the shortest straw
there’s always discourse about numbers on art on social media and whether they should matter or not, and while I don’t believe that solely trend-hopping/drawing simply for engagement is a sustainable way to post art, I have something else to add.
when I got started drawing on instagram, six years ago, I was posting pencil portraits of idols. It was fun for a while and I learned a lot, but after sometime it just felt tedious — my art lacked any of my personal voice.
realistic portraits were in vogue back then (I guess they still are), but a lot of people back then really liked that style/look. And yet.. I barely got any likes/followers from that, even though I was drawing “on trend”. Any numbers I had came from friends who shared my work/hyped me up, which I was, and will be eternally grateful for.
I stopped doing those portraits altogether after a while, going into more stylized art instead. It wasn’t really anything special, and I struggled a lot with finding a cohesive style. I wasn’t rly drawing what people wanted to see. Again, no numbers there, except from friends. I think I felt happier — I was drawing and creating things from my heart — and although they stood out to a few people, they were mostly lost on the majority.
inktober 2017 was a time when I really grew, maybe from the posting everyday, or maybe from the fact that it was a popular challenge. It wasn’t astronomical or anything, but it felt nice, to finally be getting some traction after three years of trying anything and everything to make something of my art and myself.
one day, that growth just stopped. I don’t know why. It reversed, even. It’s like overnight the algorithm decided that my art wasn’t worth it, and a space that I held close to my heart slowly became more and more obsolete. This was around the time that instagram’s algorithm changed.
over the years ive watched countless new artists arrive on scene, and within months, be at a number that I have yet to even dream of, six years later. Because of luck. Because of probability. this applies to all platforms that rely on sharing as the main source of traffic and traction — one post on the explore page, one retweet from a big account, and you’re well on your way. It doesn’t matter what the drawing is, or how much time you put into it, how much research you did or how much your back hurt from drawing it. Ive seen masterpieces overshadowed by a line or two, with a clever caption.
I feel like this conversation lacks a lot of nuance. It’s not only “drawing for likes is bad” or “likes and followers are essential to any artist”, of course, it’s not a binary. I don’t agree with drawing solely for likes and followers, but I can see how it’s necessary for some. Likewise, I really dislike when people shut down artists talking about likes/followers with the argument “draw what makes you happy, that’s the most important”.
for me, it’s been six years of feeling like I’m pouring my heart out into a void, because it feels like I’ve tried each end of the spectrum, and everything in between. I will never, ever take seriously someone that tells me there’s an absolute solution to this, one with closure, because I’ve had this conversation with myself an infinite amount of times, and not once I have come to a resolve.
am I bitter? Sure. But im more frustrated with the fact that this whole community is so dependent on chance. There are people have been doing this for longer than me and have even less, simply because they haven’t been “blessed by the algorithm”. When five-minute doodles get three times the attention than any elaborate piece of artwork, it’s hard not to be a little cynical. I’ve heard every argument in the book. Im tired.
i don’t for a second question the integrity of my art, because it’s what has won me awards, gotten me into art school, and got me my first freelance job — it’s not me, and it will never be me. it’s an arbitrary, cutthroat code that has screwed up the valuation system of an entire generation of artists. it’s the easiest place to see the fact that effort, hard work, and time don’t guarantee anything. in the end, it always boils down to chance.
art is what you want it to be. who am i to judge the quality or “goodness” of an artwork, when even the simplest of drawings can bring comfort to someone? if you find happiness in, like, or are moved by these drawings, i have no qualms with you. it’s important to step back and realize that in this day and age, people still retain a childlike sense of wonder and appreciation for art. a feeling that’s been present since the earliest days of the world still propels us, the artists, and you, our audience forward. im endlessly fascinated by, and grateful for that.
but i don’t think it’s bad or controversial to say that these big-picture thoughts are dimmed by years of feeling like an anchored rock amongst a rushing current. sooner or later, we’re all worn down.
anyways, like i said, i’ve had these conversations years ago. i know im not alone. there’s a lot of us who got the short end of the straw. i was a kid when i started posting online, and here i am now, six years later, and the only thing that really seems to have changed is time.
thanks for reading.