Self-Promotion: a Required Skill for 21st Century Artists

The traditional path to a career in the arts is no longer available. It used to be that the artist would spend time honing their craft, then produce a product. Using networked contacts, the artist would then locate a gatekeeper, and if the product were deemed worthy, it would be sent out into the world. With the exception of the contacts and an occasional interview, the artist was free to devote time to creating the next work.

Today the artist still has to produce a product and maintain a network of contacts, but also has to have a social media presence. Actually, the artist needs more than just a social media presence; the artist needs to become an influencer. So great is the need that some believe the profession of artist no longer exists—“only ‘influencer’ remains.” What this means is that the artist needs to establish a “personal brand,” learn the technology associated with a number of social platforms, decipher the algorithm that will push postings on each of those platforms, and—most importantly—post consistently. That means time away from making art and spending more time on self-promotion. Soon, the artist is spending more time working on their brand rather than on making art. As musician Ricky Montgomery says, “Next thing you know, it’s been three years and you’ve spent almost no time on your art. You’re getting worse at it, but you’re becoming a great marketer for a product which is less and less good.”

Some celebrate this phenomenon. It’s more democratic, they say. What they don’t say is that when the artist is self-promoting on social media, they are competing for attention with everybody else on social media, whether they are artists or entrepreneurs selling new and exciting life styles. They are, in fact, competing with the world. And, it’s not as democratic as it seems. The gatekeepers are still there, except now, they not only worry about how good the artist’s work might be, but how many followers the artist has on Instagram, TikTok, X, Threads, YouTube, or Facebook. Gatekeepers are now looking for a guaranteed audience. Not only are there stories about writers who do not have enough of a following to be published, but there are instances of actors who were not cast because their competition had a bigger following on Instagram. No one is immune; Rebecca Jennings, in her Vox article, “Everyone’s a sellout now,” notes the case of a 65-year-old accountant who is “being encouraged by her company to post on LinkedIn to ‘build [her] brand.’”

And if the artist is opposed to self-promotion for whatever reason? Too bad. This is the society we live in today. So, yes, an artist could produce a fantastic work of art, whether it be a book or painting or photograph or sculpture, and never have it see the light of day because of lack of self-promotion. Joan Westenberg says that “we have confused popularity with skill. The number of hearts, likes, and followers determine a writer’s worth—not the quality of their prose.” And that may be sad, but until something changes, that’s how it is, and any person who wants to survive as an artist had better add self-promotion to their list of required skills.

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Date: Sunday, 11. February 2024 22:02
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