How artists use social media

Artists use social media in a variety of different ways but at least two main categories come to mind. Social media is either used as a canvas or as a brush to use rather simple metaphors. Artists using social media as a canvas use social media mainly as the material and space of their work, whereas the brush metaphor refers to the leveraging of social media as a source or inspiration for the work. Then of course there are the different modes of using social media as with all technologies in which people (artists) either embrace it or critically question it (and as always there is also the in-between). What seems to be evident however, is how many artists use social media as a type of performance art, either by staging a performance on social media platforms, or using social media as a component in a performance, for instance by letting the audience decide on the course of the performance. Some of the many ways in which artists are using social media include:

  • Interactive art created on basis of input from active participating users in which an audience determines the work: Examples include the inter.sect Art Collective who has created several exhibitions where random status updates are sent to the artists who then translate it visually and post it back into the social media stream. In the case of Dance Theatre Workshop’s Twitter Choreography they create dance and performance almost entirely based on Twitter users directions and suggestions.
  • Artists using social media to generate ‘crowdsourced happenings’: @Platea is a good example here and I’ve written about it before. It’s an online art collective doing online performances using social media in which everyone that wants can participate.

Ellsworth Kelly Hacked My Twitter
  • Art created on basis of user input from unwitting participants: Whereas a lot of work asks users to provide input as to how a particular piece of art is to be made, or progress in the case of many performance pieces, other artists also use the large amount of user input, or user generated content that is out there as the content and  the material of their art. On my recent visit to Vancouver the Diane Ferris Gallery showed a social media art exhibition called Twitter/Art+Social Media. Brian Piana, one of the artists in the show, exhibited several pieces created by using actual Twitter data. For instance the piece “Ellsworth Kelly Hacked My Twitter”, creates a color grid based on the most recent tweets from people he follows, or Journal of the Collective Me” that presents a real-time chronicle of anonymous tweets that contain the word “me”.
  • Many artists also use social media to reach out to people and get them engaged in their work. In these cases social media is used to create communities and facilitate interpersonal interaction. Social media becomes a means for artists to connect both to a potential audience as well as to other artists. This is particularly valuable as many artists work rather isolated and detached from their audience.
  • Art that explores the social and cultural aspects of social media by using social media as its canvas: Lauren McCarthy’s project Showertweets used tweets from the shower to question the limits of our public private lives, or Rachel Perry Welty’s Facebook-based performance “Rachel Is” in which she attempted to give an accurate status update on Facebook every sixty seconds from 7:30 in the morning to 11 at night to explore the ways in which people craft a persona online. One of my favourite examples is the I’m Not Stalking you; I’m Socializing project by artist Liz Filardi in which she critically explores several aspects of social networking such as status updates, and “following” somebody

Rune by Matt Held
  • Lastly, and this may be the most common way to use social media for artists, is to use it as an inspiration or source for their artistic projects that are often crafted in other more traditional media. Artists still paint oil paintings or use printed matter with different motives taken from the social media world. The artists Matt Held for instance paints Facebook portraits , as does the Brooklyn based artist Nic Rad

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