Its time to keep telling this story. I know its going to be a struggle to translate the last few weeks into something clear and coherent, hence the gin and tonic again. In my last post I was rambling through the backstory of a rather unexpected and surreal turn in my artistic career – being nominated by a U.S. based award called The Shorty Awards for my looping videos I share on the social media platform Vine. In the eye of the storm that blog entry provided me with an opportunity to re-centre the strange events around me as something that I was in control of again, rather than submitting to the often overwhelming sensation that I was subjected to the cruel and consoling machinations of the Social Media machine. In this blog I will update you on whats happened since…
**The Shorty Award voting system encouraged me and my 11 ‘competitors’ to campaign for votes from our audiences by interacting on social media. It also required us to keep producing high quality vines over a 4 week judging period acutely aware that every movement and interaction was being followed by the mysterious Real Time Academy judging panel of industry experts. Their scores and our total votes were put into an algorithm to determine which 6 artists made it through to the final in New York – voting took place between the 18th Jan and 19th Feb**
I’ve never been a part of anything which I felt to be at once so conflicting, intrusive, exciting and scary. At times it felt like the only conversation I was capable of having and the only topic of which I was capable of thinking. It played to my worst social anxieties with my fears of scrutiny and judgement held under the microscope, but it also allowed me to confront my sense of ambition and battles with self promotion. So yeah, february was a walk in the park. Part of my initial challenge was even just telling people. I was faced immediately with the organisation of my audience and the difficult task of gathering together the disparate parts of my practice in order to create a strong and resilient voice. I found myself asking the question – how can being nominated and enforced to play a strange social game actually benefit the making of my art? (because the making of art has to be the priority here. Self promotion is not simply a goal in itself) and so thats what I hope to extrapolate on in this post and share with you some of the steps (both comfortable and uncomfortable) that I took along the way.
Facebook was my most immediate social network and as I use it as a place to communicate with my friends and colleagues around the world, but I often found with some awkwardness around what to post as an individual in questionable fancy dress and how to represent myself as a serious artistic entity. I was aware that it could be a unique meeting place for many disparate people from my life to support me in this campaign so I took the opportunity to set up a Page of my drawing practice as a space for the promotion of my work. So I finally gained a much needed distinction between my online identities and throughout the campaign I shared my progress in personal and honest updates. I shared a compilation of my vines and made sure to thank people for their support of my campaign as it unfolded. Without Facebook I don’t think I would have achieved the same ‘global reach’ (one of my assessed criteria) sigh.
I streamlined my instagram account into a more organised space of studies, sketches and photographic ideas which influence my drawing practice. I am now posting a couple of times a week and using it as an opportunity share works-in-progress from my archives. Instagram is about connecting with an image lead audience, people who may like your work from multiple disciplines and backgrounds. What I hadn’t appreciated in doing this was precisely the amount of artists using instagram who are working across a number of platforms to different audiences. I was excited to see how many of my friends and contacts were regularly posting on instagram and how I had been totally ignorant to this format. Instagram (and most social media I have learnt) is about engaging with stories. As an artist I want to tell my story within gallery settings by showing the finished articles, but audiences often want to see more – What is going on behind the scenes? How does an artist assemble their influences? How do artists think? What do artists do all day?! Instagram is a great diary space to share the process of making art, and to celebrate the processes of others. Thumbs up to instagram, well done instagram.
On Twitter I conducted my most thorough campaign trying my very best not just to use it to promote my own activity but also to keep up with the retweets and pointing out what my network was doing. The amazing thing about Twitter was the generosity that I received from so many corners. My network was so supportive throughout the campaign and really kept the momentum going for me, generating and sharing content rather than me creating it all by myself. Social Media is a social activity and its great to be in conversation. Rather than only talking about yourself (he said in a blog. FUCK…) I guess its just networked thinking – these platforms rely on us to participate in this way – and thats something you either enjoy or not.
