Sharing art has got to be one of the biggest hurdles that I've personally faced as an artist.
When I first considered sharing my work online, a torrent of thoughts flew into my head. Are people going to steal my work? Are they going to boo me out of existence? Will people even care? What's the point, even? Am I going to get anything out of this?
It's certainly one of those things that I was personally against when I first started. In fact, I wasn't even comfortable sharing my work with people that were close to me, let alone sharing it with random strangers online.
Well, fast forward to now, and I've realized that it isn't so bad. Or at least, not as bad as I had expected in the beginning. I'd say that sharing my art has got to be one of the more fulfilling things that I do, despite the fact that my metrics aren't something to write home about.
I wanted to talk about the things which may stop people from sharing their art, and some thoughts about the benefits I've gotten from sharing my work. I've only been posting my art to the public for at most two years since writing this, but I think it's still something worth speaking out about.
I think one of the most important things to settle before sharing your art is setting your intentions, because if not, other things will start deciding your intentions for you. It hasn't been the first time that I've jumped on a platform such as IG for some innocent reason, only to find myself joining the rat race of wrangling the algorithms.
Do you want attention? Do you want to be popular? Do you want to just post it for the sake of posting it and go about with your day? Whatever intentions you set for yourself, know that there's are trade-offs involved in that.
Popular art is popular for a reason. There are cases where personal work has a lot of appeal, but that depends wholly on the artist and their work. It's not often because their type of work became popular, but it's usually because their work already coincides with what is popular. Popularity in the present also doesn't imply popularity into the future. Trends come and go, and people lose their attention more quickly than creators realize. Know that there's some maintenance required in staying relevant and appealing to a large audience.
Do you want to stay true to yourself and your work? It's healthy to expect that the crowd isn't going to be on your side. It's not to say that being popular isn't a possibility, but it's easy for your intentions to be tainted if that's something that you expect to gain. Popularity should be treated as the byproduct, not the goal in this case, because if it becomes your goal (intentional or not), you're going to start compromising in ways that aren't going to be for the best. And acknowledge that it's a trade-off, not a complete loss: you may not be popular, but you can create whatever you want without a care of how appealing it is to a larger audience. Not to mention, you'll gain an audience that truly connects with you, rather than an audience that only flocks to the latest trends.
It's also important to mention that those who aim to market themselves professionally may deal with posting their art much more differently than say hobby artists. For professionals/freelancers, pieces that are being posted may be approached with a mindset of making a portfolio to appeal to potential clients, whereas hobby artists may be more casual with their work and have less planning involved. This is an important thing to take note before you start comparing yourself with other artists who are much better, because their standards may be simply higher due to it being their profession as opposed to their hobby.
I've certainly set some intentions for sharing stuff on this website, and that's really posting things that I think are up to my standard whenever I feel like posting. The lack of an extrinsic goal in my intentions may deter some people, but ever since my multiple instances of burnout while posting work online, I started aiming for sustainability. A lot of extrinsic goals like followers, likes, or views rarely last past a certain point, and they certainly will not last if you stop putting in sweatshop-levels of work just to maintain your account on the typical social platforms. I essentially sacrifice attention for sustainability, and I find that works a lot better for myself.
The feeling that "I'm not good enough to share my artwork yet" is possibly the main reason why I held back for so long. I think this feeling really comes down to general confidence.
I wouldn't say that this feeling doesn't go away. It comes and it goes, really. But I think that there's two types of things that are a result of this feeling of not being ready.
Feeling unprepared may show itself in the form of not being ready to share certain pieces of artwork. You may have been sharing artwork for a long period of time, but there are some pieces that you think shouldn't be shared to the public because it isn't up to your own standard. That's one that I sometimes get. We have our good days and bad days, and it really should be expected.
The other way this feeling shows itself is an overarching one, which is not wanting to post any artwork at all. For myself, I didn't want to share my artwork at all because I wanted to be at a skill level where it was "socially acceptable" to start posting your art, whatever that even means. I think I wanted to be comfortably outside of the beginner stage before posting my work, which isn't necessarily a bad standard to have.
It does start going into unhealthy territory where this standard of what skill level is "acceptable" perpetually moves forward. That is, you think that you'll never be good enough to post your work. I don't think this happens too often, though. At some point in my journey I was happy enough with some of my work that I was willing to start sharing them with other people. It may have taken a lot longer than most people, but I eventually did it anyway. Some artists were comfortable posting their work as early as when they were still beginners, whereas with myself I wanted to get out of that stage before posting my art. It really depends when one starts getting general confidence in their work and abilities.
There are some fears that I do want to address that people often worry about before they post their work online.
One particular fear is art theft. I personally haven't experienced this (as far as I know), but I have observed certain ways that art theft is conducted, and their reasons.
One is unsolicited use of work on merchandise for money. So printing designs on t-shirts, mugs, bags, and such. I'm pretty sure that this type of theft is something that graphic designers in particular have to worry about, as it's the most applicable art form for physical goods from what I can tell.
Another reason for theft is attention, but that's typically something that's easy to spot. If someone is trying to take credit for one's own work, know that unless they literally become a carbon copy of one artist, they have to steal from multiple artists just to create some variety. Funnily enough, this in itself becomes obviously theft because of the large variability of style, rendering, subject matter, etc. It's quite difficult to pose as an individual artist while reposting other artist's work, not to mention that the art which already has mass appeal comes from the artists who already have a following. This is often the reason why art thieves get caught by the followers of the artists that they are stealing from, rather than some random bystanders.
