Art Writer’s Wednesday 21 - Artists on Tumblr
Jacob van Loon (on Tumblr) & Chad Wys (on Tumblr)
A Discussion between artists Part I
Introduction by Chad Wys
Over the past year I’ve become increasingly interested in social media like Tumblr and what it means for the visual culture around us—and, most especially, for artists who have at their fingertips a powerful tool for sharing work with an ever broader audience.
I’d first experienced Jacob van Loon’s artwork a year or more ago at Behance.net, another powerful content-sharing hub for creatives to disseminate their work to a discerning audience, itself comprised of a techno-commune of graphic designers, fine artists, art directors, and an all-around creatively-inclined crowd. An interesting side effect of websites like Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook has been the loss of clarity regarding artists vis-a-vis observers since sharing one’s favorite artworks via one’s blog is virtually as creative an expression as putting paint to canvas (and in this artist’s humble opinion, oftentimes more so). And it’s in such a place—Tumblr, a spider’s web of visual-leaning blogs by anyone and for everyone—where, through the skilled editorial and curatorial prowess of my fellow visual essayists, I was reintroduced to Jacob’s work. It’s ubiquitous on all the right blogs and it commands a powerful presence among one’s crowded newsfeed. If you miss it or look past it, that’s your loss.
In the later half of 2013, I approached Jacob with a request for a discussion, on the record, not between interviewer and interviewee but between contemporaries. Interviews with artists are in abundance on the web and rather than approach a Q&A session in quite the old-fashioned way I thought it would be illuminating to strike up an open conversation between artists. What follows is a casual discussion between myself and Jacob on topics such Tumblr, art “versus” design, modes of display, and our brief personal histories.
Chad Wys: I don’t know about you, but my mind has really been on Tumblr lately. It’s such a brave new world for images on the Web. And it seems like an especially good fit for artists. Are you finding it advantageous to share your work via Tumblr?
Jacob van Loon: Ever since I started using Tumblr in late 2010, I recognized it as the platform which most quickly moves visual information, aside from Twitter which isn’t intuitive for presenting work online. It’s also been interesting to see Tumblr, run by mostly younger people, initiate live experiments on how to make the experience more interactive for users posting original content. There’s nothing else like it right now, at least nowhere near the same scale and with the same momentum.
CW: I’m certainly a fond follower of your blog and I look forward to your posts; it’s like we, the public, get to connect with our favorite artists in a more intimate way—insofar as we feel like we’re getting a direct feed from your mind to ours. Perhaps this is mostly an illusion, but there seems to be some truth to it. Has the Tumblr format influenced the way you feel about the Internet and sharing your work with others? Has it influenced the way you experience the work of other artists?
JVL: It doesn’t feel particularly new since I’ve been using the internet for business purposes since my teens. I felt a sense of urgency about Tumblr when I first started. That was unique. Tumblr is a microcosm of how fast the world moves and if you’re on Tumblr and use the site correctly, it’s all there in your face, on your computer, your phone, your friend’s phone, wherever. I’ve always been curious to see new artwork online so it’s nice to have Tumblr be kind of an RSS for new and classic work all the same. It’s great to see what people so different from yourself value and perpetuate from their own platforms. I follow between 4-500 artists at any given time which is still unreal to consider. When did you start establishing your network online? Why Tumblr?
CW: 2009 was a transformative year for me as I was introduced to Behance.net for the first time. That year I also produced my first series of Readymades. I consider that website, its social network, and that series of works my earnest point of entry on the Web (the right work, in the right place, at the right time).
I initially took notice of Tumblr after I became aware that people were sharing my work there. I decided the format complemented by desire to blog and to share the materials that inspire me. But this year I’ve seriously started to regard Tumblr as a dedicated place where I can share my own work directly—as a resource for getting it out into the world. Now that you’re “Tumblr famous” how do you handle the fan girls and boys in your inbox?
JVL: I rarely get messages. I’ve been told I put off a certain vibe, even though my public interaction is minimal. A lot of questions that might come in are also deterred because I don’t have anonymous reply available as an option on my blog and haven’t for a while.
CW: It’s probably wise to disallow the anonymous comments and questions feature, but I find a little bit of honesty comes at me that way. It’s interesting mainly for curiosity’s sake, but once in a while someone will be bold enough to confirm my own doubts and concerns.
