As an avid Tumblr user for approximately two years now, I can easily see why this blogging platform has rapidly gained popularity and media attention since its inception in 2007. Attracting many different niche groups and combining them into one large community, Tumblr allows its users not only an outlet to present their written posts and ideas, but also their images, videos, conversations, quotes, and anything else the user could possibly want to share. As my love affair with Tumblr blossomed I found myself “follower hungry,” and was constantly thinking of new ways to gain more followers. Thousands of followers later I have found the secret to attaining at least minor Tumblr fame – picking a particular blog style and sticking to it. By changing my blog’s style from ‘personal’ to ‘art’ I’ve gained at least 2,500 followers over the past few months. Mind you, I do not post any original artwork (I’m a Media, Culture, and Communication major, and not a Studio Arts major for a reason). All images that appear on my blog were found either on other websites or reblogged (reposted) from other Tumblr users, and have been cited accordingly. The MCC student in me was interested in the idea of participant observation before I’d even heard of the term, and I wanted to understand further what made an art blog ‘Tumblr famous’. After analyzing many different art blogs I’ve determined that what separates the mildly popular art blogs from the ‘Tumblr famous’ art blogs is the posting of original content. It is much easier and quicker to gain followers when you are posting original artwork.
Looks like I’m not the only one whose caught onto how popular art blogs actually are on this social networking site. This is self-explanatory in the press release I found in the Sacramento Bee’s, “Artspace.com and Tumblr Team Up To Find, ‘The Next Artspace Artist.” The press release describes how Artspace.com, the leading marketplace for contemporary art, plans on finding “The Next Artspace Artist” based on an artist’s Tumblr popularity. Any artists interested in the cash prize and other perks can submit their original artwork to the tumblr page that features the contest and the semi-finalists will be determined based on how popular the artwork is on Tumblr – how many reblogs/likes the image obtains. The top twelve pieces of artwork will be voted on at Artspace.com to determine a top three, and from there a panel of judges will decide on a winner.
While the actual content of the press release seemed to be nothing but informative (as a press release should be in an attempt to objectively convey the message), the quotes chosen clearly depicted a technological deterministic perspective. Artspace.com is a website that features all sorts of art, anything from photography to illustrations, and everything in between. The website acknowledges that part of being a successful artist comes from having your work distributed and attaining fame. In our current day and age the best way to attain fame is to go “viral.” The rapid spread of information something that has become a necessity for fame since the creation of the Internet. In order to “expand the reach of these artists and expand their work,” as Artspace.com’s CEO Catherine Levene claimed was the purpose of the contest; it’s imperative for Artspace.com to take advantage of social media networking. Also, as a bit of a side note I would like to take a moment to mention that I enjoy the irony in the fact that the art being exposed and distributed are all works that cannot be created on the computer, but requires the internet to have any chance of reaching a broader audience in the modern world.
Technological determinism, as described by Nancy Baym in her book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, in short, is the idea that machines use individuals. Basically, it’s the idea that the technology itself has the power to manipulate its social and cultural affordances. In this specific instance I’d like to employ Baym’s use of the type of technological determinism commonly referred to as media choice that appears in Chapter 2, Page 27 of this book. Described as a “milder form of technological determinism,” Baym acknowledges that media choice tells us that “people are seen as making strategic, and usually rational, choices about which media they use for differing purposes.” This argues that individuals making use of a particular type of media are doing so because it is the technology most capable of meeting their needs in a specific instance. In the case of Artspace.com’s contest, I think that social media is absolutely the way to go. Tumblr specifically is an ideal social media platform for Artspace.com’s task at hand because as I mentioned before, there already exists a niche audience that appreciates art on tumblr. It would be a waste of time and energy to look elsewhere when they can turn to this community that already exists. Furthermore, in addition to appealing to the artists’ as a place for them to post their artwork and compete for a chance to win, this competition allows the entirety of the tumblr art blog community to take notice of this incredibly cool website, and gives them the opportunity to maybe lure more people onto their site.
As a social networking site, Tumblr is unique because it does not necessarily attract only people who know each other, like Facebook, Twitter, or other similar websites. Instead, most people one follows on Tumblr, they don’t actually know outside of the virtual space that Tumblr creates. In Judith Donath’s article, Sociable Media, she discusses the idea of synchronous forms of media being able to create a “shared non-physical environment,” which I believe is exactly what Tumblr is able to do. Tumblr also has the affordance that while it can be considered an asynchronous medium there are constantly users online and uploading new content causing the site to be mutually synchronous.
Donath proceeds in Sociable Media to describe the benefits of anonymity, all of which Tumblr provides. One of the main affordances of Tumblr is the fact that you are able to create a new identity for yourself. The art you are viewing most of the time on this website is not by a well known artist. It can be created by anyone who has access to art supplies and a scanner (which, let’s face it, sometimes is the case). Online we cannot necessarily detect social cues about the artist’s, “age, race, gender, affiliations, etc. in their clothing, voice, and face.” We, as users, are able to look objectively at a work of art and develop our own opinions of a piece without any hint to the artist’s true identity.
Overall, I believe this partnership is a great idea; attracting more artists to Tumblr’s blogosphere and more appreciators of art to Artspace.com it benefits both parties involved. This partnership and contest has been expressed in this article as technologically deterministic, emphasizing the importance of social media networks in expanding the artist’s reach. I firmly believe that Tumblr was the best social media network for this partnership, in my opinion, as it provides many other features like anonymity, niche communities, and a virtual space for users to discuss their opinions, share posts they like, and just “like” posts privately.
What do you think? In today’s world do you think social media networking is necessary to expand the reach of art?