“Reward systems in social media were influencing my decisions while art making. I would think about what people would think based off of likes and comments,” [artist Andrea Crespo] told me via email. Because its reception came so fast, and came loaded with so many social and biochemical cues, Crespo began to consider social media activity as an evaluating metric “really bad for art.” You begin making art not for yourself, but for the dopamine rush that comes as each double-tap lights up your phone.
It can be bad for art, but it can also be bad for artists. Crespo says Instagram was negatively affecting his spirituality and mental health. The reward systems are addictive. Artist Jake Borndal quit posting to Instagram when he quit smoking. A drug analogy might seem a bit played out, but biologically a “hit” of likes isn’t all that different from a hit of nicotine. When you check your phone, a rush of dopamine floods your brain and that instant gratification can drive compulsive behavior. Social media addiction isn’t a problem for artists alone, but if the role of the artist is to create, share, and contribute beyond existing boundaries, then the question of whether Instagram offers a new way to think or just produces new limits or anxieties is especially critical.