On the overestimated power of social media as a source of inspiration

A large amount of the newer generation of artist and people passionate about the arts in general often state social media as a great way to get inspired, study work, and learn more about an artist. While I do agree that this platform enables one to get introduced to a large proportion of people in a relatively short amount of time, it also comes with a variety major flaws. And in my opinion they even tend to outweigh the positive aspects of the medium.

But why am I so negative about social media as a source of inspiration? I tend to agree that it can be an effective way to find out about new and mostly contemporary artist. Let’s just focus now for the ease of writing, and to better complement my personal experiences, on photography. But this might as well be applied to any other art form existing. 

Social media plays an immensely important role in the so called “democratization of art“. Where established ways of how certain things used to be done are broken and artist are provided with more free and less elite ways of working. But this shall not be the topic of this short write up.

Rather, I want to impose the following question: Is social media really a good source of inspiration, or is it just a mere representation of the art presented in a very distracting and unfavorable environment (phone, computer, etc.)? The internet in general doesn’t provide anything more than, in my mind, one of the worst places imaginable to display art. Surely, you can get inspired to a certain extend by it, but I feel that most of the time you don’t achieve anything else, than to drown in the pool of opportunities constantly presented to you. More links, more websites, and then, to make matters worse, an email or text pops up on your screen. And the very split second it does come up, you’re distracted. And this flash of inspiration wasn’t more than that, a short glance at something you will forget about sooner than later. And now you’re left with a short spark of it, which is essentially what social media does. To supply you short sparks of adrenaline, and then you suddenly get addicted to it overall and fall for it. Surely, nearly everyone has at some point gone the bitter route of judging ones work by the amount of likes and comments received. Then to see it as some form of rating system for determining which photographs are good, and which seems absolutely insane.

Don’t you want to study bodies of work in the form they should be viewed in? Books and exhibitions are the best source for it. Seeing the artwork in real life at an exhibition can sometimes come as a revelation of some sort. Maybe you don’t live in an exciting city with lots of museum and fancy exhibitions, well no problem, get into books. Look at work in the form it should be viewed in, I cannot stress this enough. Your phone or laptop screen certainly isn’t. You will start to look at fewer images, less photographers in more time, and you will be rewarded with the revelation and the true meaning of a complete project or single image. There are no distractions and the work is laying right in front of you, to be discovered and studied. You don’t need to built a library of books you will never read or look at. Get a few, and look through them intently. Again and again, until you know every single part of it almost by heart. And then you can start looking through more and more, and therefore pave your way through the works and artists most interesting to you. It has come to a point where I refrain myself from looking at someone’s work on the internet, and rather, if I am persuaded that this will provide some interesting information, rather go for the book or something physical which is available. This does also support artist, publishers, and all other people involved a tiny bit to keep doing what they do. Art can really be a enduring passion and way of making a living, and one surely tends to overestimate the true amount of these very specific books that get sold.

This is the true essence of inspiration, not a short streak of it, but a deep knowledge and a ever present flow of inspiration. You will suddenly start to come across ideas and concepts, with all of that input in the back of your head. You have seen, studied, and understood what is out there, what can be done, and achieved. And you can start using this to your advantage, to produce the work you have always imagined.


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