Dear Social Media, I am an artist, not a content creator

April 26, 2022

While making a post on a social media platform the other day, I hit a viral status. Immediately I made the move, as artists often do, to share some projects I’m working on, things for sale, places to follow me, et cetera. I always have something going on, so I’m eager to share any of the many things I’m working on. Someone commented to let me know how “foolish” I was to link these things, and how by adding links I was apparently devaluing the post somehow or making it seem like an ad. The comment irritated me, and though I should know by now not to engage with what is effectively a troll, I did engage. I replied, and they got nasty back, but the reason I had replied in the first place was because I thought it was important to make my side public to anyone that shared the same opinion. It’s very simple:

I am an artist, not a content creator.

Aren’t all artist content creators? After all, we’re creating content all the time. But here’s the thing, and this gets lost in the endless seas of social media and the deluge of artistic creations people post on them daily. Just because you are an artist doesn’t mean you’re a content creator — not unless you want to be one. What does this mean exactly? Let me explain.

Social media requires a constant source of stuff. Things to post. Without the stuff then social media is not anything. Take a look at some lesser-known social media platforms like Artfol or Ello — looking at a feed on those platforms means it may not change for days, weeks, or even months, because there’s no stuff going on those platforms, as people aren’t actively posting stuff there. Without the stuff, social media is nothing.

Now, that stuff can be anything. In the beginning, it was our opinions, what we were doing, maybe some family photos, or song lyrics. Nowadays it may be links, videos, or short stories, poems, or essays. When working through a social marketing program, marketers begin to refer to this stuff as content. A social media marketer creates content and schedules it to go up, and determines strategy on good types of content to use to gain the most reach and get the most eyeballs that may later convert to sales down the road.

Artists, when they post, have some of the most interesting and valuable, highly engage-able types of content available to post. Whether it’s a really awesome finished work, an in process video, a making-of video, a tutorial, a review on a medium or product used to make a piece of artwork, or something else, these assets have become one of the cornerstones of intriguing posts on social media. How many times have you watched a video of someone just making something cool?

Somewhere along the lines, social media began to rely on this type of content, and artists started to be looked at as content creators, also known as people who fill the social platform with interesting things to engage with, and less as artists.

Recent social contributions that could be considered “content”

Why is this a problem?

It’s simple. Artists create usually for at least one of the following reasons (if not both):

  1. Enjoyment. Many professional artists simply like to make things. Hobby artists do, too.
  2. For money.

There is often an overlap between artists who make art for their enjoyment and for money. However, it’s possible to simply create art for your own personal enjoyment and not want to do it for money. Or, maybe you want to do it for a little money. It’s a spectrum as to why people create, and each person’s reason is their own. Personally, I enjoy creating, and if I make something people may like to buy and hang in their home, I am happy to pass those off to them for a price.

The problem lies when artists who create for enjoyment, for a little money, or for a full time job starts to be looked at as a content creator and not someone who is an actual artist with a goal in mind — as a person who spends hours and hours making something, who has spent years honing their craft, and more often than not are doing all of this on their own.

Consider this: I am not a reposter. I do not take other people’s art or videos and repost it for likes, internet points, clout, etc. on social media. All of the works I have made and share are all original, and are usually one-of-a-kind (meaning it’s not often I’m reposting even my own works, though you should not feel guilty doing this if you do. In fact, I should repost my own works more often!) so by my own ability of making something interesting and engaging for you, the viewer, I should be allowed to trade off by supplementing you with a link, or a follow, or something else. No one is forcing you to click this link or follow me, but maybe you like what you saw, and you want to see more, or want to buy a product like it. For the minute or less I entertained you, I should be allowed to promote myself in some way without the algorithm punishing me, or some snarky poster leaving a comment about how it’s an ad and I need to pay for it.

I do not create artwork solely to appease social media.

I do not create artwork solely to jump on social media trends.

While many artists do this, and I do not fault them in any way for it, it is expected of them, now, during the days of constantly changing social media algorithms, to jump through hoops to create the content that social media wants to see most. Social media has attempted to turn every artist into a content creator to keep social media platforms interesting and engaging, and to keep people interacting with the artists’ stuff, so they can reach even their already gained audience of followers and cross their fingers for a sale.

Artists who create for money know this arduous path well — an artist who has not hit critical mass on social media is constantly chasing after the trends of what kind of content they have to make. People like reels today? Looks like I have to make 20 different kinds of short videos, and none of them can be branded or else the platform will see the watermarked logo and limit my reach. Many artists, especially those who do art for money, are pushed into a corner and end up spending hours figuring out their social plan on their own, figuring out what kind of content they could realistically make to appease the various different kinds of algorithms, and determining which content could be used multiple times (i.e. one reel video can be used on Facebook and Instagram, but not on Twitter — the aspect ratio isn’t right!) across multiple platforms. Opt not to have a post for every day, or a consistent posting schedule, and the platform punishes you. Post at the wrong time, or the wrong size, or the wrong audio, and the platform punishes you. It’s exhausting.

So, we’re back to our commenter — the one who called me a fool for dropping my link on a popular post.

I am an artist, not a content creator, and I’m doubling down on this. I will post to social media when I have something I would like to post. I do not find enjoyment in creating works for the sake of something interesting on social media, so I will not create works for the sake of social media, and social media only. If something of mine is considered interesting, or intriguing, and goes viral and gets a lot of attention, I will always always capitalize on that when I can by offering people links to look at my work and see more by me. It is simply foolish not to.

Aimee Cozza is a freelance illustrator out of Southern New Hampshire. She graduated from the New Hampshire Institute of Art in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in illustration. Since then, she has been working in a variety of ways completing various illustrations for clients, friends, and for herself.

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