State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

Using social media for good and not evil

I try never to read the comments on a website, specifically the comments under an art review or an arts based column. What I find is open and unbridled hostility toward art making and artists in general. I believe that were technology designed not to make commenting on a blog or article so easy then these vitriolic critics of all things cultural would have to take the time to find an email address and write a proper letter to the writer – and they wouldn’t. Writing “get a real job” just doesn’t seem that vindictive or smug when you must put Dear so and so and sincerely with a name.

There was a time when people who responded to television and radio shows were considered shut ins or crazy or both. We used to think undiluted and reflective opinions were just that, opinions. Now it seems sites that allow comments have made these former cranks bold and have given them a platform (what they might think a showcase) for their illiterate spleen. It can get depressing reading over and over again how my profession is bull#*%t and so I try not to read them.

I think however we are now used to this comment idea and inured to its impact on us. Comments on Facebook (FB) is its own new form of social interaction that wields all the force of a hammer without any of the responsibility. People just drop on someone or something and then move onto another tab on their browser returning only to see if anyone ‘Liked’ what they had to say. Usually they are inspired by an archly righteous ‘Status’ that provokes as much as it can insult; most users seldom think through what they are writing. Or they are drunk. At least that is what I hope.

Recently a ‘Friend’ wrote a stunningly catty ‘Status’ about women and aging. The ‘Friend’ was young. It was shocking, insulting and naive. Happily some of the comments were smart retorts which did not humiliate the person but gently criticized. A good way to behave on social media. I was relieved to see that smart people were using FB smartly.

This blogger's FB page. Am I really that into me?
This blogger’s FB page. Am I really that into me?

Sophisticated tech users know very well not to engage in controversial subject matter on FB and Twitter because these sites are not passive, they are watching everything you say and do and because they are private entities they can hold you to task for what you write. Because of this many comments on these sites can range from “you go girl” to even the more blandly mundane “beautiful!” or “:)”. The trick is to find a balance between being a cheerleader and saying something constructive and imaginative. But of course that takes time and people would rather not spend anytime thinking when reacting immediately seems to be the name of the game.

This is why art should be such an interesting subject matter for social media. And why it also inspires the worst kinds of guttural spewing. Artist, writer and colleague RM Vaughan, who used to write the excellent Exhibitionist for the Globe and Mail was unnerved by comments such as “get your head out of your ass” and “pretentious wanker”. It was one thing to have a national magnifying glass on your writing on art – that he was prepared for. It was quite another to be attacked every time you had some writing published. And for the some reason Globe readers are particularly miscreant-like in their comments toward the arts. Now there’s a study that needs to be done!

Unfortunately art rarely inspires interesting commentary. In fact it always seems to be the same old arguments; that art isn’t a serious profession, that artists are arrogant wankers (love this word today for some reason), that art making is a waste of time and my particular favourite, art is elitist. And maybe all of this is true for some aspects of the art world. What I think is completely inappropriate is that many times these comments accompany the review or article of a lesser known artist who is struggling. Can you imagine how it must feel to finally get a little bit written about you in a publication, go online to see it and then also see ten comments about what a jerk you are as well?

You would think that perhaps social media might be a great arbitrator between the public and the art world, that technology could be used to dispel myths and open doors to understanding. Of course it would help if more articulate artists trusted social media and jumped on board. Perhaps the comments sections on sites is exactly why artists are sheepish about getting involved. There is a real disconnection where there should be a connection and that is a shame.

Is social media a trap in which we all curse our fates and vent toward each other or can it be a truly grand community where we raise standards for each other every time we log on? Will time solve and heal our new interactions or do we all have to get involved and propel a way forward?

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2 thoughts on “State of the Arts”

  1. I hesitate to leave a comment! đŸ™‚ I would like to think that people will eventually get bored of trolling on comments pages. I don’t hold out a huge amount of hope for that, though! I wonder if requiring some sort of identification when you post a comment (as you do here) will help?

    1. Paul,

      I think identification is the key. What anonymity does is validate our passive aggressive tendencies and also allow for total lack of responsibility, another aspect of our current culture that is enjoying a heyday. However having said that there will always be people who are outrageously careless and self righteous (which seems to go hand in hand) and want to drop the hammer in any context cuz it makes them feel something (no idea if it is good or happy or what?). Smart and civil discourse, which is what social media could be, is just that: smart and civil. But it isn’t taught anywhere or encouraged. I should have started with education, identification AND self responsibility are the keys.

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