Art, Ambition, Algorithm
Confessions from a digital artist
Once upon a time artistic creation for me was only a few doodles on a sketchbook, with the occasional colored “masterpiece”, now I could hardly be satisfied with my art without getting a couple hundred likes off Twitter.
The digital age has redefined artistic creation in many ways, not merely the emergence of digital art as a genre, but also how art is valued: popularity can be quantified through likes and shares, art theft is rampant, and NFTs now claim to “protect'' creators' intellectual property. In a bizarre way, art has devalued while becoming more profitable than ever.
I am sure that any digital creator has faced the struggle of coming to terms with what likes means to the value of their creations, some choose to play the algorithm game, while some refuse to participate in the frenzy. I see both sides of the argument, but maybe we are all missing the big picture here: what do these numbers mean in the grand scheme of things?
Take for example a classical struggle of an online artist: you spend months creating a detailed masterpiece, garnering a couple of likes and shares, only to randomly post a rough sketch and be blessed by the algorithm and become the internet’s darling for 2 days, what does this mean? Surely a rough sketch can’t be better than a completed piece, but could it be possible that the rough sketch has an art style that is more attractive than the completed piece? Is the simplicity of the sketch something that caught the public’s attention? Is there a difference between how the public sees your art compared to what you see?
Putting your art online subjects your talent to the public spectacle, your art no longer belongs to you alone, but it is also shaped by public perception. I’m almost certain that every artist started with doodles in their own diary, art was first a personal thing to them. We all drew in our notebooks, secretly hiding our creations from those who try to pry, because we all started out with a tiny fantasy in our heads and wanted to see it come to life. Art was about ourselves, what we think and what we desire.
When we share our art we are sharing a part of ourselves to the public, an attack on our art is not merely to the piece itself, but also towards the creator. When we see artworks garner attention online, we think about the creator as someone who is talented and skillful. The work represents the artist, and therefore the likes and shares of the work are a reflection of the artist: a popular artist is the ideal role model.
But aren’t we forgetting something? When we started out there were no likes or shares, when we drew our doodles we didn’t think about the “popular artist online”, we thought about what we wanted. So why is art now different for us creators? Why are we creating for the sake of what others think, and not for the sake of what we desire?
I confess that I’ve fallen down the same trap of thinking too deeply about those numbers. It started when I casually posted on Twitter as a backup plan for my art. I posted and forgot about the whole ordeal for weeks, only to open the app again and find that I’ve gained two thousand likes without even knowing. The shock was real. And that made me eager to try again, to get more attention and improve myself. Only for disappointment to ensue. The algorithm gods betrayed me, and I was left alone in the dark, pondering what this all means.
What I learnt was that my art has devalued because it became a vessel to gain likes, every piece is a number, and nothing more. In a grotesque way, it is like calorie counting: foods are just numbers, there is no emotional enjoyment, only facts and figures.
But art should not be different for us because of the digital age, for the longest time art is studied as a reflection of culture, philosophy, and history. Valuing art by numbers is what auctioneers do, not what artists do. I’m sure Van Gough didn't draw thinking about how much money he could sell his pieces for, and even if he did his estimation would be wrong anyway. We can’t see into the future, nor can we read minds! The only mind we may try to understand is our own: what do we want to create?
What do you want to do with your art?
Art will always be the priority in artistic creation, and the spirit of art is determined by you only. You are the artist, and art is your world. Be the creator and make the rules, because it is the only place you have unlimited control over. You may have ambitions too, maybe you want to be able to commission your art, or try a new art style. That’s something you learnt through the Internet, which is great! Make use of what the digital age provides, and improve your technical skills through observation and practice. Setting goals is what pushes us forward. And lastly, there is the algorithm. It will always exist, and as long as you are publishing your art online, it will get to you. But remember that what the algorithm brings are just numbers, and your art means so much more than that. You are not a number.
Be the creator: make art, be ambitious, and screw the algorithm!
If you are interested in my art, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram @kizuno_k. Thank you for reading and I look forward to posting my thoughts again. Xoxo.