Tik Tok. Is it the sound of the countdown towards a slow death for anything demanding real thought, or just a trivial fun way to spend time on a phone?
Full disclosure, I’ve never used it, but I know it’s driven Instagram and others to copy its mind-numbing fast-paced video feed. In 2021, Android phone users consumed 16.2 Trillion minutes of Tik Tok content, or, which by my calculations is nearly 30.9 million years of content. Wow! This, my friends, is the gateway to a life lived in perpetual wormholes. They’ve cracked the human psyche, and now know how they can hold you in their grubby little mitts for hours with well-aimed amusing tidbits of video content. All the while, they are accumulating all the data they ever want about your likes, dislikes and viewing habits, and then smash the doors off their income stream by being able to sell pinpoint advertising right back at you. Nope, I’m not a fan.
I wasn’t alone in having a love/hate relationship with social media prior to Tik Tok arriving, Facebook and Instagram are (or were) my portals of choice. As Facebook lost its shine on many fronts, for me Instagram is really the last man standing. For a visual artist, it just felt like home, and not needing to gate keep your audience with friend requests, or rejections, was lovely. A way to build a community around your art, on an image heavy platform, largely from people you didn’t know yet. How nice.
When I started using Instagram properly, around 2018, I was pretty clueless. I set about using it as a diary (I have a terrible memory for many of the things I do) more than a platform to be shouty about how bloody good my work is, or how wonderful my heavily curated and airbrushed version of life is; both of those being popular reasons to be on the platform, it seemed.
I think I have had a pretty balanced relationship with Instagram, mostly, but I have had to check myself a few times - I found myself making work not because it was what I truly wanted to do, but because it was a quick win for an instagram post, and would probably generate more likes. Jesus, listen to that - “producing work for likes” - honestly, that makes me gag.
The social media companies are smart. They want your patronage, hell, they NEED your patronage, and so if you end up playing the game the way they want, you WILL end up being a “like junkie” just chucking out little tidbits of easy to make art, in return for a handful more likes. Art can be a lonely thing to do (it’s one of the key reasons I recommend finding a good life-drawing group, to add a social, in real life, element to it) and so it’s unsurprising that being able to spend three minutes posting something in return for people all over the world going “hey, this is cool!” seems like a fair exchange. I’ll be honest, I still like posting a good piece of work, because it does connect me to people, everywhere, and I’ve made some lovely acquaintances through it that I truly value. But I’ve always got my eyes open to the fact that not everything I do should be seen on Instagram, or used to try and make me validate my choices through “likes”.
Bringing this back to Tik Tok, which is like the original Instagram, LSD and ADHD all shaken into a sugary-sweet drinkable cocktail, I can’t see the long-term benefit of adopting this as a way to promote an artistic practice. Well done to those who have managed to get 37 million views on a video where they swing a suspended paint tin with a hole in it above a room-sized canvas laid out on the floor. But what happens next? Does anybody really care? Does anybody even know who they are? Have they made anything to be really truly proud of?
I can only offer reflections made on my own path in conclusion - and it summarises as this - Have one eye on how you use social media, and resist the pull to validate what you do solely through using it.
All this is yet another reason to join a life-drawing (or other kind of) art group - there isn’t a social media platform capable of beating the feeling of having a cup of tea and a chat about your work with a bunch of friendly artists.
Try it, and then tell me I’m wrong :-)
@117sticksofcharcoal on Instagram
“Paul Berryman Artist” on Facebook
Not on Tik Tok, obviously…