(Disclaimer: I do not make a living on Twitter or Instagram as an artist.)
Most of my followers and twitch viewers know that January was a unique month for me.
I started a social media detox, meaning I removed Instagram and Twitter from my life. During November and December, I was tracking my app usage (by using Social Fever) and was horrified by the results. Not only did I discover I was using social media for more than an hour each day, but sometimes up to three hours. (and this did not include time I spent on the apps using my computer)
But what was worse is that I didn’t REALIZE that I was doing it.
It scared me.
As a freelance artist, I understand the importance of getting your work out there and growing a following in order to make a living. But there’s a big difference between focused advertising using social media and just browsing mindlessly for hours.
So towards the end of December, I really started to pay attention to my habits.
Signs that showed me I needed a detox:
Comparing myself to others = increased anxiety: I would often start my day by browsing on instagram from 10-40 minutes (depending how difficult it was to get out of bed), and since I follow more than 500 artists, there was an endless amount of scrolling to be done. I justified this easily because “It provided lots of inspiration!” However, some days I was already feeling anxious by the time I got out of bed because I had just seen some incredible art and I NEEDED TO CREATE SOMETHING JUST AS INCREDIBLE! This sense of urgency set my day off on the wrong foot. Rather than waking up self-aware, setting my intentions, focusing on things I can do to be a better artist and improve my business, I got out of bed feeling like I could never live up to the beauty I had just witnessed. Some days I would rush through breakfast and start planning big elaborate projects that had nothing to do with my real goals, and I would usually abandon them soon after. Wasted energy + time.
Keeping up with new algorithms = Burn-Out: In order to have a “successful” social media account (as a professional artist or business owner who want substation growth), you need to follow the rules set forth by the app’s algorithms. Each one is different, but for Instagram (and most) it means posting at LEAST once a day, posting high quality work, posting during a time when your viewers are most active, responding to each comment within one hour, and using relavant #hashtags. There are several things wrong with this from an artist point of view. First of all, to keep up with the daily demand of posting high quality artwork takes a tremendous amount of energy, and doesn’t allow for the “bad days” - yes you know when I mean, those days all artists experience when everything you do sucks and becomes kindling for the fire. It means that you could potentially rush through something wonderful, or worse, post something you don’t like just to keep up with the daily requirement. Posting things that do not show your work in the best light, or represent your goals is ultimately detrimental to your public presence and business.
So this unrealistic demand on artist means that a LOT of accounts either suffer in views (because they can’t keep up with the daily posting) or that a lot of art accounts have tons of “behind the scenes” or not so great example of their talent.
It’s very easy to get burned out - AND THIS IS JUST ONE TINY PORTION OF YOUR DAY.
Time = Money? Something I came to realize as I became more aware of my app usage was that in a matter of a week, I had lost about 10 hours to scrolling, writing posts, and sharing my posts. For some people who use social media as their main source of advertising, this amount of time could be easily be justified. But for me, it was always meant to be something “extra” that I did for fun to connect to other artists. In the last year, it had slowly become a bigger and bigger focus, and by the end of 2018 it was a consuming force in my life. Those 10 hours should have been used for the pieces of my business that actually bring in revenue, or towards my growth as an artist (i.e. PAINTING AND DRAWING!)
I looked at my analytics (one of the benefits to having a “business” profile on Instagram) and saw very few click-throughs to my website (less than 10 per week). That means regardless of some posts getting over 300 “likes” only 10 people who saw my posts every week actually clicked on my website to look at my shop or other links. Which means it took me one hour of effort to get ONE click. Not to mention all the effort that goes into actually creating the art. This is an extremely low return on “investment” and one I cannot afford.
Facing the Truth - Social Media was my Drug
These realizations brought me to the point of exhausted frustration. Something that I had once loved was causing me pain. So I decided to remove that pain from my life. Enter: The Detox.
The word detox is dramatic, and probably makes you imagine me huddling in the corner in a fetal position, crying out for ONE MORE SCROLL…JUST ONE!
Well to be honest that wasn’t far from the truth at first… on January 1st, I deleted Instagram and Twitter from my phone (I didn’t delete my accounts, just the apps). I removed the bookmarked pages from my browser on the computer.
