What happens when art, photography fall victim to social media’s numbers game?

Janice K. Johnson


Being an artist in 2022 comes with showcasing many different aspects of yourself in the public eye at once. While some may think that promoting your art and forming a brand around yourself is a difficult and all-consuming task, the relationship between artists and social media has never been more intertwined.

Artists have social media accounts, ranging from Instagram or Twitter to Pinterest, as platforms to market themselves. The reliance on social media has led most artists to prioritize their image above everything else, which makes co-opting and absorbing different art styles come with relative ease.

While interactions give artists engagement and allow their fans to feel close to them, artists are more likely to suffer from burnout and often complain that, no matter how much work they make, it never feels like enough. 

Instagram photographers encompass a large subculture of tastemakers, and some of the best ones combine their work and personal style to create photos that subvert the traditional magazine photoshoot.

Zamar Velez is a photographer from California whose bright and contrasting colors make him a magnet for magazines, and he’s gone from shooting his friends in San Francisco to shooting Issa Rae for Paper Magazine.

Velez’s work is colorful, and more importantly, it amplifies his portfolio in a digital space. Credibility and networking come from social media in 2022 more than anything else. He also works closely with the Black Image Center, a community organization that seeks to promote and empower Black photographers economically and imaginatively.

Photographer Sam Dameshek captures a different audience from Velez’s — his work focuses on humanizing larger-than-life figures with his photography. The white borders and brilliant contrast highlight humanity instead of celebrity, and his subjects are often seen socializing and dancing. At just 20 years old, he’s captured candids of Shawn Mendes, and he mostly focuses on depictions of white, upper-class luxury.

While both Dameshek and Velez focus on different audiences, they both use Instagram to bolster their credibility and enhance their artistic vision.

Instagram artist Deon Hinton is also a model for Calvin Klein, but he mostly works with 35mm photography. His work focuses on portraits of himself, and his captions are poetry that highlight his thoughts on personal growth and his relationships with friends and family.

His work feels transparent and vulnerable, and with more than 250,000 followers, he commands a sizable following. He often talks about burnout as an artist and emphasizes openness with his audience.

One of the issues with Instagram artistry, though, is algorithms. With every post, the algorithm has an obsessive amount of control over who sees what on Instagram. Shadowbans — when a user’s social media content is blocked in a way that they’re unaware it’s happening — appear to happen to many different accounts.

Shadowbanning reduces your reach because no one outside of your current followers will discover your account or engage with your work.

This aligns with Instagram’s implementation of automatic content takedowns to combat misinformation on the internet,  but artists can become shadowbanned when their work is deemed inappropriate enough times to reach a certain threshold. Artists can only fix this by contacting Instagram’s customer support team, which is notoriously difficult.

Artistry has shifted away from control and autonomy for the artist, and prioritized engagement and audience support. Social media platforms force artists to continuously create — otherwise they’re basically unable to support themselves.

Audience support can be dependent on the application, too: An artist who has a large following on Instagram can have only a few thousand followers on Twitter. This discrepancy causes them to focus on one platform over the other, leaving them at the mercy of their social media of choice.

The meaning of art will continue to change as the internet becomes more integrated into our lives, and we’ve yet to see the long-term effects of nonfungible tokens on art’s economy and influence.

With the number of posts you see from other accounts on any given day, it’s easy to feel that, as an artist, you’re competing for time and attention as well as against other artists. Prioritizing numbers and content causes much of what we see to be rushed content, and burnout will continue to happen unless artists are able to find solace in rest and relaxation.





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