It Feels Good to Do Things

Hello, dear readers! Some thoughts on not doing art for the likes.

I hadn't realized it, but Mr. Rogers had a clip that summarized a lot of what I feel is missing when an artist starts to post for exposure and/or likes. (You can watch the clip here.)

"It feels good to do things. No matter how anybody says it is." — Mr. Rogers

The problem with social media, I learned eventually, is that sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, et al, strongly encouraged me to create art for the likes—to create art that not only can be appreciated by others, but that I felt must be appreciated by others in order for that art to have any value. These days the algorithms on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram simply reinforce that motivation, by hiding your less-liked posts—even from people who've chosen to follow you.

While I think fan art and cute art can be quite valuable and fun (even outside of their popularity on social media, because fan art and cute art give catharsis and comfort to the viewer), ultimately I ended up wanting to do cute art for all the wrong reasons: for the likes. For the reblogs and the retweets.

I'm told by other artists that likes and boosts are necessary for them to be inspired to create. I'm happy that this works for them; it didn't work for me. For a while I wondered if the fact that I wasn't moved by likes/reblogs (or that they could outright depress me, or fuel a worrying competitive, obsessive edge) meant that I wasn't a real artist. Or that I was somehow the worst kind of artist, an artist snob, a fake and insincere artist.

The current driving idea I've seen espoused in many places is that one needs to create art for others, and not purely for oneself. That art that has no mass appeal is worthless.

Nowadays I reject that idea. I think the art that's the most fulfilling is the art that you do for yourself, outside of the framework that social media encourages. And for someone like me, who couldn't filter bad critique versus good critique from strangers and acquaintances, social media stagnated my creative drive.

So in June of 2017, I cut myself off from posting much art to social media, and eventually by October 2017 reduced it to no art (or rarely posted art).

Once free from trying to create art that had mass appeal, I started to experiment. I thought I hadn't been listening to people who told me that you can only paint with watercolors in specific ways—but I had been, all along. It was only months after unmooring myself from the pitter-patter of people who didn't know me that I realized I'd let those "common-sense" homilies stifle me.

That sounds so arrogant. After all, who am I to say if my art is good or not? Shouldn't the market decide? Shouldn't the world decide?

But I realized that letting others decide if my art is good meant I wasn't taking a proactive stance in my own development. I was simply receiving what people told me was good for me to do—and it's a fact that people are quite bad at knowing what they actually want, much less what's good for others.

When I left social media, I took my art journey back into my own hands.

Art I do post remains on my own site these days. (That's turned out to be a blessing, given the overreach of many terms of service agreements on social media sites, like Twitter and Instagram.)

I'm sorry to all the folks who looked forwards for more cute cat doodles from me—my heart wasn't in them, and I think that's a disservice to y'all anyways. I'm happier with my art experiments, and I think one day, perhaps, they'll be something other people can enjoy as well.

But in the end: it feels good to do things. No matter how anybody says it is.

Also, a bit of art: my third serious self-portrait (January 2018). My previous portraits are stacked on the right, with December 2017 on the top and June 2017 on the bottom.

Collage of portraits.

Cảm ơn. Ava