Painting

The Digital Wheel: Skinner Speaks on Artists and Galleries in the Information Age

June 19, 2018

It is happening, right now as you read this. Camera friendly artists are in their studios, taking well crafted selfies, from cute angles, with a brush in hand. They are going live, while preparing for their next show. They are sharing works in progress. They are demonstrating their process. They are posting stories from the lift, while they’re painting a giant mural, at a music festival that is reposting their pictures, to promote the event. They are announcing a new print you can purchase from the link in their bio. They are booking commissions. They are selling work directly. They are drawing the audience in, like an ongoing Truman show, while maintaining a growing following, who tunes in on a daily basis. However, their followers are not just engaged with their work, but also the artist themselves; their fashion sense, their dance moves, their musical tastes, their pets, their struggles, their romances and their life stories.

Notice nowhere in that long winded prose did you read the word “gallery” or “museum.” This is a different age. The continuing development of social networking and the absolute saturation of technology is shifting the power base. Some might say the patients are seizing control of the asylum, and the doctors are in denial.

How is this affecting the artist and their work? How does this effect the relationship between galleries and artists? How does this effect the curation of exhibitions? How is this impacting the collector, the gallery, and the art world as a whole? What kind of effect will it have on the future? Does it change things for the better or worse? The answers depend on who you ask. It depends on the exploration of the opinions and outlooks of those that are participating in it daily.

I decided to approach four artists and five gallerists with a set of questions about this subject to see if I could gain a little insight into what the hell is happening. The first artist in this series needs little introduction, his name is Skinner. If you pay attention to his postings, then chances are he’s made you laugh your ass off, motivated you to do what you love, gotten you involved with the inner dialogue of his cat, or made you throw horns, because his psychedelic Jack-Kirby-heavy-metal-inspired art is infectious and fun, just like him.––Gabriel Shaffer

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Gabriel Shaffer: When did you start using social networking platforms to promote your art and what format did you begin with?
Skinner: Oh Jesus, maybe like 10 years ago? Maybe Facebook? I had a website. And then I started being annoying on Twitter. I’d say Instagram became the most used social media tool for me as far as legitimately sharing my art.

What platforms are you currently active with and why?
I use Instagram the most because I can make videos and be weird and show my process. I hate Facebook so much. I like memes, though. I like being weird as hell on the internet, but I hope it’s not ruining my career. I like to share videos and things that I think are funny on Instagram. It’s the best, I wish people would be more openly bizarre on there. I think it’s weird though because it trains people to brand themselves, and I feel like some of the chaos and realness is lost in the duration of it.

Was it easy to interact with at first? If not, how did you improve?
There’s a learning curve, but it changes all the time. As far as “improving,” that depends on what you’re looking for. Some people want sexy stuff or to look at a nicely curated profile to understand aesthetic. I look for moments of people being authentic, and it’s like digging for gold. I also just love looking at art. I’m in awe of so many people, and I feel like everything is changing and growing exponentially. It’s very wild to see it all change.

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Was there a moment where you noticed a tipping point with how many followers you had or was it a gradual build?
Well, I’m kind of trippy so it makes me think that I have more of a follower who has a weird taste in things. Or a young person that likes demon art. Or a gay dude that thinks I’m cute ( they do and they promise a lot of friendship bracelets that never come in the mail, it’s bullshit.) I had a slow build, where people kinda just liked that I’m an obnoxious weirdo, I guess, but I’m not very good at being consistent, and I’m political, so people frequently unfollow, I guess. I don’t really know what’s going on.

Do you think social networking is important for emerging and mid-career artists? If so, why?
It’s probably the most important thing for all artists of every kind. Way more important than art school even. What’s the intention? To make art, to live, and to share it? That’s life, bro.

Has social media affected your process or studio life? If so, how? Do you sell your art directly to collectors you connect with on social media?
It’s distracting as hell, but it’s integral to sharing stuff and keeping people aware of what you’re doing if you want to be a professional. Unless you don’t need to, and then you should just make crazy videos of cats maybe. I do sell directly to people online! It’s the best! It’s the fucking best thing that could have happened to artists. To have autonomy, and not have your art, skill, and love, leveraged against you by an industry.

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What are some positive effects social media has had on your career?
I’ve met so many people! Artists, comedians, sweetie pies everywhere, man! It’s gotten me into the minds of more people, it’s shown me more animals and cats, It’s gotten me cool gigs, and it’s allowed me to connect directly to people by eliminating any middle people.

What are some of the negatives? Are there any horror stories?
There are negatives. One of them being that it’s a big illusion in many ways. I think when you see a successful artist selling their stuff, making prints, and having a career, usually that’s years in the making, and I think people on the outside see it and go, "I’m going to do that.” And they start to make prints of their first ten drawings, or don’t have the perspective that it takes time. This whole thing takes a ton of time, it takes a long time to get good and develop your own thing. It’s a beautiful thing to have this independence, but it’s wise to respect the art by putting in the work. Like everything. Just do the art, don’t worry about getting famous, that will come if the art is good. Maybe, I don’t know, I just think that it can be discouraging if you don’t have the outlook of realizing that it’s important to eat shit along the way and it’s an important part of the process, so just grind your lil balls off and find your rhythm and get in the pocket. I still kinda suck, so I’m right there with the newbies! Hahaha.

Has your success on social media had an effect on your relationships with the gallery system?
Absolutely. There is zero reason why I should show in a gallery. If I wanted to have a show, I could just rent the spot myself. All the promo and all the backend work has been foisted upon artists over the years, and I’ve only seen a backslide in what galleries are taking responsibility for. But you want half my money? Then you better suck half the dick, because I can do it on my own. What are you offering me?

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Do you think galleries are still relevant if social media and the internet exists?
Barely, at all. I want galleries and artists to start having some real talk about this shit, because it’s way passed time. If a gallery wants half the money, I think they should have to buy all the art up front. You’ll see them bust their ass to sell it then! And, if you’re a gallery, you’re probably in shock at that notion, but let me get this straight, you want me to paint my ass off for 6 months, make your gallery look amazing, and you get half the money with no guarantee I’ll sell anything? Most of the people buying will know about it because I’ve promoted it, developed my social media presence, and then you start getting the next artists' shit in there 3 weeks after my opening? 6 months of work that hangs for 3 weeks.

It used to be that a gallery was responsible for nurturing your career and developing your whole trajectory, but it’s such a money grab now. I don’t blame galleries for feeling the squeeze of late capitalism, but where does the love of art, and artists, really fit in the system anymore? We (artists) should be in charge of this whole thing. Art is what makes life worth living. Every single thing in our culture is informed by art and artists, yet somehow we get placed at the bottom of the totem pole, every time.

Do you have any advice for emerging artists just starting to promote their work on social media?
YES! I would say, learn as much as you can, bust your ass, and participate in a fun way. Make friends, pay your dues, and don’t get distracted. Struggle is the spice, that’s how we grow. The main goal is to have fun and be creative, and make a lil money baby!