Blog / 2021 / How Many Fans Will Make You a Real Artist?

May 10, 2021

Because the scale was there in my bathroom, waiting to weigh me, every day I’d step right up. It was a compulsion for data, though the numbers never made much sense. “That can’t possibly be your weight!” came the incredulous response of my high school friends, as if the amount was wrong, regardless of how I felt about my body or in my body.

It’s funny to think how long it took me to realize that a scale doesn’t automatically have to be used, but less funny to think that I still haven’t taken the lesson to heart.

To be fair, the opportunities for assigning numbers to myself have only proliferated:

  • What’s your friend count on social media?
  • What are your engagement stats?
  • How many subscribers to your mailing list?
  • How many visits to your website?
  • What did you do in sales last year?

And on and on, the data as meaningless as it ever was. Those with “poor” stats suspect that the scale isn’t telling them the whole story. (It’s not.) Those with “good” numbers never feel like they’re enough. (The capitalist eternal-growth mantra agrees.)

We are starved for feedback that can’t be conveyed by a point system.

I see it in creatives who hire me as a guide. All the advice I give them is available for free online or through workshops, so it’s likely that they’re paying at least in part for the comfort of knowing that someone will actually look at their work and respond with words and feelings.

I see it in corporate artists, the type who spends $15k on a site that looks like every other creative business’ site. They are shocked to learn how few people I have on my mailing lists. It’s as if the idea that the quality might be more important than quantity has never occurred to them.

I see it in the social media burnout phenomena for artists. Tired of trying to game the algorithm just to maybe achieve the numbers that could impress a gallerist or other gatekeeper, artists are giving up on marketing their art virtually.

two baby wallabies hugging, wildlife painting
Gwenn Seemel
W Is for Wallaby
2020
acrylic on panel
14 x 14 inches
(For prints and things of the wallabies, go here.)

While there’s no universal fix for our number-centric system, each of us can start to shift the way we value each other in our own circles. It’s as simple as spending time with someone’s art and giving them real feedback about it—something more than “great job!” If you’re not sure what to tell them or you’re worried about saying the wrong thing, start by asking questions about their work.

The most recent thoughtful comment about my work was inspired by this wallaby painting and, more generally, the ABC book it came from. A few months ago, a friend informed me that my art reveals my dancing heart. She went on at some length about what that meant to her, and, while I’m not going to share it all here, I will say that her words nourish me in a way that statistics never will.


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