Internet and Social Networks. Weekly interview with Michael Bell by Martin Cid
First of all, thanks a lot to Michael Bell who, week after week, is answering questions about different subjects in relation with art and artwork.
MC.- As you well know, Yareah is an online magazine. Times are changing and, currently, Internet is maybe the most important media where people are reading and sharing news, looking for information and… almost everything. Is internet changing the rules of the game also in the world of arts? What do you think about this, Michael? Has the internet effect affected the way that painters present their works?
M.B.- Thank you Martin. It’s a pleasure to draw back the curtain each week about my life as an artist for such an important international arts magazine.
The internet definitely has affected the way painters promote their work, through artists having websites and social networks which increases opportunities for exposure, but as far as presenting your work there is still no substitute for the brick and mortar gallery.
I believe one of the most important things in life is relationships. It’s about connectivity, which now extends online as well as through traditional means. And as an artist, it’s important that my audience can also form a relationship with the work I produce – that they connect with it on some personal level, which is why purchases are made and art collections are formed. It’s hard to form a relationship with something you haven’t seen in person. This is also the reason I don’t ever think traditional painting will ever go away, or be replaced, like it once was thought to be by photography.
MC.- When photography was invented, it changed the old way of painting. Painters reinvented themselves and made something totally different. Talking about this internet effect, do you think that it is now a time for a change? I mean, you can upload a painting and people can see it from Hong Kong to Paris without moving… but in the same way we are talking about a globalized world where everything is almost instantaneous and… different. What do you think about the future in this way of speaking?
M.B.- I believe the only constant in life is change. As an artist you have to adapt freely and move fluidly through the landscape of changing times much the same way you move through the body of your work from week to week, year to year. You’re only as good as your last painting, and your work is constantly evolving.
While it’s true you can upload a painting for people to see it globally in a moment’s notice, but you’re also competing for people’s attention in ways artists many years ago would have never imagined. Within this globalized world where everything IS instantaneous its people’s attention spans that scare me the most. Why do you think Twitter allows only 140 character tweets, Instagram allows only 15 second videos and its competitor Vine allows only 8 second clips? Because just the same as everyone changes the television channel so they don’t have to sit through a 30 second tv commercial the same thing is happening online.
So, while I don’t know exactly what the future holds, I definitely think it’s important to stay relevant and up on current trends so your work gets out there into the public eye.
MC.- And how about social networks (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube…) have they helped you? At least to spread your art? Or are they an extra work, tired for an artist?
M.B.- I’ve been able to create a brand (/mbellart, @mbellart, #mbellart) through the various social networks and have built up quite a large following over the years, but it hasn’t increased sales in the same large, dramatic fashion. But this goes back to what I said initially, people who are going to a brick and mortar gallery have the intention actually purchasing art. People on social networks are there to be social. So, for me it’s been more of a way to form positive relationships with the fans of my work and allow my collectors a window into my private world, which is what they want now too. The difficulty is that it’s time consuming. I’d rather be painting in my studio, but if I’m not connecting with fans or updating my status on any kind of regular basis in order to drive traffic back to my http://MBELLART.com website, I’m going to lose that traffic. It used to be enough for fans to e-mail an inquiry through my website about a particular work or to sign my guestbook, but that’s not enough for them anymore. The Social networks have made the process more informal. They want to be your friend on Facebook, follow you on Twitter, and they also want your interaction. I give them what I can of me publically, but I’m actually a very private person who prefers to save a lot of that world for just my family and friends who really know me. The rest people can learn about me through my paintings. That’s where all the real stories are anyway.