All the Reasons Why Social Media Is Bad for Artists

This blog that you are reading right now was not necessarily my Plan A – it rather resulted from a deep frustration with social media. I would have not really considered writing blog posts if I had not felt absolutely invisible on social media, trying to get my art seen, and failing quite spectacularly.

I am sure you have also read all the articles that step-by-step promise you social media success – and doesn’t it sound nice? Thousands of people following your journey, excited to see, share and buy your art? I tried following the guidelines. Posting regularly, trying to create reels, posting stories, researching and using all the hashtags.

And in all honesty, I hated it. I felt lost in a game I didn’t want to play.

So, I gathered all the reasons why I am so fed up with social media and why I believe artists should not invest their souls into Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Co. The working title for this article was ‘why social media sucks’, by the way.

I will explain in detail why social media is bad for artists like painters, illustrators, and photographers but most arguments are valid for any creator who uses social media for business-related purposes.

Warning, this turned out a bit long. But there really are that many reasons why social media is a terrible idea for artists.



Why social media is bad for artists trying to get their work seen

Let’s start with the essential flaws Instagram & Co. have as platforms – the way they are set up makes it hard for small, independent artists to succeed.

Social media has become an (unpaid) full-time job

With increasing users, the requirements for being successful on social media as an artist are constantly rising, too. In the beginning, it may have been enough to post your artwork and some behind-the-scenes photos and words once in a while.

Today, things have changed a little: Be online regularly, post in an absolutely religious schedule, interact with people, create stories and video content. Social media has basically become a full-time job, at least if you want to be seen.

Social apps ask you to spend as much time and effort as possible on your social media presence – all for free, of course.

Is all that unpaid work really paying off? How many sales do you actually make through social media?

In business, always consider the return on investment. And social media, with all the investment it is asking from you, is quite honestly not returning much.

Your content disappears

Social media is designed to be short-lived. And so your art, only seen as ‚content’ on social media platforms, disappears in an instant. When we post artwork that we worked hours or days on, nothing could make us happier than people spending a moment to truly take it in, right? But the reality is, most people will simply scroll past in less than a second, at most leaving a quick, insignificant like as they do so.

Your chances to even reach the feed of your followers are low. Depending on the platform, your content is gone within minutes or days. Worst of all, your content on social media is not searchable.

What does that mean? If you create a blog post or upload a video to YouTube, people can find these years later still. You create content that is valuable for a long time, not only for a couple of hours, and it will keep attracting people to your page.

On social media, however, your content simply disappears. Even if you use hashtags, you will only show up for a very short-lived time in the hashtag feed. And the amount of people who will actively click on your profile and catch up with what you posted, is very little, too.

The disappearing effects of social media, symbolized through sand running through hands.
Like sand running through your hands: The good disappears too quickly.

Effectively, you disappear

Just like your content, you are only one of the millions of artists on social media. You and your art disappear in a crowd of other people. (By the way, I am not writing this article to depress you, I’m just saying social media is really not exactly the most appreciative place for sharing art).

Say someone follows several artists. As they scroll through their feed, they consume all those different artworks as one, without taking time to get to know the individual art and artist.

You are simply feeding the big stream of free entertainment that social apps provide.

The little time of interaction stops people from truly connecting with your art. It is a whole different story if they spend twenty minutes watching a video of yours or reading a carefully crafted blog post. Especially if you do not spend all your days posting on social media, people will quickly forget who you are.

As human beings, being forgotten and invisible is one of the things that scare us most – and as artists, we literally live from the attention our art gets. So signing up to a platform that constantly lets us disappear into nothingness seems like a terrible idea.

A lot of followers does not mean you will sell more art

When I started my journey on Instagram, I thought it would be fairly easy to get more followers, if only I make nice art. And with a lot of followers, I thought, it would be easy to sell my art.

