Own your shit.

A twitter thread got me riled up about an age old conversation regarding ownership and it rankled my old dad brain into angry finger flapping. I want it to be known that I frequently use social media (artstation, twitter, Instagram) to promote and disseminate my work across the tubes in order to find new audiences. I would have quit Instagram by now if I didn’t value the connections I’ve made with real actual meat bags over the course of the past five years. These platforms are important, relevant, and above all, tools in the process of capturing an audience. But for other artists or leaders in the community to use fear to push artists away from owning their own domains and towards corporate alternatives is, in my opinion, reckless and borderline unethical.

I once read a Muddy Colors article (citation needed) on the lost art of framing work. The author was lamenting a lack of interest modern artists have in physically making frames for their own work, or sourcing a bespoke solution for shows. Once an artist would be able to create the work and surely know how to frame it themselves. You chose the type of wood, varnish, molding, and stain that would best showcase your old-timey shit post to the world. I’m not sure if this analogy is working in my favour but what I took from it was the importance of representing your work the way you wanted it to be seen and not taking for granted how others might see your working fitting into their gallery space.

Artstation is a great way to find new artists to hire, new talent to check yourself against (and weep), new inspiration, and a lot of boobs. It’s a meaningful structure in contemporary art and illustration and, maybe most importantly, it gets people hired. Artstation is still, however, beholden to forces outside the artists’ control. The artists’ work is essentially the raw material used to produce clicks and generate revenue and though good-intentioned (seeing as how AS was created rapidly in the vacuum of CGHUB’s…uh….sudden evaporation) the site also has bills to pay. As many of you have noticed, boobs = clicks. It’s a hard problem to solve and I don’t envy the team at Artstation in that regard.

I don’t think AS is evil, nor do I think the same of Instagram (well, maybe) or twitter. One thing is certain though: their goals are not necessarily your goals. Instagram, for instance, decided that people were growing their careers for free off the back of their platform and it is almost certain that Instagram decided that they wanted a cut. Now in order to grow you have to pay for followers or submit content every day. Either way you are exchanging material or money for expansion. This is not uncommon it’s a business after all – but you-the-artist did not have a say either way. The way in which people grew a following changed overnight and a different model took it’s place, one that protected those who’d already established themselves while changing the game for those who hadn’t. Now it kind of sucks to be on Instagram, and much like Artstation, you are competing in an attention based dynamic with clear incentives that don’t necessarily work in your favour.

I say use it all. Press that flesh all over town and enjoy the communities therein. They are just tools after all, but I would never-ever encourage anyone to give up of the pursuit of their own space to peddle their wares. Ownership is important, websites are cheap, and getting one started has never been easier.

It is reckless to discourage young artists (or any artist) from creating their own domains to showcase their work in a manner they choose by insisting that the corporate alternative is somehow the only reasonable solution, especially if the discouragement is coming from a position of power or authority. I was incensed that someone might discourage meaningful ownership of one’s work and the subsequent learning from that experience. Even a cursory glance at the front page of Artstation gives you enough information as to what is successful and what others are competing against. How someone showcases their work tells you a lot about what they value, which can pay off when searching for soft skills that might not come across in a portfolio. The power to tell our own stories about our work cannot be taken for granted, and certainly not handed over to corporations out of fomo. Knowing how to tell a story about your work is sometimes as important as the work itself, because, ultimately, we are hiring people, not portfolios. It’s just good craft.

I have been in hiring situations where the applicant does not have a portfolio site (or at least a very broken experience) of their own; instead, their work is spread over other media where I’m then forced to parlay with the dynamics of social media sites. It’s not actually fun to navigate an Artstation during a meeting. Can you imagine what it’s like to clumsily navigate away from a front page literally dappled in “boob-armor” during a professional meeting? Can you imagine the awkward dad-chortles? Can you? Because if you don’t care about the experience you give your would-be-potential-employers, then why the fuck should I?

The experience I want to give others when it comes to my work needn’t be a special one; it just has to be my own. I want people to give a shit because I give a shit. After I read that muddy colors article (citation needed!) I bought a Nobex Miter Box the next day. I had always loved wood-working so it wasn’t an impossible leap to start making my own frames, even though I’m not filling out gallery shows anytime soon. The practice is meaningful to me at least. What is hung on the wall is mine.