Artists burnout on the internet age: How censorship and the state of visual media sharing is killing artists with burnout.
Originally posted July 9th 2019
2019 seems to have been one of the worst years yet to be a creator in the digital age. Why is this? There are many different factors to consider what is bringing about this widespread notion of burnout and hopelessness among artists and content creators.
A few things I should note before going into my essay. This is purely a personal opinion piece and is in no way meant to be taken as fact or science. All the statements I make are merely options and are not meant to disrespect anyone's hard work or insult anyone. Also my opinions will be focusing mainly on visual media such as illustrations, paintings, and digital art but can also apply to film, wiring, sculpture, music, etc. Before I take you down the rabbit hole I highly recommend reading THIS article to help situate yourself in a timeline of the decline of digital art sharing. I should also note I myself am a young but fairly experienced artist who is feeling the heat with failing at building a community and following in this digital age.
With that out of the way let's jump into the meat of the issue here, burn out. Burn out is when you essentially run your creative juices to their very limit and find that creating no longer brings the catharsis that you are used to. It is something of art block and exhaustion caused from over working and can mean different things to different people. However it is anonymous that this feeling is harmful to one's mental health and well being. So how is it that so many artists seem to be suffering from this? I began to wonder why I myself was feeling sluggish like a worn down workhorse who was worthless when I no longer was able to produce. At first I thought I merely had just pushed myself too far. However this perspective changed as I began to talk to fellow friends who were creators and saw numerous amounts of people online talking about these feelings. After about the 50th tweet I saw about an artist feeling “burnt out” I began to try to inspect the elements of our climate for creation that might have been a factor in this awful widespread feeling.
A huge contributing factor is the climate change of the platforms we have available to us to share our work with communities. Over the years of the internet (but particularly in the 2010’s) there has become a wide spread change of the way in which we consume and communicate digital media (see mentioned article). The once robust landscape of art platforms to choose form and ways of building communities has become squeezed into a few big name social media platforms. The days of deviantArt and friends have since left use and now art fights for the limelight in a sea of unrelated information. As of 2019 there are no public platforms that allow for NSFW or mildly controversial artwork to be shared amongst an audience with fair game. Though things that pass the bill also tend to not have that much of a fighting chance either. When you boil it down what is causing this kind of mental distress it comes down to what I call the three C’s - Censorship, Capitalism, Competition.
Let us begin with the route of the problem, money. As much as we all don't want to admit it, the number obsession of these social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube) comes from the unfortunate tie between success and money. Now this sentiment may not go for everyone, I’m sure it doesn't. However for many younger beginning artists the internet has become a way for us to turn what we love into a mildly profitable life choice without falling into the starving artist box. But in order to achieve this one needs some surmountable level of success. I'm sure you've seen plenty of things that say “you just need to build an audience” which is true for all art but it swiftly turns into the number obsessions and addictions associated with social media. Ranging from follower counts to the amount of interactions with pieces online. There is a strangely awful and unique feeling of seeing a piece of work you felt was wonderful just flat out flop. Because so many artists are forced into such a small variety of social media platforms there becomes less room for a sharing community and more of a competition mosh pit. This is not to say that making friends and building community is impossible. That said, it is definitely not as streamlined or easy as it used to be when there were more options for people to build communities on other corners of the web. It has gone from small communities widely spread out to what feels like competing with everyone in the entire world, which is not really how things have worked for art until this century. All of this to say that the greed of capitalism forcing corporations to conglomerate and force artists to compete in order to make a profitable living has driven making art on social media to be exhausting, especially for those who do not or cannot produce like hound dogs.
Unfortunately because of the way our media has been filtered it has created an unfair amount of competition amongst people. It is not just the lack of variety of sharing options however, there is also the dreaded “algorithm.” This is a really loose term that gets blamed a lot but it basically refers to the way in which websites have changed out of linear based post viewing in favor of “relevance” or “popularity” viewing. Unless you are constantly creating many platforms such as Instagram or Twitter will stop showing your followers your work. In order to get any kind of engagement on these platforms you need to be at best posting multiple times a day just to be slapped on your followers’ dash pages. This way of breaking down post sharing might be more profitable or sound better to the companies that host social media but it leaves artists to be forced into an insane work ethic. In order to build community and gain relevance one has to constantly produce work at an inhuman rate, no wonder people are burnt out! It slowly zaps all the fun out of being a creator as you are forced to either fall into irrelevance in this computerized haze or work yourself mad to stay afloat. And this demand for constant production is just unrealistic for many, including people who might have other jobs, attend school, or have a disability/ illness.
The algorithm is not the only roadblock that artists have to work against in this minimized digital sharing landscape. Censorship is rampant and has effectively destroyed the way in which we are able to share our media. A perfect example of this was the great purge of Tumblr back in December of 2018. The reason so many people were doesn’t (beside the blatant destruction of a huge sex work community) was the fact that many artists who livelihood resides with making NSFW content were instantly removed from their main source of income and communication. It was not just NSFW artists but those too who made things that were deemed inappropriate for the platform's content. This same censorship carries over if not more severely onto Instagram (a platform owned by Facebook) and Twitter (which is slowly moving the way of Tumblr with its treatment of NSFW content). Not only is censorship an artist’s biggest enemy but because only real sharing platforms are so strict, many people cannot make what they want, or have to lock their work behind a paywall through places like Patreon (who still shadow bans NSFW content by the way). Not only that but with these changes to policies it's essentially impossible to gain a footing at a NSFW artist or someone who makes things that aren't “family friendly”. Like YouTube blocking sponsorship on videos containing curse words and LGBT+ content (which is a bigger beast to deal with yet) or people being shadow banned on places like Instagram or Twitter.
Alright so what? What can we do to “fight” all these different beasts. Is there hope for burnout among artists? Unfortunately I think burnout for content creators is only going to get worse if this continues to be the only way we can communicate and reach out beyond our own small communities in real life. We might very well be better off and more successful without these platforms in the long run (again this might not go for everyone but it is an idea to consider). Until there is a complete overhaul on social media and art sharing I'm not sure if people will be able to fight burnout on a mass scale. But for yourself it might be time to log off. I think many people need to take a wellness break, a vacation from creation. Log off, put your tools down, go read something, watch something, visit a museum if you can, plan a day out with friends or a vacation if you have the means. Spend time researching your next work of art instead of continuing to grind yourself down in the cogs of this rat race. Your human life is worth a lot more than how many likes your art gets on Instagram.