But the truth is, only a tiny percentage of your social media followers will be actually willing to pay for your art. For most, you are only creating content for free. That does not mean they don’t appreciate your art, of course. But from a business standpoint, you might want to reconsider the amount of energy you put into social media.

I have checked a lot of artists’ social media profiles and noticed that there are many accounts out there with large numbers of followers – but if you check their Etsy stores, they barely have any sales.

If you truly want to convert your social media followers into paying customers, having a link to a shop somewhere in your profile is not enough.

It takes a lot of work. You need to actively market your products and have a marketing funnel strategy ready, otherwise, the incentive to buy won’t be strong enough to actually make money with your art through social media.

You are dependent on a platform

Never, I repeat, never place all your bets on a single platform. Social media platforms are similarly short-lived as their content.

Say all your success as an artist depends on Instagram. When that platform is gone, so are you.

And on the next platform, you will have to start all over.

It happened to me personally. I started out having some small successes as a photographer on Flickr back in the days. But when people started switching to Facebook and then Instagram, I joined the party too late – and never managed to achieve similar follower numbers ever again.

Comparison of follower numbers of the same artist across different social media platforms.
From 25k on Flickr down to 7k on Facebook – and now with less than 1000 people in my (active) community. Oh well.

So I recommend to anyone having your efforts spread out. Have a homepage that will outlast any platform and start building an email list from early on. Only this way you can take your subscribers with you, whatever platform comes next.

It is hard to start social media as an artist in 2021

Social media success belongs to early adopters. In the beginning, with less competition, it was easier to get a lot of followers quickly.

Joining now, the work has multiplied. It is still possible to make it, of course, but you’ll need a bulletproof strategy, have to constantly keep up with the latest trends, and likely pay for advertisement.

Everybody wants their share of the seemingly easy social media success – so it becomes harder and harder to actually achieve it, with algorithms and competition working against you.

Maybe some people thrive on this, but to me, it feels exhausting.

Instagram is the one who profits, not you

In the end, it is the social media platform that profits, not the artist. As a side note, you don’t even properly own your content when uploading your work there.

Being a social media user, you play into the service they are providing, free entertainment. In the end, Instagram is not helping you to grow, quite the opposite. The work you put into it is only helping Instagram to grow.

Julia Bausenhart, an artist who quit social media, explains on her blog how the time you spend (waste) on social media is simply their business model. The more people spend hours on the platform, the more money they make through ad revenue.

If a magazine wanted to publish your work, would you do it for free? No! (At least you shouldn’t). But on social media, thanks to the promise of easy success and dopamine, we allow our precious content to exist as unpaid work drowning in the masses.

It’s clever, really. But not for you, only for the companies running those platforms (which nowadays are mostly all the same anyways, namely Facebook).


How social media harms your mental health

Well, I was only getting started above, explaining why social media is bad for you as an artist. It is widely known by now that the effects of social media reach deeper. Even though they are supposedly social and enriching, they can have quite the opposite effect and severely affect our mental health.

Comparing yourself to other people

Social media, the highlight reel. Unconsciously, we often compare ourselves to what other people post about their lives. And as artists, we judge our own art, comparing it to the masterpieces other people create.

There is definitely a movement of people using social media more honestly, admitting their struggles, which I do love – but even that still can lead to comparison. Am I as authentic as them? Do I have a positive social impact or does my vulnerability look like whining?

It is hard to be immune to comparison since it literally lies in our nature. Letting go of comparison can be practiced of course, but requires a very mindful approach to social media – which is difficult because it is literally designed to be addictive.

And the more you consume what other people are doing, the more time you invest into other people’s lives instead of the one that matters – your own.

Why social media is bad for artists: Self portrait of a woman on her phone at night
A self-portrait I took addressing the adverse effects of social media.

Say goodbye to your attention span

Social media content is becoming even more short-lived nowadays, prioritizing second-long videos as quick entertainment. People are pushed to quickly consume a lot of information, but not in-depth, only a flood of shorts.