Do you feel any pressure to post something your Tumblr audience will adore, or to withhold something you’re unsure about?
JVL: It’s more entertaining than anything to watch how the follower tick reacts to non/posting. I’ve lost clods of followers over certain posts, as far as I can tell there’s no rubric for this, it just happens. My posting has decreased a little in the past year because I’m in the middle of creating new work and don’t usually share older work on my blog, and I can lose anywhere from 10 to 200 followers just for not posting anything during the week. At which point the number on my dashboard becomes less abstract than the person behind it. Posting some new work on my blog and losing 20 followers as a result isn’t too much different than getting work shown in a gallery, then having 20 people come through, express their distaste for my work amongst themselves under their breath, then leave 45 seconds later. You’ve gotten a lot of feedback from both the supportive and hypercritical—how do you end up considering all that?
CW: I can receive a bunch of really great, nurturing comments and then stress about one in particular that’s a bit more critical. Ultimately, I think good public criticism is how we grow and compliments are how we know we’re on a good track. I’ve been fortunate, I think, that my work has been divisive enough to foster the occasional enraged comment—the sort that implies I should stop working entirely, or that what I’m doing doesn’t constitute “art.” When that happens, it’s clear that I’m pushing someone’s buttons pretty hard and I consider that a kind of hollow triumph.
JVL: Hollow triumph. That made me laugh. Is that the same thing as small victory?
CW: Hah! I suppose it is. But a pessimistic and supremely unfulfilling victory, to be sure.
For me, Tumblr has been an exciting experience. I like the immediacy it affords. And as much as I appreciate feedback—in the form of conversations or “likes” or “reblogs”—it has also instilled some apprehension in me. For example, if people don’t respond as well to a work as I’d hoped, that impacts me on some level; alternatively, if viewers seem to respond to something I was unsure about, my perspective might change accordingly. Perhaps such reactions on my part are foolish since so much interaction over the Web is artificial and highly incomplete, but do you think this sort of digital existence for our work has the power to influence our output, or to impact our creative concerns and ideas?
JVL: That’s something a lot of artists would have a difficult time admitting, at least artists in certain fields. All art, everything about it down to the pencils, is a device we use to control our environment—audiences included. I went through a few different schools and got both arguments of being swayed or motivated by an active audience. Do you feel a sense of guilt about being responsive to/influenced by your online audience?
CW: In some ways I do—I think those are the death-throes of modernism poking through my psyche. I think one of the central tenants of postmodern thought is audience reception. Where modern art was centered on the artist and his or her explicit meaning, postmodern art is wide-open to interpretation by each viewer. As long as we direct the viewer, through our work, into some sphere of thought—toward some concern—they can ponder it for themselves and establish more inter/personal meaning. I believe this is a more edifying way of sharing ideas, rather than merely prescribing a thought structure. For this reason, I think audiences are enormously important to consider, but part of me also feels shame about succumbing to any sort of influence. I think there’s a fine balance at play where artists should consider an implicit audience but refrain from making too many concessions/compromises. I guess finding that balance is one of our main obstacles.
JVL: The desire to want eyes looking back at your work, the extension of you… Art is a selfish act, but I’ve never believed a person that’s said “I make art for myself.” Part of is to respond to experiences, it makes sense to consider groups of people or broader audiences when creating. Outside of that, everything is a screen now. Any working artist in this decade (at least) that thinks the Internet as an audience isn’t important is a stupid artist. You can be an asshole about the internet not being real enough all you want, as long as you get someone else to do your PR, I guess.
(to be continued)
Chad Wys, Bust Of A Weeping Boy. Paint on found porcelain, 7”x5”x4” (2009)
Chad Wys, Bust Of A Weeping Man. Paint on found ceramic, 12”x7”x5” (2013)
Chad Wys, Figurine Of A Deer Deleted. Electrical tape on found, 7.75”x7”x2.75” (2010)
Jacob van Loon, Taimah. Watercolor and graphite on panel, ~34x48” (2013)
Jacob van Loon, Pershing. Watercolor, acrylic, and graphite on panel, 32x48” (2014)
Jacob van Loon, Singapore, Michigan. Water-based media and graphite on panel (2012)
[more Jacob van Loon & Chad Wys | art discussion hosted by Artchipel]