art as abundance & social media
Wondering out loud about visibility, growth, and creativity.
A danger of social media is less what we're shown, more what we're left to imagine. What if we think there's nothing left to imagine?
One quirk of social media is that every now and then, you stumble across these jarring flashes of vulnerability — the kind of raw emotion for which social media enables an instant outlet, instant escape from invisibility. You'll see posts betraying intense sadness or confusion, as if more of us feel lonely and sad more often than we’re willing to admit, but social media lets us publicly pretend we don't — until we can't. But then we regroup and recollect the evidence of our rawness: deleting the post, overriding it with brighter content.
If there's a problem with this, it's the way these posts violate the threshold of what’s respectable in public sight, what's prey to scrutiny and gossip. It's the way they magnify parts of us we rush to social media to hide from. Useful problems to have.
But it's also the way vulnerability can empty a person. Being seen withdraws energy. While empowering, it's draining to place the image of our inner selves and bodies where others can scrutinize them. Scrutiny extracts a heavy toll when you’ve learned to live by constantly adapting to how others see you. When that gaze belongs to the sleepless, vast, disembodied collective on the other side of “Post” or “Share,” it easily displaces our own. Our projection of that external gaze — our incessant, painstaking adjustment to its values — ceases to inflect and instead defines how we value our experiences and our selves.
To sustain vulnerability through social media, we need to hold that external gaze without it decentering our own, and we need sources of community built upon deeper presence — more humanity — than virtual platforms.
Virtual platforms enable a wealth of visibility that's irresistible. As someone who has repeatedly sabotaged her relationship to social media by posting intensely vulnerable pieces of writing and music, I’ve questioned whether the constant strain of exposure causes more damage than connection. Yes, vulnerability is acceptable within art — but what if I've exposed too much of my inner self without the level of craft to support it? Some level of craft, however arbitrary, feels necessary to convince others of my place along a strict binary: "serious artist," or hobbyist feeding the desire to be seen through social media.
These days, I'm less interested in this binary. To some I've invested too much energy in the act of sharing when my craft is still developing — interfering with its growth rather than allowing it to mature in invisibility, only then presenting myself as a "serious artist." But to myself and a growing creative community, this binary is irrelevant to the reality of growth you experience from being unafraid to risk visibility — taking our craft seriously without asking for validation or permission to be seen.
Lately, enough artists have convinced me that the cost of visibility is high but not too high — that it's possible to create in the public eye without that eye consuming our creativity.
Some of these artists express a sense of urgency in sharing, inherent to creativity: in Annette Messager's words, “Being an artist means forever healing your own wounds and at the same time endlessly exposing them." Or the writers of the TV show POSE who give Blanca Rodriguez the line, “Do you know what the greatest pain a person can feel is? The greatest tragedy a life can experience? It is having a truth inside of you and you not being able to share it. It is having a great beauty, and no one there to see it." Or from musician and organizer Eli Namay, "Sound is abundant."
Annette and Blanca speak to a tension between vulnerability and expression that's mediated by inevitability. In Eli's words, I find an invitation to conceptualize art beyond this tension. The concept of art as abundance undoes the endless boundaries and tensions we've built around it: not only the binary of artist/hobbyist, but the concept of social media as a container of art worth seeing, and even the need for visibility as a source of validation.
Abundance derails social media as the arbiter of experiences and ideas worth remembering — a no-brainer, unless you’re an artist whose primary source of visibility for years has been social media. As one of those artists, I've bitterly confronted how building a creative career feeds into notions of scarcity: to survive, only your best work can be vulnerable to scrutiny. If we accept this conditioning and become hyper-vigilant of what we allow others to perceive of our creative output, we comply with systems of gatekeeping that assign value based on the capacity to survive a tangled network of aesthetic demands, cultural politics, algorithms.
If we define creativity with abundance rather than scarcity, we recognize its worth transcends visibility and lives inside us. We begin to suspect most of humanity's greatest art remains invisible or forgotten. The gaze of institutions and audiences falls short. Sharing becomes less precarious, less a predicament of scaling into gate-kept cultural spaces, and more an act of generosity, a human impulse.
When you recognize creativity as abundance, you resist the impulse to locate worth in output. You can freely share your art as process, knowing yourself as its source to be a deeper process. How others perceive your art is tangential in the sense that your art is tangential to the art of becoming yourself — an offshoot of your being.
For me this means creating more — experimenting and playing with new forms — that people won’t see, that won’t be posted to social media, than what will. It means freely accepting my best pieces might go unrecorded, unseen, uncelebrated. It means a comfort with invisibility that welcomes visibility without needing it for validation. Far easier said — I'm someone who has depended on the thrill of visibility as motivation to create. Sometimes, this is survival mode. At worst, maybe you aren’t creating the kind of art you want to be. At worst, people notice that.
Sometimes, invisibility is a form of care. As someone who has written her darkest experiences into pieces for others to consume, I don’t have words for the sinking sensation that you have emptied yourself into a creative project, believing fiercely that in building a vessel for your internal dissonance, you would liberate yourself from it — and to experience that liberation, if temporarily — only to realize you have reduced what felt infinite, abundant, however tumultuous — your internal life — into an object: a poem, an open letter, a song to be consumed by the world. And the world either swiped past it or found it alright.
Sometimes it’s better — healthier — to keep a piece to yourself. It's a reminder: a way of de-centering visibility and re-centering ourselves. For this reason I keep a few creative outlets that no one sees but me: singing, dancing. If any part of my creative voice gets suppressed while writing or making music, it gets to live through these forms, where there’s no price or no stakes. No need to justify its existence.
Everything I create is a stepping stone to future versions of myself and what she will create. The more I create, the more I grow not only a body of work but the body of my interior world — deepening my process of inquiry, my attention, how I choose to listen and take up space.
Abundance humanizes my view of art. I imagine it encompasses everything we’re moved to express: rather than thinking art can capture all of it, we’re lucky if we can capture any of it. And the more of it we can share, the better.