Heavily referencing or tracing other artist's work and shipping it off as one's own work for commissions is also something that happens, given that there was the scandal regarding Butch Hartman about this exact thing. This type of theft though is usually much more difficult since the thief in question has to have at least some skill. If they can only trace, then commissioning fully rendered works isn't a possibility. It's probably something that doesn't crop up often, but it's still something to watch out for.
Besides all of this, if people start assuming that you stole your own work (somehow), it's still quite easy to prove that the work is your own. Conceptual sketches for the work, thumbnails, original digital file with layers intact, owning the highest resolution image, a cropped element that can be shown in the uncropped version: all of this can be used as evidence that you actually did it. It probably won't get to that point, however, as people typically look at other things to determine if the work is legitimate, including the artist's other works, the date when it was posted, etc.
Another big reason that people are a bit reluctant to post their work online is general criticism.
It's something that happens. I haven't experienced it all too much, but it's something to expect regardless, and I don't expect to prevent it if it does.
It's a good thing to note that what people label as criticism isn't even necessarily criticism. Sometimes it's just outright insult, which isn't criticism. Not to mention, criticism is something that can be taken, or rejected. Not every critique has to be taken at face value, nor is it something that you always have to apply to your work.
I talk about critique in greater detail in another article of mine which you can read here. Otherwise, criticism when it comes to sharing art can be boiled down to this: it's something that you can (and probably should) expect, but it doesn't happen very often at all.
The last fear that I'm going to mention is something that is probably holding a lot of people back from sharing in the first place: if I'm not even going to get noticed, then what's the point of sharing my artwork?
Putting your work online doesn't guarantee attention, but merely the potential to get noticed. It sure is quite a heart-breaking thing to post your hard work, only for it to get unnoticed. Criticism is its own type of hurt, but it's on another level to not be acknowledged that you exist.
I personally have felt this myself, seeing that I don't even share my artwork with people that I know in real life. A large majority, if not all of the eyes that have landed on my work is from people online, so I have certainly felt the pangs of not being noticed by anyone for long periods of time.
The only thing I can really say is to focus on something that is well within your control to fulfill yourself while you share your work. Since I love to write about stuff and explaining things in general, that's where I got a large majority of my motivation to write, despite the fact that there's no guarantee that anyone will read it. The same thing goes for my artwork: drawing and painting is fun, and that's where my motivation lies, not whether or not people see my work.
Something which I tell myself when it comes to sharing my work is this: if no one is seeing me do all of these things, would I still do it? If it's a yes, then my intentions and expectations are where they should be. If not, then I have to re-evaluate.
It's a hard thing to address fears of not sharing your work because it's so different between individuals. The best I can really do is voice my own thoughts about the matter and see if it strikes a chord with anyone else.
Now, sharing artwork is not without its benefits. Though I wouldn't say that these are the sole reason to post your work online, these are still nice to have.
I think a large majority of the benefits of sharing one's art fall under the social umbrella. You can find some like-minded individuals who you can talk to about art, and grow as artists together; building a community of people who can bond together in a common hobby is quite the fulfilling thing. However, this is all merely a possibility, not a guarantee. It's something that you shouldn't expect to reap overnight.
Probably the greatest benefit I've had that has been consistent since I started posting is accountability. It's not accountability in the sense where I announce to the world my intentions on what I'll be creating/accomplishing within X days/weeks/years or whatever. It's moreso of this desire to keep growing, and to not stagnate entirely.
It's very much accountability in the shallowest sense. I see when I last posted my writing or artwork, and if it has been too long of a gap (say, 2-3 weeks to a month since I last posted), then I find something to work on so that I can keep the website growing. It's lazy man's accountability, but it's definitely better than just being a sitting duck and doing nothing. Before I had anywhere to post writing or artwork, I literally put off doing anything in those domains for months, even years. But now at least with some sort of incentive to grow a body of work, I'm more likely to share things and create more stuff on a more consistent basis.
Influence could also be a benefit, if that's something that you value. I find it to be a neutral thing, personally. I don't necessarily aim for people to start writing, or drawing, or to see a perspective that they haven't considered before, but if it happens then that's pretty cool. Though, it's less of a tangible thing to be measuring because unless people explicitly tell you that you've influenced them to start doing X or Y, there's no real way that you would know what impact you're making.
Well, after this huge word dump, it inevitably all comes down to the individual whether or not they are ready to share their work to the world. I can't really decide whether or not someone is "ready" to share their work. The most I could do is address the thoughts and fears that go alongside sharing one's work, and then that's that.
Do I regret posting my work online? If anything, I regret not having done it sooner. I will say though that I wish I shared my work earlier in a place like Neocities so I didn't have to worry about all of the garbage that places like IG and Twitter makes you deal with on a daily basis.
I will end in saying that art is something that will be seen, willingly or not, in a physical sense. If art isn't tucked away from view and instead is hung on a wall inside of a house, people will see it; likely unintentionally, but they will see it. The same thing goes for music: if people are nearby while you're creating music, they'll hear it without intentionally wanting to hear music in the moment. Some may not bat an eye, but others may take interest in it, and that's when you start growing an "audience" so to speak. Not because you were trying to gain an audience, but because you were simply doing the act of creating.
People will stumble on your work gradually, and that in itself is quite the blessing. It's out of your control whether or not people will see it, but the fact that it's there is still something. This entire website of mine is essentially me decorating my space, and people stumbling into it randomly. They may like it, or not, but that's OK. All I'm doing is decorating, and that's all that really matters to me.