I used to write letters to friends. After summer camp or when one of them moved away, we would correspond. It was always so exciting as a kid to open your mailbox and find a letter festooned with stickers addressed to me. Later, I wrote long letters to my high school boyfriend (and yes, he wrote long letters back- we were both literary geeks). And years after that, I was still writing letters to my grandmother, even as it became more difficult to find stationary. Finally, that method of communication died. Somewhere between the advent of the internet and the death of the post office, we all got connected on Facebook and learned a different, albeit weird and impersonal, way to stay in touch.
After that, came the advice that anyone building an independent career as a musician, artist, or small business owner must absolutely learn to navigate social networks and use them in building their brand and a professional network. It was a wonderful tool for a while and became a critical factor in the production and display of art, extending into the realm of group exhibitions. This study looks at the impact of Facebook on the lives and work of contemporary artists:
“The physical display of these artists’ works next to one another [in group shows] is not unlike the photos of parties artists attend, strategically tagging each other and posting those images to Facebook for their online audience to digest. Both are ways of making literal otherwise loose social ties exemplified through text’s silent populism. The image –both of gallery installations and social life– operates in a liminal space between projected conception and firmly believed reality. While artists have always consorted in packs, the process of distinguishing and joining such groupings has never been so formalized as it is today through Facebook.”
However, while the above article suggests Facebook’s influence on the art world will continue for at least another decade, personally, I’m not so sure. Anyone with a business or group page has probably noticed the recent addition of a stats figure indicating how many people viewed each post. The more people click or “like” your posts, the higher the views for the next one. It’s all about algorithms. However, for a small fee, you can ensure the post is seen by more people. Check out this EcoEtsy blog article to see the results of a test run. Suddenly, it isn’t really a “fan” page anymore, but an advertisement. Soon, Facebook will make the option available to regular users.
The policy will most hinder efforts by small, independent artists to reach a larger audience and to network with one another, encouraging people like me to look for alternatives like Twitter and Pinterest.
I believe Pinterest has the greatest potential to replace Facebook as the preferred social networking site of artists. Forget everything you may have heard about Pinterest being a female ghetto on the internet steeped in mod podge and craft paint (I really hate that characterization). Once you find a few good pinners to follow, Pinterest can open up a whole new world of art, culture, and ideas. It’s all right there, a fountain of images pouring down your screen. It makes the linear chronology of Facebook seem so binding and passé. On Pinterest (as on Twitter, although it is far less visual) it somehow makes more sense to connect with people sharing a common vision halfway around the globe.
And yet, currently, no single social network offers everything we want. For example, on Pinterest, communication is limited to comments. There is no way to have a person-to-person correspondence. Likewise, there is no way to organize groups or invite people to events. Also, while you can pin your own work, the emphasis is on pinning the work of others, so curating is really the name of the game. It is a good way to find artwork that inspires you, but to connect, you have to follow the images back to their source and send an email or tweet. Another drawback about Pinterest is that it, too, is looking for ways to become more profitable. I cringe at the idea of Pinterest becoming nothing but a virtual shopping mall.
I believe Facebook – and all the other social network sites – are going about this the wrong way. Rather than offering a free service and then sneakily trying to find ways to make it profitable under our noses, why not be completely up front and offer a comprehensive and totally customizable experience for a monthly fee? If I could connect and follow people like I do on Facebook, but get the visual experience of Pinterest combined with the public platform of Twitter, I would pay for that! As sure as I paid for every stamp and every phone call in days gone by.