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You know what frustrates me the most as an independent artist? It's not the financial insecurity (more often than not there are zero assurances that anything I spend hours, days, months working on will yield monetary compensation), the lack of respect (ask any artist of any level and I guarantee you they have multiple stories to share about how they've been treated as if their work-life is the equivalent of choosing early retirement, and therefore falls in the category of "not work at all," or that they should be grateful for all the work they do for free because it gives them "good exposure," even though "exposure" has never paid anyone's bills), or the long ambiguous hours (pretty much every project I ever undertake ends up taking longer than I expected, including this blog post).
What I hate most about my life as an artist is social media.
I absolutely loathe it.
And, that is *super* inconvenient as social media is probably the single most important thing to happen for artists in the last 15 years. Without social media, there's most definitely no way that I could be doing what I am doing right now, no way that I could be creating coloring experiences and selling them to people; I could draw the most amazing coloring pages ever, but who the hell would ever know about them without social media? Being able to share about my art on social media has helped me to find an audience for what I do, but even more importantly, it has helped me to realize that there actually was an audience out there looking for an artist like me all along! That's amazing, and it is something I am grateful for.
But, lately, my negative feelings towards social media have grown so powerful that they have become the dominant forces that begin and end my days: I wake up dreading picking up my phone or turning on my computer to see what did or did not work the day before or to find out what communication I have to follow up on immediately so that my posts stay in the green on all the algorithms (yes, how quickly a business account follows up on engagement affects whether or not our content is placed into our followers' feeds), and I go to bed gnashing my teeth because I either didn't find time to post anything on my social media accounts about what I am doing/creating as I was too busy, you know, doing/creating, or my brain enters a feedback loop from hell because what I *did* manage to post on social media that day did not explicitly "stay on message."
That's right - in the world of artists on social media, the general thought is that every post you share to your audience needs to be exclusively about the specific subject matter of that account. So, say you are a watercolor artist. The unwritten rule is that you must only post pictures, videos, ideas about water coloring. Should your spirit be moved to try sculpting or performance art, well, don't share that to your watercolor loving followers - that's social media suicide! You want to share art or projects that are "off message," you need to create a whole separate account for that work (and, you know, fill it with content and nurse it with the same amount of attention you've given your water coloring account, because you're an artist - you've got loads of spare time!).
Social media gave me a life as an artist, for sure - the idea to create Doodled Blooms, my first coloring book, was born on my personal Facebook page for heaven's sake. But, fast forward three years, and social media feels like the proverbial hammer nailing shut the coffin of my creative self. I am more than a coloring book creator, just like you, dear reader, are more than whatever label society calls you first. Every human being identifies with a good size jumble of labels, but for some reason, once we get into the world of social media, into the world of sharing our work and projects with a larger audience, we are allowed to only choose one.
Perhaps this shouldn't bother me as much as it does (and maybe I am more sensitive about the place of social media in my life as an artist because I have worked professionally in social media and therefore I subconsciously bring those concerns to my current social media experience), but trying to pretend I am a duck and all this pressure is just water sliding along my back hasn't worked for me thus far, so today I am taking a personal stand.
I am an artist, yes, but as an artist I am a dancer, a choreographer, a writer, a teacher, a card maker, a coloring book author, a speaker; my artistic life is as a collaborative artist - my art isn't done until someone else brings their creativity to it! My drawings have a second life once colored by another person, my choreography reaches its full potential once it is danced by others, my words find their meaning once they are digested by a reader, my ideas only feel real when they are heard by an audience. And, because that is my artistic truth (and I feel it in my bones), I feel compelled to share whatever moves me to create, as well as what I have personally created, on social media, whether that's a work-in-progress group of photos of a coloring page I've been working on or a video of a tap step that I am going to teach my students, a process video of how to use alcohol with permanent markers in your coloring pages or photos of my visit to a local museum with a fabulous exhibit, a testimonial of a coloring workshop participant of how cool coloring outside the lines is or dance recital video of my tap students dancing my choreography; it is all my art. I am the artist that had a hand in creating it and I want to share it. And, I shouldn't feel bad, or wrong, or stupid, or unprofessional, or anxious about sharing all of my art!
The page I created for National Coloring Book Day 2017,
colored by Tabby May an artist and coloring enthusiast from
Spain that I never would have met without the magic of the Internets.
It is the folks who love to color that bring the finishing touch to my art,
and why I call what I do collaborative art.
I am an artist, and I get to decide what is and is not my art, not social media labels and algorithms. And, I think, too, that anyone who has chosen to follow my accounts on social media (or read my blog) is intelligent and multifaceted enough to understand that all of these things - drawing, coloring, dancing, writing, speaking, teaching - are all equally me, Michelle M. Johnson. Beginning today, I am going to turn off the noise in my head that has been placed there by social media "gurus" and marketing talking heads and begin to instead trust my audience, trust my art.
Of course, writing a blog post about my frustrations with social media as an artist isn't going to magically erase my anxiety with this part of my work-life. There is no changing the mysteries and truths of social media algorithms, no hacking the attention economy, and "labels" in society will never disappear (because what is social media but our society on the Internet?). I have a lot more emotional work to do, psychological walls to build up and practice using on days when the pressures of social media come calling again (I call these mental barriers 'rainbow walls' and they are meant to be a safe place to hold personal truths - silly, I know, but I am visual, and they have been helpful in the past). But, as with all things artistic, I find it important to share not just the successes but the struggles as well, and right now, there is no greater struggle for me as an artist than sharing (or not sharing) my art on social media.
I haven't found a workable solution, but I am in dogged pursuit.
If you, dear reader, have suggestions, please share - your ideas will be warmly received.