Updated: Jun 5
Being creative in 2023 is complicated. Not exactly the hottest take or most original statement, but it is true. Or is it? That’s part of what makes it so complicated. On the one hand, we, as creative people, have access to as broad an audience as ever in human history. You would think, that means we can create whatever we want, whatever inspires us. You’ll find some group who likes it. That might be true, but it’s certainly not that easy. You will likely have to pass through one of the corporate artistic overlords known as social media companies and their dreaded algorithms to find that niche group. The algorithm was supposed to set us free, but it has just further separated us. The algorithm curates by feeding us only what we’ve previously liked - never anything new, challenging, or abstract. I remember when I was growing up (I sound really old now), and there was still the idea that trendy was bad. Trends were something to push AGAINST - not to lean into. Now the vast majority of “influencers” just lean into whatever is trendy in their field. So where are we? To be creative and find an audience, you almost HAVE to use social media; to be found on social media, you have to post what people already want to see - even if it’s not your style. At that point, you’re just chasing trends instead of CREATING whatever you set out to create.
It’s all just…exhausting.
The only way I have found to make creativity in 2023 simple is by not looking for my audience. Or, more simply, making the audience for my creativity myself and those around me. I haven’t posted on Instagram since June 19, 2022, and in the 9 months since, I have felt my art vastly improve. Why? I’m not making art with limitations anymore. I am not photographing subjects I think Instagram will like; I’m photographing subjects I like. I’m not cropping in 4x5 or 1x1; I’m cropping in a way that makes the best photo possible. By making myself the audience for my work, I have grown to truly love the making of art.
This week I posted my first TikTok - a simple montage of scenes from the SEIU Local 99 strike that the LA teachers union joined in solidarity. I didn’t go to the strike to make a TikTok; I didn’t make the TikTok because I thought it would get views - I simply was there and documented it and created a video to commemorate the day. That video gained more traction than anything I have EVER posted on social media. What was my response to that success? I want to make more videos and get another hit of serotonin from my app. I woke up today, ready to start making more videos, but I had this strange feeling - my body was ready to go - almost vibrating - but my mind wasn’t coming along for the ride. I felt lethargic like I only wanted to sit on the couch and veg out, probably take a nap, and then pretend I’ll get to work on the video on Monday.
I started to think about why I felt like this. I started going through an internal checklist: I took the dog for a walk, took a shower, and felt fine afterward; I only had one cup of coffee and some water. I got the distinct feeling that this sensation was more mental than physical. So I sat and took a second to think about what could be causing it, and the answer came quickly - the TikToks.
I am so excited to make these TikToks, but at the same time, I feel like I’m making them for the completely wrong reasons. In the back of my mind, I keep saying, “I gotta capitalize on that last video - I’m not gonna show up in people’s feeds again if I don’t act quickly.” That thought usually leads to second-guessing my video ideas because they aren’t similar to the video about the strike. Now, I’m more worried about how a piece of creativity will perform on social media than doing the work. This is where I think my mind and my body got disconnected. The truth is I need to create art because I want to create it - not to justify its creation by sharing it on social media. That’s the difference between a creative individual, dare I say an artist, and a business, a brand.
We are not brands; we are not businesses - we are people who create.
There are certainly those in the world that need to create to make money - that’s okay. I urge those folks to do this exercise.
Ask yourself - am I making this work because I want to because it fulfills me, or am I making this for money?
If the answer is money ask, “Would I create this work if I wasn’t paid?”
If the answer is no, ask, “What would I create if I wasn’t paid?”
Whatever the answer is - do that one time. Even if you do it, and it’s terrible. Keep doing it when you can. You don’t need to share it with anyone. Make yourself your audience for that work. Then do it again.