Why Don’t They Care About My Art?
Experiences of Female Artists on Social Media
Imagine having the whole world at your fingertips. Sounds impossible, right? Yet, with the rise of social media this concept has become increasingly real and easily obtainable. For artists, this presents an exciting opportunity to gain exposure for our work and expand our following internationally. We can now share our work with individuals who would otherwise never encounter it, both within and outside our communities. Thus, social media effectively expands our influence beyond the local places we frequent and into realms we have never physically entered. Personally, social media has enabled me to build a community for myself all around the world, which has proven to be extremely beneficial when it comes to fundraising and selling my work. I have also made a lot of close friends through social media. In fact, I have made just as many, if not more, friends online as I have in person. In these ways, social media has positively impacted my personal and professional life. However, it is not always easy going as a female artist attempting to make a living on social media.
Privilege plays a huge role in who is realistically able to make a living on social media platforms, such as Instagram. I spent more than ten years building my social media presence and currently have over 10,000 followers on my @teresaflowers Instagram account. Yet, despite the immense time and effort I spent building my following, I now must pay for this audience to see my posts. Unfortunately, this is a common obstacle for many artists attempting to make a living on social media. Right now, artists need to have money in order for their work to be seen. It doesn’t matter that their audience started following them organically, of their own accord. It doesn’t matter that they spent countless hours cultivating a rapport with this audience. Unless an artist has money, their work will rarely be seen on social media. This monetary prerequisite to exposure lends itself perfectly to the individuals who are already privileged in the art world and general society. You guessed it: wealthy, white men! These privileged groups easily climb to the top, not only limiting the kind of artwork audiences encounter, but also the types of artists who are able to make a living on social media. You see, if an artist’s work is not being seen, then their voice is not being heard. And if their voice isn’t being heard, it is nearly impossible for them to make a living. Thus, instead of social media representing an inclusive collective as it should, only a few perspectives are being promoted. As a result, any artist who is not white, male or wealthy has an extremely difficult time obtaining recognition for their work and audiences see only a portion of what the art world has to offer. However, the monetary requirements that have arisen are not the only constraints social media platforms have placed on the voices of minorities, including women.
Censorship is also a huge issue that limits what kinds of work is being seen. Social media platforms, especially Instagram, view nudity as unfavorable. In fact, any content that is deemed sexual or inappropriate immediately gets banned. These strict policies can be especially detrimental to female artists who are creating work that is pushing boundaries and asking questions. When women in the arts are not being seen and heard on social media, it limits our perspective of the kind of work that is out there and narrows our minds to validating only a specific set of opinions and life experiences. Instead of inspiring collective conversation about all aspects of the world we live in and how they impact every individual, censorship on social media limits conversations to topics that are deemed conventionally “appropriate.” As a result, women are blocked from regularly viewing artwork that celebrates the female form and promotes inclusive bodies. This teaches us to be ashamed of our bodies and that our naked form is something to be hidden from the world and kept private. Thus, as a woman in the arts who often photographs the female form, I believe censorship is extremely detrimental to the relationship women have with themselves and limits the ways in which they can openly express their feelings and opinions. However, the impact of censorship on female artists doesn’t end there.
Throughout my career I have had many experiences with being banned, not being able to express myself and my work not being seen on social media. After encountering these limits to expression on countless occasions, I began to feel as if my work wasn’t good enough and maybe no one wanted to see my art. I would often think to myself, “no one cares about my work anymore.” Unfortunately, this is a shared experience among most female artists. When your work is frequently banned or censored, it begins to feel like an indication of your skill level and the value of your work, especially if you are unfamiliar with social media policies and practices. Thus, censorship on social media contributes to the strong feelings of inferiority and doubt all female artists experience at some point surrounding their work. Despite the fact that many people actually love the work of female artists, the immense limits placed on our access to exposure and freedom of expression send an entirely different message. Oftentimes, the voice of one hater speaks louder in the mind of a female artist than the praise of hundreds of supporters. Plus, voices of disapproval can reveal themselves in numerous different forms.
Another way in which social media can be detrimental and discouraging to female artists is due to the immense sexualization of the female form. For me, this often instills some internal conflict surrounding the action of posting selfies. Over the years, I have found that the sexier the selfie is, the more I get promoted on the algorithm. My social media feed can be quiet, but as soon as I post a selfie, creepy men suddenly pop up in my comments and direct messages to say “hello” and make other remarks about my physical appearance. While these selfies do bring attention and much needed traction to my social media, I think it is extremely fucked up that I must look sexy to obtain recognition for my accounts and overall work. I am sick of feeling like women are only valued for their bodies, not the incredible and groundbreaking artwork they are creating. When I am posting a selfie for my followers, I am deep down wondering, “why don’t they care about my art?” In this way, the widespread sexualization of the female form on social media communicates to not only female artists, but women everywhere, that our value rests in our physical attractiveness. Subsequently, we begin to feel as if we are objects to be admired, but not heard. The voices and opinions of female artists everywhere are overpowered by the extreme focus on our bodies, to the point where we begin to feel as if we must play into this sexualization in order to gain exposure for our work. This is not how it should be. Women should not be forced to sexualize themselves for their work to be valued. Social media platforms need to reexamine the ways in which they are cultivating the widespread sexualization of the female form as well as the limits they are enforcing on the voices of women. Only once they recognize these inequalities will they be able to make social media safer and more accessible for female artists.
Personally, I believe it starts with adjusting who is enforcing policies on social media. Currently, Instagram and other similar platforms are basically run by bots and algorithms. To cultivate inclusivity and compassion on social media, these platforms should instead be managed by real people who are educated about the arts as well as the experiences of women and other minorities. These individuals would be able to make personal and meaningful decisions more effectively regarding the censorship of women’s artwork. Rather than random people being able to flag a woman’s work simply because they don’t personally approve, these knowledgeable individuals would hopefully make reasonable and impartial decisions about what is permitted to be shown on social media. As a result, female artists would theoretically be able to speak more freely surrounding the issues that matter most to them. This would also expand the kinds of art that audiences are able to see and enable more artists to make a living off social media. While I recognize this is not a perfect or complete solution to all the issues I have outlined above, I believe it is an effective way to start uplifting female artists and their work.
As you can see, social media is a major catch-22 for female artists. On one hand, it is the best place to gain exposure for our artwork and business. It expands our connections, allowing us to make new friends and share our work with a broader audience of people. However, on the other hand, social media frequently takes advantage of women. Monetary barriers, censorship, and incessant sexualization makes it extremely difficult for female artists to have their work seen and their voices heard. As a result, they are unable to make a living on social media and struggle to support themselves. We need to rethink the way in which we treat women and their art on social media. It should be a place of encouragement and kindness, where women can go to expand their support network and feel valued for their work. So, the next time you are scrolling through social media and come across a post from a female artist, show them some love. Tell them how empowering you find their work. Hype them up. I truly believe that change will happen once individuals begin to empower each other. Only then will we achieve the inclusive collective that social media is meant to represent.
Join me here on Wednesdays at 12pm to learn more about my personal journey and begin an exploration of your own. If there are specific topics or issues you would like me to respond to, feel free to reach out to me on Instagram at @teresaflowersphotography or @teresaflowers. Or tune into my weekly Instagram Live stream on @teresaflowers where I will be discussing these topics in more depth and answering your questions!
Thank you all for your support and encouragement over the years. I am excited to continue this journey with you!