Artists chained to an Algorithm

I’ve been studying art in a formal capacity since the age of nine. I remember life without the internet, and I absolutely remember life without social media. Shock.

Art was a little less “accessible” at the time. Meaning, in order to see new work, you had to wait for a photo in a magazine or book, go to a gallery/museum/show, perhaps a PBS special, or wait ‘till it hit a main stream sales in the form of prints. Far more accessible then compared to 200 years ago, for sure, but art work wasn’t as instant as the paint was still drying. I remember my mama taking me to the downtown library where I would gather giant art books or beautifully illustrated children's books and would spend many happy evenings looking over every detail. I was influenced without even realizing how deeply until later in life. I’ve seen some of those same books or art that hung in my childhood home influence my work today.

Today, we seem to have noooooo limited access to old and new art with the advent of digital photography, at-home scanning, and social media. Pop on your insta feed and use the #art; everything you could imagine flows into a feed that you could never keep up with if you tried to follow them all. To keep your feed from being overwhelming we have algorithms. Some server, in another state, decides what you see based on the likes and follows you feed to it, and then it keeps the algorithm going by showing you more of the same.

And what do they curate for us to see? You know. Those brightly exposed yet contrasty and somewhat abstracty paintings with little depth because the camera or scan doesn't translate it well….. and, oh, if you are really cool, flakes of gold leaf.

I’ve been thinking on this reality and a little worried for the future of young artists, including myself. What if all this “unlimited sharing” is actually harmful? Rather than empowering us to share new bodies of work, we instead mimic each other in the perpetual hamster-wheel trying to please the algorithm gods.

Now, I do think artwork is meant to be shared, and as an artist who has made it her career, it also helps that the artwork I create then share becomes popular. It helps lead me to other jobs and more knowledge to my greater body of work, but my concern is this:

Some artwork simply does not look good on instagram and never will.

AND THAT IS OK. It’s actually good.

Think for a second the last time you visited the nearest art museum. Think of the big pieces that didn't fit well in the frame of your iPhone or had so much depth of color the photo didn't do it any justice. Or what about the lace on the trimmed collar of that dutch golden-age painting that almost disappeared when you were scrolling back over your story highlights. I’m not saying you shouldn’t share, but we have become instinctual as to what will get better catch that sweet, sweet algorithm wave.

I fall into the trap aaaaaalllll thhheeee tiiiiiimmmeee. I post thinking of that algorithm for insta fame. This danger I slip into is producing work that bows to the computer processor. I intuitively know what is popular because my feed tells me what will win the applause of the moment. I fear we, as a generation of artists, are holding back. But this time we don’t have the Salon of Paris or the wealth of the Catholic Church “holding us back”… it’s our need for superficial fame.

Would Monet have been someone you followed on Instagram? Would Caravaggio after painting “The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist” have seen his work trending amongst the sea of unboxing videos and #sundayfundays?

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It seems dangerous to me that we would produce works that are only fit for a narrow platform AND that we would draw from that same narrow platform for inspiration.

To be frank, we all look very much the same.

So what should we do? Here are things that help me.

  1. Scroll less. Paint more. Or Draw more. Or whatever it is you produce. You know you need this reminder. I need it more.

  2. Leave your house and your screen. Go see original masterpieces, go to the library, visit local galleries, or shows. Branch out of the art world you know and go see a fashion show or play. Research light and color through eyes of scientist. Break up your algorithm-curated world and explore treasured art curated by humanity.

  3. Free yourself from misunderstanding social media fame. Understand what the platforms are doing. Because you will save yourself money and time when you learn things like you can’t buy your followers for the extra fame that is truly lasting. Use Instagram and Pinterest in its place, but don’t let it rule your work.

  4. Fail at pleasing your audience all the time. It’s not worth you sacrificing your potential work and blessing the world, even future generations, because you held back out of fear of failing.

  5. Drop the jealousy act because it isn’t helping you become anymore accomplished and beautiful. If you (like myself) are constantly stunted by the competitions of artists then get over it and go connect. Connect with real artists in real life. Collaborate and seek relationships. Some the great masters were made by their artist friends and mentors.

Art for me is worship. I want it to be praise to my creator God and Savior who fills me with His Spirit and I create from a freedom of purpose and promise. I want more not to be chained to the empty applause of men and computers, but rather to bring the fullness of Jesus’s majesty forward as an artist living, working, and creating on this side of eternity.

In short do not fear stepping out of your comfort zone. Experiment and keep on making. #makersgonnamake

NEW COLORING BOOK - AROUND THE HAM

It’s here! We loved Color the Ham so much, but were sad we couldn’t include all the beautiful towns and subburbs surrounding Birmingham sooooooooo Around the Ham was born! Available now through Amazon and when Down in the Ham sells at Pepper Place.

http://downintheham.com

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Shout out to Bethany Hubbard Travers and Ashley Chesnut for all their work to make this coloring book a reality!

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Down in the Ham Interview with Shelby Living

‘Down in the Ham’

“The women who teamed up to create this children’s book are eager for readers, young and old, to discover the downtown Birmingham they know and love.  “

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Check out the article all about Down in the Ham with my dear friend and author Ashley Chestnut.

I told about how I illustrated this project and more!

“This is the gift I want to give to the children of Birmingham because I was a child of Birmingham. I cried the first time I saw a picture of a child reading the book. It’s in these children’s hands and in these parents’ hands. It has been such a privilege to see people get excited about it and tell others about it.”

http://www.shelbyliving.com/down-in-the-ham/

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West Elm Workshop

We had a fantastic time at West Elm this summer! We created bright and fun citrus and learned how to currate inspiration through color, subject, and limitation. I really enjoyed working with West Elm and with the wonderful folks that came out to paint with us!

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