I didn’t always find every step of this process easy or enjoyable. NO bloody way. But there were a few standout moments where interaction on social media had a REAL LIFE benefit and this was nice, after all I wanted an experience which I could use to get closer to my goals: being more economically resilient, sharing my work to new audiences, developing substantial connections. This all has to happen in the real world at some point right? One example was getting my work featured in the brilliant New York publication ‘Untapped Cities’ to a sizeable North American readership who featured me in an extended article. Just through twitter! Amazing! I also made contact with the inspirational authors, organisations, artists and people whom I had been meaning to contact for some time. These were latent goals that had been rattling around in the back of my mind and which I had lacked the confidence to do previously, but the circumstances gave me the pressure to actualise some of these ambitions and see them create fruitful and real-time relationships. These connections all played out on Social Media platforms as I caught the bus or waited for the train. I spent a lot of time on my phone… it was an intense month. But it was also important. I had a fire under me. A reason and a timeframe and an audience and a product but I also had a burning passion. To go to New York.
When I was a child I collected postcards and black and white images of New York and put them on my walls. As an adolescent I drew comic books with epic NYC nighttime skylines in the background of every scene. The glorification of New York burned into my retinas when I was a teenager in TV shows such as Friends and Sex and the City and was ruptured on 9/11 whenNew York’s iconic skyline and sense of permanence was so violently destroyed. It was no surprise that when I returned to drawing in 2006 after a Drama degree, that I was drawing cities… I was raised in Milton Keynes, Urbanism runs in my blood.
Now I’ve started to consider my short form art content as a viable possibility of earning a creative income. The storytelling skills I have honed throughout my theatre practice and my skill as a visual artist are huge assets – nothing to be ashamed of – I just need to make the right partnerships and stay true to the processes and relationships that I want to make. I’m not sure I would have the confidence to go there if it wasn’t for this social media malarky.
But by the end of voting however I was exhausted and was just dreading the announcement of the results. There was an agonising two week wait in which I checked my inbox and junk mail too many times to be normal. I was talked down from the anxiety ledge many times and had discredited the competition as something I never really wanted anyway. I was a husk of a man. The campaigning process had killed me. If I was still a boy I would have thrown the monopoly set all over the room and staggered out.
But eventually the news came through that I was shortlisted as a finalist and I am now into the final 6 competitors heading to New York. I couldn’t believe that all that hard work paid off!?! The messages of support and congratulations were immense from all sides. I really felt like I had accomplished something really rather good and now its all about getting to New York for real… I’ve booked flights which will allow me 10 days in New York to initiate new works and connections, drawing as much of it as I can from heights around the city. I want to explore and soak up its details, drag scene and vibrant street life. I am arranging meetings with people, places and organisations (some new contacts, some evolving, some probably overambitious) whom I think may be able to support my work in New York longer term. I want to see the galleries of Williamsburg, the view from the Rockefeller Centre, I want to laze in Central Park.
This will of course cripple me financially and so I am now offering a limited edition print run of 50 signed prints for £50. By the time the print cost is taken off (and if I sell all of them) I may just about be able to afford 10 days in New York funded by the sales of my work. I have applied for a certain travel bursary (but I fear my luck may have run out) and will wait to hear but I have faith that something will work out. There is the credit card if all else fails.
The realisation in all of this at the moment is that I have the capital to get there inherently in the art that I am making. I have worked for years in order to be in the position where I can offer something high quality and desirable to a market of engaged people. But its also the realisation that the value of my work is not in being appreciated by someone else, but in appreciating my own merits and unique abilities. I can now look around me at the business that I have made for myself and feel that it is functioning – that it has capital and that it is finally resembling something that I want and need it to be. For now at least.
Many see Social Media is a way to shout about yourself to other people, and many use it that way. I think its about generosity and opportunity – being in conversations and embracing your networks as something real and active. Its also a method of talking to yourself about yourself. It is a self reflective activity. Its a public diary and a journal. Like so many things its about the balance and at times these last 6 weeks I’ve felt its addictive powers and felt the damage of the ulterior space it creates. But really I’ve learnt that its all about making and taking the opportunities as you find and create them. You can create opportunities online and they are no less valid than in real life and if they turn into real life experiences then so much the better. I’ll always feel slightly embarrassed to share this journey but I’m growing to appreciate that its an exciting and unique story to be telling. Its helping me take ownership of my digital practice and I’m looking forward to seeing how it can emerge as something which compliments my drawings, engages my audience and creates new opportunities for collaboration and connection worldwide. BUT FIRST NEW YORK BABY
Thanks for reading if you got this far.