I’ve had an Instagram account since 2013. I was 18 when I started my page on Instagram. At the time it was just something people used to post pictures on and the concept of an influencer did not yet exist. In fact, some of the first accounts I followed were just random accounts of photographers posting pictures of nature, or interesting travel destinations. I had, I think, about 32 followers within the first year – all from people I knew from school. I also remember that I thought I had stumbled upon a fairly unknown app that I could use just to scroll through pictures for ideas (something like Pinterest maybe). I wasn’t an active user of the app for many years – logging on only once in a couple of months to post pictures of something truly momentous (like weddings, graduation or travelling to exotic destinations). I never used hashtags for the first couple of years, kept my account private and couldn’t care less what people thought of my account or how many (or few) followers I had. I didn’t feel compelled to follow people I knew in real life on Instagram and I didn’t use it as a comparator to see everything that was wrong with my life – especially when compared to the glossy perfectness of other people’s lives.
But a few months ago – October of 2020 in fact, I decided I want a change in life. A very dramatic one, in fact. I had a bit of a mortality crisis and thought about how I really did not want to spend all my time sitting behind a desk. Every morning I woke up with the conviction that I would quit my job and become a full time artist. I started reading all these posts about artists who had risked it all and made it big. But in addition to this brand of ‘all-or-nothing’ preaching, I also came across something that resonated with me. I’m sure all of you have heard of the artist ‘Banksy’. If I ever become a renowned artist and have to talk about my influences, his name would definitely make it to the top three (I’ll probably write about my artistic influences later on). He’s notorious for never revealing his identity, and never taking money for his art works (even though they almost always sell for millions in second hand sales). His opposition to the commercialisation of art is the stuff of legends. If you don’t know much about him, and have even a fleeting interest in the arts, I suggest you google him. I promise you, it will not be disappointing. Anyway, Banksy says that because of the internet, for the first time ever, we don’t need snooty and highbrow art gallery people telling us if our art is worth anyone’s time or not. The internet is free, and everyone has access to it. So go ahead, post yourself.
And I did. I decided I would use Instagram as my artistic outlet. I would make art – physical, digital, whatever I could – and post it online. It took me sometime to get over my fear of judgment and social anxiety to start posting my art. I even made an anonymous account on Instagram and posted some art on that page, and when I saw that people didn’t completely hate it, I shut down that account and started posting under my own name. Yeah, it was a whole journey.
Now there are two schools of thought at play here – in any field really, but more so in the creative field. One is what I like to call the ‘Lonely Genius’ trope. Where your creativity and artistic skill is a gift straight from god (or whatever other higher power you believe in) and you should toil for the sake of it. Your intentions have to be pure and limited to bringing your wonderful art into the world without caring about where it gets you. The second idea is that being talented is all well and good, but it won’t get you anywhere if you don’t adequately market yourself. So, as mortifying as it sounds, make sure you get out there and promote your own work. There is no point in being a great artist if no one knows you are a great artist.
I went the first route for some time. Then I got tired of not getting enough attention. I got tired of trying to act like I was too cool to advertise my own work (I think I was just too shy to do it). That is when I started researching how I could grow my presence on Instagram. If you have ever googled the words ‘how do I grow my Instagram account’ or some variation of it then you know that the internet is full of advice. And I mean, full of it. I poured through articles, sat through tons of youtube videos and even signed up for a free newsletter course just to try and figure out the secret to getting internet famous. As a side effect to all of this, I became hyper aware of my Instagram account and how it must appear to outsiders. I developed a social media addiction – but of a slightly different kind. I wasn’t logging in to check up on my friends and family or to compare myself with others. I was logging in to pour over my own account, to see how many people had viewed my stories, to see the kind of likes my art was getting. I also made the mistake of switching to a business / creator account on Instagram. Just to clarify, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with the creator / business accounts – I just don’t think it helped me a lot. I was obsessed with my own online presence, a sort of convoluted modern day Narcissist who couldn’t stop looking at her own reflection.
I did everything the articles told me to do. I posted consistently. I kept a track of the right time to post. I made my captions long and explained (or at least tried to explain my workings and the idea behind a piece in the captions). I put in the relevant hashtags. And in all these months – I think it has been roughly 11 months since I first got started with my Instagram obsession – I have managed to grow my account by only about 200 people. Now to any weathered Instagram user, these are rookie numbers. And I agree. You have pages online dedicated to bursting bubble wrap with millions of followers. How insulting must it be to put in all that effort, to make art, to do everything by the book and still not be entered into the upper echelons of Instagram fame. But here is the thing, I couldn’t be happier with my growth.
Firstly, these are 200 people. Can you imagine 200 people in real life? Hosting an art viewing in person and 200 people show up – that is a huge success by any means. The idea that real life people live behind their Instagram handles often gets lost on us sometimes. We are so obsessed with numbers and statistics, that we often forget that behind each username there are actual people who made the effort of going through your work and thought to themselves, “hey this isn’t so bad, I think I want to see more of what this artist has to offer.” Ok so maybe some of them might have been bot accounts, but you get the idea. If you stop thinking you are entitled to internet fame just because you showed up and played by the app’s algorithm, then you will realise what a privilege it is to be supported by each and every person that shows up.
Secondly, even if there was no one looking at your work or where you have come, it wouldn’t matter. And I know a lot of people are going to read this and roll their eyes. But it’s true. It really comes down to a simple question I ask myself every time I want to post something or if I do post something and it doesn’t get any likes (or as many likes as I would want). Will I stop making art if other people stop liking my stuff on Instagram? No. So, I stopped caring about the statistics and just put myself out there.
I also like the idea of having in place a ‘legacy’. This is a concept I got from a YouTuber I love – Ali Abdaal. The notion that if you have a body of work and you post it online, you create a repository for yourself even if you never blow up. You have something to look back on and something to show for all your effort. I couldn’t agree more. I may not have had an astronomical growth online, but I love looking back at how many pieces I have created and put out.
I know this post went to a lot of places, and even though it dipped a little in the middle it ended on a good note. I want to spend some time in the future talking about how becoming obsessed with my social media affected me in bad ways. I know that there is already a lot out there talking about the ill-effects of social media addiction, and I may not have anything new to add to that. But still, I’ll try just the same. Having said that, if you are also starting to put yourself out there, I hope this is helpful.