Art and the Algorithm – Page 2 – Marianne Vander Dussen

Art and the Algorithm

Do you ever feel like you're playing a losing game when it comes to sharing your art on social media?

I do. All the time. 

If you want to find success as an artist, the unpleasant truth is that social media is a necessary evil. Is it doable without? It's possible, but infinitely harder.

I presently have a love/hate relationship with social media. I love it because it has allowed me to build my community (and write to all of you!) and is an excellent medium for teaching. Whether I'm using shorts and reels to teach concise power lessons, or long form videos on YouTube to educate on process, social media has proven to be an outstanding conduit for connecting with other artists.

Here's what drives me crazy about it: 

  • It's highly addictive
  • It feeds my FOMO (fear of missing out) and insecurities (why can't I create something as good as her?!) 
  • Content creation is time consuming and requires consistent output for results
  • I sometimes conflate my worth and skill as an artist with the amount of engagement that I receive

Of all of the problems that social media presents, I think that last point bears further discussion here on the blog, because it's intensely problematic for creatives.

Let me know if this sounds familiar: you pour your heart and soul into a painting. You carefully photograph or film it, do all the right hashtags, hit publish...and get dismal engagement. You immediately begin second guessing yourself, wondering if the piece isn't as good as you thought, questioning your abilities as an artist.

Or the opposite happens. You hit publish, the engagement is strong, and you suddenly feel like you're flying high and you've got what it takes to do this. Hey, you're viral and on top of the world...until engagement slows, and you've got to feed the machine again, or risk feeling obsolete. Now you're chasing the high of engagement instead of focusing on improving your craft. 

Now imagine that these two wildly different scenarios are for the identical piece of art, with the identical presentation.

I did an experiment with this. I posted a reel using a trending audio of me holding my peony painting and slowly turning it around. As of the time of writing, the reel has over 146,000 views and about 18,000 likes. Given the size of my Instagram audience (approximately 20,000 followers), I consider this to be highly successful.

So out of curiosity, I posted the identical video to both TikTok and YouTube Shorts. And you can probably guess what happened.

On TikTok, it did alright, with about 6,900 views (that's high, considering I never post there and I only have about 230 followers). 

On YouTube Shorts, it currently has 3,600 views, and considering that I have 32,000 subscribers, this is incredibly low. 

If I were to tether my self-worth as an artist to the performance of the same piece of content, I would be flying high on Instagram, doing so-so on TikTok, and an utter failure on YouTube. 

Which just goes to show you: we cannot waste our precious creative energy worrying about going viral. Instead, we need to direct our attention towards constantly improving our craft, using social media to find and connect with artists we admire, and focus on learning and growing as opposed to trending. 

If it feels like you're fighting an uphill battle on this, don't worry, it's because social media was designed to be addictive. The whole system is built to feed off of and profit from our insecurities. Regardless of how high your self-esteem is, social media has the uncanny ability to reach deep into your psyche and ensure you feel inadequate enough to keep scrolling.

For those of you who feel like you're in the same boat, here's a few tips to help feed the content machine while maintaining your sanity:  

1. Remember you're playing the long game. My longterm goal is to become the best possible artist I can be, to push my work to new levels, and to teach as I go along. It's not to become an overnight sensation on Instagram. When I remember that's the goal, the amount of engagement I receive on each post loses its power over my thoughts.

2. Install limiters on your phone. I'm currently using a paid program called Opal, but I probably won't be renewing. There are other free blockers you can buy, or you can also use the Screentime app from Apple if you're on an iPhone. 

3. Target your audience. My content is predominantly educational, because I'm trying to get my content to reach other artists who want to learn from me. If you're trying to sell work through social media, who is your dream buyer? What kind of content would they want to watch? Are there other artists with a style similar to yours who are successfully selling their work through social media? If so, watch what they're doing and use it to inspire your own content. 

4. Set timers while you're working to easily collect content. Every 15 or 20 minutes, grab 5 seconds of footage of a work in progress, or film the entire process as a timelapse. You can easily buy tripods or clamps from Amazon that hold your phone and make it easy to document your work. Once you have a library of clips, you can easily piece together content for a variety of platforms, and even though it's still time consuming (reels take me on average one hour to make) it's becoming part of my routine. 

5. Take a break, go for a walk. During the pandemic, I was walking in my neighbourhood almost every night, even in the heart of winter. It was like turning on a faucet of ideas, and I'd come home with flushed cheeks and an inspired brain. If you're having a hard time disconnecting, go for a walk. In nature if you can, but even if you're in an urban environment, just being in motion will help. 

What are your thoughts on social media as an artist? Feel free to let me know in the comments below!


  • Jackie Ranahan

    Wow! You hit the nail right on the head with this! I’m a former marketer who has rediscovered my inner artist (painting since 2020 – yes a Covid activity), and I get caught up in this social media mind game – and I should know better!! About a decade ago I used to teach seminars on how social media was a business and the value of an email list but I find most days I get sucked into the checking likes and comments and evaluating my worth against those instead of just doing my craft. Not only do I beat myself up as to whether I’m good or not I also extend that misery to I’m not good at making reels etc. (took me 15 minutes to make one yesterday and I’m sure yours that took an hour is exceptionally better lol). So where does this leave me? Fighting the daily game of creating Vs promoting and trying to win at both. I find it an interesting juxtaposition in that we’re as artists battle with SM yet, when you apply to a have your art accepted into a show you need to list all your SM credentials almost like it’s part of being an artist. I wonder what decisions the judges makes on artists work vs their ability to make a good reel. Thanks for your guidance in the world of art, it’s great to know that we are all truly floating in the same boat.
    Marianne Vander Dussen replied:
    Thank you so much for this amazing comment, Jackie! And I’m so sorry it took me so long to reply, for whatever reason this wound up in comment purgatory and I didn’t even know that you had posted it! That’s a really interesting point about how social media credentials are now being used to justify artistry…I’ve seen some artists with hundreds of thousands of followers whose work is compelling but whose work wouldn’t necessarily pass a jury, while others who are internationally famous through credible publications such as International Artist only have a few thousand followers. The algorithm definitely favours watchability over skill!

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