Artists can easily feel exploited in modern society, meaning we have to take extra care to respect them. (Athena Wu)
Artists can easily feel exploited in modern society, meaning we have to take extra care to respect them.

Athena Wu

Stop the spotlight

West Side Story staffer Kailey Gee ’22 discusses the lack of boundaries society has for artists and what consumers of media can do better to relieve the pressure.

March 8, 2022

“Sorry for not posting in a while!” — it’s a common caption I see as someone who follows a multitude of artists on Instagram. It’s an unnecessary apology, but who can blame them? As an outsider, the constant harassment in comment sections is already overwhelming enough; I can’t imagine all the unsolicited story replies and DMs they receive. This expectation for artists to constantly produce at the rate of a machine stems from our unrealistic expectations in the age of mass consumption. 

This phenomenon can be applied not only to visual art but to the music industry as well. A prime example of this is indie-pop singer Mitski, whose hit tracks “Washing Machine Heart” and “Nobody” have blown up thanks to TikTok. Even prior to reaching this larger audience, Mitski had taken a break from using social media, touring and sharing music.

Although she then attributed the well-deserved rest to five nonstop years of touring, she recently revealed in an interview with Rolling Stone that it was largely due to the stardom she was already beginning to attract after the release of her fifth studio album, “Be the Cowboy.” The pressure from her newly acquired fans and the structure of the music industry made her feel like she was a product being sold, stripping her of her humanity. 

Since then, it’s apparent that fans have become increasingly entitled. When Mitski’s management released a statement from her asking fans to turn off their flash and not record her entire set in order to create a more present environment, she was bombarded with hate comments. The response was so overwhelming that the original post was taken down. Despite such a simple request, fans couldn’t even exhibit basic human decency and treat Mitski like a person.

As a long-time Mitski fan, it’s heartbreaking to read her testimonies in recent interviews, especially for Vulture and Rolling Stone. She didn’t even feel comfortable sharing the names of her cats because she was so worried about people finding her location and personal information. We as a society have put artists on such a pedestal that we care more about who the artist is than their art, yet, paradoxically, when artists take a break from making art, whether that be for their mental or physical health, we get upset at them.

Mitski isn’t the only example of this. Frank Ocean is another musician famously known for his value of privacy and creating music as a form of artistic expression. For instance, he repeatedly delayed the release of his album “Blonde” despite outcry from fans to prioritize and perfect his art. In the years since its 2016 release, Ocean has been largely silent about his plans to release a new album, perhaps focusing on creating new music, but most certainly exploring other passions with the release of his luxury fashion brand Homer. Still, fans remain relentless and continue to hope for and speculate about a third album. Ocean has already given us multiple forms of deeply personal and beautiful art; shouldn’t we be grateful for the fact that he shared any of his work with us at all?

This pressure doesn’t just affect artists; it affects society as a whole. If we encourage them to create constant content, that content will naturally be lower-quality because there is less work, time and love put into it. Also, an economic lens suggests fans as a whole would become less appreciative of art as production rates increase because consumers will care less about something if there is a lot of it, known as diminishing marginal utility.

Ultimately, the pressure we put on artists results in part from the digital age. With widespread access to high-speed results, we are used to instant gratification. Especially in a society where daily vlogs and posts are common, it can be difficult to understand what’s taking so long. For content creators that do post daily, it can take a massive toll on their mental health. This feeling of burnout is echoed by influencers on TikTok, a platform that prioritizes fast-paced content. Additionally, different forms of art can take different amounts of time and energy to produce, especially depending on how personal the work is. 

Art is not something we’re entitled to. 

— Kailey Gee, Print Co-Editor-in-Chief

I would be remiss not to mention the effect capitalism has on this pressure artists face. By having a career in the arts, you essentially have to market your creativity and emotions for financial stability in order to have a means to live, leaving artists feeling exploited.

Of course, it’s difficult to tackle such a vast system by ourselves, but there are small steps we can take to relieve the pressure. We have to be cognizant of the impact our online interactions have on artists. It may feel like they’ll never see your meaningless little Tweet or post, but when there are thousands upon thousands of people (with the numbers only rising as the artist gains popularity) demanding more art, it creates a culture of unnecessary stress. It can certainly be sad to hear that an artist whose work you admire won’t make any more public art — and that feeling is completely valid. However, we have to remember that artists are people too, with feelings and reasons to stop sharing or creating their art. We should try our best to be grateful that artists choose to share any of their work with us at all because their art is not something we’re entitled to

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