Respect Your Artist History:
Pros and Cons of Micromanaging
Your Online Profile
Pretty much all artists search their online profiles from time to time to see what kinds of results come up and how they're represented. The large majority of artists do this out of curiosity and are OK with whatever they find-- and the more they find, the better. But a small percentage are not, and as a result, do what they can to either alter, edit, or remove certain posts, images, or comments from their own websites or social media pages, or from other people's. At worst, a few even delete their websites or social media pages completely. What you are about to read relates to the wisdom of decisions to limit information, and holds true for pretty much anything you find online about you or your art, no matter who posts it.
Plenty of artists occasionally come across things about themselves that, for whatever reason, they would rather not see. Most artists are willing to let it be, but not all. Reasons for removing it may be that they're now in a different place with their art, they don't like they way they looked that day, they no longer like or make certain types of older art, they don't like the composition of an image, they don't like who else is pictured in an image, and in general decide that certain facts about their pasts are no longer relevant or must be deleted or suppressed from their personal art histories completely. So let's look at the consequences of this revisionist approach a little closer-- this redacting of information in a society where freedom of speech and freedom of expression are among our most precious liberties.
To begin with, the idea that certain images or facts from the past are no longer relevant to the present could not be further from the truth. Not only are they relevant now, but here's the important part-- they become increasingly more relevant with the passage of time, and as artists advance in their careers. Look back on the history and evolution of any famous artist and you'll see that their early history, their early work, their formative years are almost always the most significant, fascinating and revealing. This is true not only in an anecdotal sense, but also in terms of documenting and understanding how their art and careers evolved.
No matter how good or bad an artist thinks they looked, or certain works of their art looked at any given point in time, or how successful or disastrous any style of their art or any event they participated in might have been, these facts are essential to history and understanding. Why? Because they happened... and because they shed light on the totality of that artist's existence. Plus this-- you might think you or your art looks less than spectacular in certain images, but someone else might think they're not only great, but that they also enhance your reputation.
Read any well-known artist's bio, reviews, articles, books, catalogues, or monographs. Or go to any retrospective of any significant artist's work and you'll quickly realize the importance of history, facts, and details. Do you think exhibitions or publications would be anywhere near as interesting and informative if the artist had regularly censored or deleted content during the course of their careers? Or they limited or restricted what the public could see? In the art world, the more information that's available about an artist and their art, the better. Positive, neutral or negative. Why? Because quantity and depth of understanding count. So regardless of how you might think or feel at any given moment about what you find online, keep the long game in mind. Respect, honor, and embrace ALL of your accomplishments, and even more importantly, all those people who took the time and effort to post, comment on, critique, document, or otherwise contribute to the story of you and your art.
We want to understand and appreciate your journey, process, influences, evolution, and art. We want to see everything-- your highs and lows, successes and failures-- not only what you want us to see. The amazing part is that the older you get, the more you'll realize that this holds true for you as well as others when looking back on your life and work. Don't believe it? You may not think so now, but ask any older or more established artist whether they would rather have more or less in the way of history and documentation of their life and work, and see what they say (hint: they'll almost always say more, even if it's about mistakes or failures).
Plus this-- an artist's past informs their present. Without their art looking the way it did years ago, or themselves looking the way they did years ago, who they are now and what their art looks like today would never have happened. Artists may think at certain points that limiting or eliminating certain content from public sites or their own online profiles is the right thing to do, but it's not that way at all. Younger artists in particular fall victim to this, and at times may be so self-absorbed that they lose the objectivity and ability to cherish their unfolding histories. And while they may satisfy themselves in the moment, censoring facts has never ever served the greater good... including the good of the artists themselves.
Younger artists need to understand that in art history, everything is essential, especially the early history because it's generally scarcer and more difficult to come by. When artists are unknown or just starting out, hardly anybody cares or pays attention to their art, not that many people follow them, and few people bother to document either their activities or their work. Once artists become well-known or famous, all of that changes. By that time, there's no shortage of information or images or posts to be had, or people willing to chase them around and record their every move, online or anywhere else. But early on, it's exactly the opposite. That's what makes early documentations of their lives and art so valuable and so worth preserving-- not deleting.
Would you rather see photographs of famous artists when they were young and unknown or when they were old and established? And how about their art? Would you rather see what their early work looked like before they got famous-- even their worst most awful mistakes-- or what their later work looked like after they became known and had settled into predictable routines? And how about what people said or wrote or posted about them or their work early on? Would you rather see only sanitized censored versions or what really happened?
So here we are in the online age. The Internet is by far the greatest advance in terms of documenting the evolution of culture literally as it happens. Events can now be reported and accessed in greater depth, from more perspectives, in greater detail, and with greater accuracy than ever before. Countless artists and art lovers record and post their art activities and involvement as they happen. That's something worth embracing, not limiting.
But not all artists agree. Some insist on controlling every aspect of their online narratives rather than leaving things the way they actually played out. A few take it to extremes, contacting third-party websites, writers, photographers, or anyone else who posts anything they don't like, and asking for it to be replaced, revised, or removed-- even if they gave permission to have it posted in the first place! Attempting to rewrite their histories like this on the backs of the very people who documented it makes zero sense.
But wait; there's more. Artists who engage in these types of behaviors can actually do themselves and their legacies more harm than good. If word gets out that you're difficult to work with, photograph, write or report about, or you get a reputation for aggressively micromanaging your online profile, people will avoid you, your art, and any activities you're involved in. Writers, reporters, photographers, and followers, both amateurs and professionals will steer clear of you because they won't want to take the risk. Even galleries might decide to stay away! And that means less exposure and coverage of your art, shows, and appearances.
Another downside for artists who remove, delete or alter information or images is that they actually reduce the number of chances for people to find them online. As mentioned earlier, more is always better when it comes to art. The more results you have to click on, the more seriously people will generally take you as an artist, and the more seriously you'll appear to be taking yourself as an artist. Plus this... just because you don't like older images of yourself or your art doesn't automatically mean no one else will like them either. Someone searching you might love them so much, they'll click on them before clicking on anything else. They may even be inspired to contact you. So why reduce the chances of that happening? Why give them less than more? Remember the old saying that all publicity is good publicity? Well guess what? It's true... and it's truer online than almost anywhere else because every shred of content relating to you and your art means one more opportunity for people to find you!
Younger artists in particular may think that constantly monitoring, manipulating, and controlling the availability of online information is a good idea, but this is an exceptionally shortsighted approach. The longer they spend as artists and the more successful they get, the more important ALL the early action becomes. That includes images of themselves or their art, reviews, writings, social media posts, comments, opinions, articles, interviews, travels, what social events they attended, who they hung out with, and any other mentions. We all want access to the most educational, informative, compelling and inspiring images and stories available-- history as it happened-- not continually revised, edited or censored versions. So cherish every moment. In the end, your fans, followers and the art world as a whole-- including you-- will be glad you did.
Thinking about changing your online profile? Not sure what to do or which way to go? I can help clarify matters and advise you on how to move forward. You're welcome to call 415.931.7875 or send me an email.
(sculpture by Roberto Santo)
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