Our attention span is clearly suffering, as proven in many studies. In fact, things are getting so bad that our attention span is nowadays worse than the famous not-so-brainy goldfish, as this article states. Our attention span is, thanks to our digital lifestyle, down to SECONDS.

Congratulations, we are all becoming goldfish.

By using fast-paced social media, we are destroying our attention span even more. Instead of reading in-depth articles and focusing on a movie, we mindlessly switch from one piece of content to the next.

Your work is judged through numbers

What matters on social media? It is one big numbers game. As an artist, you are faced with the reality of having your work judged based on how many followers and likes you have.

The quality of your work does not seem to be what matters anymore.

Unfortunately, higher numbers signal success and expertise, even if those numbers might be all fake and completely irrelevant to a person’s actual qualifications.

It is hard to not feel frustrated about your work being rated in the realms of social media. With numbered ratings for art widely on display, the entire art market is changing. But when we let meaningless numbers impact our judgment, there is a problem.

Social media can be outright dangerous for your mental health

Social media can feel exhausting. It is a constant race of keeping up. Welcome to the world of FOMO, anxiety, competition, and comparison.

Because platforms like Facebook and Instagram are designed to be addictive, you may find yourself checking them way more often than you’d like to. Social media lives from getting your attention – a high price to pay, especially if you leave the platform feeling worse than before.

How often do you engage in truly enriching interactions on social media? And how often do you feel stressed and desperate to keep up?

The mental health effects of social are plenty. Studies have shown that high social media usage increases feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety. Comparison and showmanship go a long way, in some cases even resulting in bullying, self-harm, and mental disorders.

In the light of these severe mental health consequences, saying social media is harmless entertainment is pure hypocrisy. We all need to be aware of and actively protect ourselves and others from the hazards of social media.


How social media makes your art worse

Now that you have said goodbye to your free time and mental health, do you want me to get into how else social media is bad for you as an artist? Your art might be doing better without, for a couple of reasons.

Illustration of a meditating woman
Keep calm and make art? Not so easy, when social media is right there to distract you.

The curse of pressure

Social media forces you to be constantly creating – after all, your posting schedule needs to be filled and maintained with new content at all times.

So the pressure to increase the output might lead you to create more quickly, in a haste. For some, a little bit of pressure to create regularly might increase their productivity, but in the long run, you might run out of energy.

When you feel pressured to constantly post, your rushed art might lose detail and precision – exactly the little bit of extra love that makes an artwork stand out.

If you are only creating to keep up with social media, your work can lose authenticity and meaning. Is this truly why you are creating? I believe your art has a deeper message. Its purpose is not to keep the quick-burning engine of social media running.

Social media interrupts the workflow

Many of the social apps are constant distractions. Notifications constantly remind you to never forget about what is happening in your little digital corner, and even if you have them turned off, you might find yourself checking every other minute if there is some more dopamine available for you, opening the app mindlessly, without even noticing you do it.

Not only that but also the creation of content for social media can be very disruptive to your workflow. If you need to stop every couple of minutes to take photos of the process, screen-record your editing, take behind-the-scenes videos – what does that do to your artistic process?

One of the most beautiful things about making art is that special flow state while creating. Social media, however, disrupts exactly that, which can easily result in higher levels of dissatisfaction and a less peaceful experience while making art.

You are wasting the time you could use for making art

Social media seems like it is not so time-consuming but it is. Let me just quickly post this on social media? What a joke. I am sure you are familiar with how long it really takes to prepare a little piece of content. Photo editing, writing the perfect caption, researching hashtags, interacting with comments, …

And, apart from the creation of content itself, social media is very inviting to get a little bit lost online. After posting, we are checking for likes, we are scrolling infinitely, coming back way too frequently to have a satisfying experience.

Your time is precious. As an artist, the time you lose online could be used to create your next masterpiece. Making art should always be your main focus. Everything else comes after.

My precept as an artist is: Create more than you consume.

