maybe it is.
But it is also a reprieve to a beaten-up, disillusioned person.
It is evidence – ephemeral as it may be – that there are people who like what you do and appreciate your efforts.
Maybe your first art teacher will see it and send you a note, or a FB message: “Well done! I’m proud of you.”
And maybe it will encourage you to put more of yourself out there. Maybe it will encourage you to learn more about the industry.
Maybe you will realize – and believe – that someone else’s success doesn’t mean there is less for you, or that you are a failure. (That last bit is from “The Art of Asking.” You are welcome.)
Maybe you will want to make a realistic estimation of yourself, rather than relying on the bully in your head to tell you if what you do is worthy.
Craving approval isn’t narcissistic.
It’s actually pretty fucking human.