Social Media Is Bad for Artists (And We All Know It)
My artistic career didn’t exactly go as planned. I thought that by now I would have a large social media following and a thriving art business – you know, that nice little scenario we all daydream about.
Instead, I spent years feeling rather invisible on social media, trying to get my art seen, and, truth be told, failing quite spectacularly.
I’m sure you’ve stumbled upon those articles promising a foolproof path to social media success. It does sound enticing, doesn’t it? Thousands of people following your journey, eager to view, share, and purchase your creations. Like many artists, I tried following the guidelines – posting regularly, attempting to master reels, sharing stories, and using all the hashtags.
And in all honesty, I hated it. I felt lost in a game I didn’t want to play.
There is no doubt that social media can lead to success. But is it the only way? I no longer believe artists should invest their souls into Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Co.
Just because it worked for others doesn’t mean it is the best option for you.
At some point, I realized I needed to go a different way. And I did. (Hey, I guess I should thank social media because this entire blog and website stem from my profound frustration with how these platforms are designed. )
So, welcome to my rant. You can look forward to an extensive list of reasons why I view social media very critically. The working title for this article was ‘Why Social Media Sucks’, by the way.
Fair warning, this is a lengthy read. But there really are that many reasons why social media might be a somewhat bad 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 just post your artwork.
Today, things have changed a little: Be online regularly, post religiously, interact with people, create stories, film and edit video content. Social media has basically become a full-time job, at least if you want to be seen.
Apart from YouTube, artists still have very limited options for getting paid for content creation.
Here are some questions for you to consider:
- Is all that work you put into social media paying off in any way?
- How many sales do you actually make through social media?
- What does your social media presence cost you? (time, energy, focus, missed out moments in real life, …)
Especially in business, always consider your return on investment and costs vs. benefits. And with all the investment social media is asking from you, it may not be returning enough to justify the effort.
Your content disappears
Social media is designed to be short-lived. And so your art, now called ‚content’, quickly becomes replaced by a new stream of information.
As artists, we want people to engage with our work, truly taking it in. But realistically, most people will simply scroll past, at most leaving a quick, insignificant like before they move on to the next thing.
Due to algorithms, your chances of reaching the feed of your followers are low in the first place. And depending on the platform, your content is gone within minutes or days.
IT company Mamsys researched the life span of content. This is for how long your posts remain visible on average before they disappear:
|Blog posts||2 years|
Worst of all, most 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 still find these years later through search engines. That kind of content is valuable for a long time, not only for a couple of hours, and will keep attracting people to your page.
On platforms like Instagram, however, your content simply disappears. Even if you use hashtags, it will only show up for a very short-lived time in the hashtag feed.
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 day posting on social media, most people will quickly forget who you are. Out of sight, out of mind.
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, doesn’t it?
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 made 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 studied 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.
I launched my own print shop with around 2,000 followers. Despite hosting a giveaway, announcing the shop very visibly and offering discounts, I only made 1 sale through social media. ONE. The rest came, in the course of time, through my website.
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 can be 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.
In a way, it happened to me, too. I started out having some small successes as a photographer on Flickr back in the day. 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.
So I recommend to anyone having your efforts spread out. Have a website 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 now
Social media success comes easier to early adopters. The less competition there is on a new platform, the more will good work stand out and attract followers.
Today, 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.
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 possibly pay for advertisement.
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 waste on social media is simply their business model. The more hours you spend on the platform, the more money they make through ad revenue.
And that’s exactly the reason why these platforms are deliberately engineered to be addictive.
It’s clever, really. But not for you, only for the companies running those platforms (which nowadays are mostly all the same anyway, namely Meta).
How social media harms your mental health
Apart from social media being bad for you as an artist, it is widely known that the effects reach deeper. Even though these platforms 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 is a highlight reel. Unconsciously, we often compare ourselves to what other people post about their lives. And as artists, we tend to 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.
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 to keep 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’s entire business concept relies on getting as much of your attention as possible – that’s the price you pay for these ‘free’ platforms.
Consider how social media makes you feel. 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 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 it, for a couple of reasons.
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 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 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. Even if you have them turned off like me, you might find yourself checking every other minute if there is some more dopamine available for you, opening the app mindlessly, without even noticing.
Also, the creation of content for social media itself 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 – how does that affect 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 because our brain hopes for the next dopamine hit.
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.
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 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.
The things I personally like about social media are:
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. However, algorithms do 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 assumed liking.
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.
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 to resist the addictive qualities of Instagram and Facebook, but it can be worth trying to work on a different approach to social media.
What I personally value 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 dislike social media in a LOT of ways (I guess the novel above proved that quite impressively), but I also appreciate some aspects of it.
Two years after writing this article, I have significantly reduced the time I spend on social media. With Instagram being my biggest downfall, I set myself strict limitations on how I use the platform and initiated Social Sundays.
If you do use social media, use it consciously. Take time to really look at what you see, and interact with others genuinely. Build self-awareness and question why and how you use social media as much as you can.
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 positively – if my art had really blown up and I was what they call a ‘successful’ artist on social media? If I was less frustrated? Possibly! But I still think it would take a toll on me. 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 all artists to consider whether all the effort and downsides are really worth it. My personal answer is no.
P.S.: If you’re curious about alternative ways to succeed as an artist, you might want to read this blog post next.