That first week I must have reached for my phone 100 times - I would catch myself mindlessly searching my phone for those familiar icons to get my “fix” before remembering they weren’t there.
I’m not proud of how dependent I was on those apps to fill some voids in my life. I used to open them to avoid thinking about things I should be doing, or to pass some time on the bus, or to “unwind” late at night.
Artist Life Without Instagram or Twitter
My main excuse for using Instagram and Twitter was that it was a bottomless well of inspiration. So, without the apps, would I feel uninspired? Would I drift aimlessly into “art block?”
Not even close.
In fact I haven’t been MORE inspired to create things I love in over two years. I have a sense of clarity about my own aesthetic and vision that has been missing for a long time. Maybe missing is the wrong word. Perhaps muddled is the right word.
Whether you realize it or not, the more art you consume, the more it seeps into your personal visual library, and informs your aesthetic. And if you aren’t careful, it can lead you to creating things that aren’t you.
It can be a sign of immaturity in artists (and as far as I know almost every artist has gone through this stage). They see something they love, and instantly want to create it themselves. They don’t stop to question why, or whether it will help them towards their own goals. (however I will point out that this cannot hurt in the sense that if you are inspired to create something, you WILL grow as an artist!) But as an artist matures, they realize that they have their own voice, their own desires and their own inner fire pushing them to create what they love. This is how an artist’s style develops. They become prolific, with as little outside influence as possible. They create what they find beautiful and that in turn is unique.
So, in my case, no, I am not drifting aimlessly without my daily dose of inspiration online. I rediscovered my true sources of inspiration and have begun creating for myself again.
When is the last time you drew or painted something for yourself that no one will ever see?
It’s very rare these days.
But that is where the magic happens. This is probably one of my biggest gains from my detox, because it was missing from my life for so long.
Instagram is especially guilty of pushing artists to share literally everything they do - from sketches to finished work. Doodles to Framed art. When Instagram launched their “stories” feature, it transformed the way artists interact with the app and their viewers. I was very obsessed with watching and posting stories. I couldn’t consume it fast enough. Months and months of sharing every aspect of my art, and consuming the same amount from others.
Without that, I have realized how incredibly efficient I am with my daily tasks and how quickly I’m growing as an artist and business owner.
Clarity = Scary Truth
The clarity and productivity I’ve experienced through my social media detox was accompanied by an awareness of some absolutely horrendous choices I’ve made over the last year.
While under the influence of the incredibly successful artists I follow online, I did some things prematurely that have now dug me into financial distress. These choices include making certain products and starting some long-term projects that require investing in supplies. As well as writing and illustrating my stories - everyone is curious about it and wants to know more, so I was doing it for myself AND them without considering the consequences.
My only saving grace is that I can press pause on those ventures, and resume them in the future when I’m more financially stable and that effort and money can be recovered down the road.
But it’s embarrassing to admit that much of the energy, time and money I’ve been pouring into those projects was done from a place of poor business planning and more from a place of pure desire.
Facing this scary truth was humbling. It’s not easy to admit you made a mistake to yourself, let alone others. And it felt even worse because I have jeopardized everything I’ve been working for as an independent artist just for the thrill of feeling more successful.
Detox is Over, Hello Focus February
So with this awareness in mind, I’ve decided to go back to the “basics.” I am devoting February to finding out what my business needs to thrive again, which means being prolific and staying aware of my daily habits and their consequences.
On February 1st, I posted on Twitter and Instagram again to let everyone know I was alive, but it felt kind of empty. There was no enjoyment in it. I have barely opened the apps since then. I will probably post one thing today (the 3rd) to announce my shop sale and this blog post, but I will be using it very sparingly in February.
I am extremely curious as to how one or two months more of a detox would effect me as an artist and business.
It’s time to take steps towards better decision making, and I keep going back to what my dad always said to me growing up. “Everything in moderation.”
Interested in Trying a Social Media Detox?
If you do, please let me know about your experience. I am absolutely fascinated by these types of personal experiments. As you can see I gained so much from it, and I wonder about other artists in this age of social media.