Social media is the end of unique art and inspiration

When reaching for social media, what we hope for is inspiration. And I can’t deny that I have found so much beautiful inspiration through the internet, yet it has to be handled with caution.

Today, we are facing complete overconsumption of art. As soon as you open Instagram, you are flooded with visual impressions – more than we can safely process. As a result, we encounter overstimulation instead of inspiration.

And I have observed another effect of the increasing popularity of sharing images through social media. Whether it’s in photography or illustration, much of the art today feels pretty much the same.

Social media is bad for artists who try to be unique - many Instagram feeds look the same nowadays.
Note: I do not mean to call any of these artists out or even accuse them of copying, their feeds only happen to show stylistic similarities. The names are included to give credit for their work.

Many artists simply seem to emulate what’s popular – resulting in barely unique feeds. If we do not take time to go inwards and express what’s inside of us, but simply copy what we see, the unique factor in making art gets completely lost.

Art is always is a reinvention of what has been done before and there are trends, of course. But the influence of social media can – even unconsciously – lead us to create art that is less unique simply because we create what is popular, not what comes from our soul.

And what a sad world it would be, losing real inspiration and uniqueness while drowning in a crowd of clones.

Why you might still consider having social media

As I think about all the points listed above and how bad social media really is for artists, my urge to simply get rid of it all is quite strong. However, there are a few reasons why you might still consider staying on social media.

A woman in a sunflower field holding a sunflower in front of her eye.

The things I personally like about social media are:

Accessibility

The basic principles of social media are good ones. It is a democratic approach to sharing opinions and art, accessible to anyone with a smartphone around the world – at no point in history have we had equal opportunities like that. In theory, anyone can make it on social media and it could be a diverse platform. At the same time algorithms affect what we consume. We do not get to see the true variety of what is out there since our personal social media bubble is perfectly tailored to our supposed liking.

Connection

The ‚social’ in social media is still there, somehow, even though it may be hard to see. Social platforms do enable global collaboration between artists, making beautiful connections with like-minded people, and keeping in touch with friends from far away. Personally, I have met many people through social platforms that I would have never gotten to know otherwise and it is a beautiful thing having a diverse network of people thanks to the internet.

Inspiration

When used wisely, social media can provide a lot of inspiration. If we stay away from the endless overconsumption of art and instead use social media mindfully, with a more conscious and time-limited approach, we can find a lot of beautiful things. What we see shared on social media can lead us to new approaches in our own creative process. It is not easy resisting the addictive qualities of Instagram and Facebook, but it can be worth trying to work on a different approach to social media.

Social change

What I personally value most about social media is its strong contribution to social change. I love following people who are passionate about making the world a better place, and there are things I would have never learned otherwise. Social media definitely changed the way I think many times. It is great that people use those platforms to speak up about social taboos, encourage others to care for the planet, and show us how we can embrace ourselves fully.

How bad is social media really for artists? My personal conclusion.

Ahh, the big dilemma. What to do now? I hate social media in a LOT of ways (I guess the novel above proved that quite impressively), but I also appreciate some aspects of it. I think it is possible to be a successful artist without social media, but for now, I will be keeping my social platforms.

With Instagram being my personal downfall, my goal is to use it significantly less and dedicate only a portion of my time to it. If you do use social media, use it consciously. Take time to really look at what you see, and interact with others genuinely.

As soon as I notice myself not enjoying it anymore, I leave the platform. (In theory. Still working on that.)

And I always aim to put creating for myself first. Only then do I feel more light-hearted about consuming what other people are doing and can genuinely cheer for them.

Would I judge social media differently – more positive – if my art had really blown up and I was what they call a ‘successful’ artist on social media? I don’t know. Maybe, but I still think many of the negative effects are universal, no matter how many followers you have.

In any case, I would never want to base an art business on social media only. It can be a contributing factor, but I urge other artists to consider whether all the effort and downsides are really worth it for them. My personal answer is no.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *