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Instagram is killing art

Michael Oechsle is the frontman of Melbourne indie-rock trio Halcyon Drive. Their debut album Elephant Bones will be released Friday 8th March.

If there is one thing I have learnt from being a musician, it is that creativity requires work, persistence and routine. It requires an ongoing self-belief and strength that goals can be achieved and that making art for the sake of making art is valuable and meaningful to the world. And that’s definitely not easy. That often means ignoring critics, having a dogged work ethic and most importantly, not being too hard on yourself.

We know that social media is an amplifier. It is a magnifying glass that portrays a pseudo-fantasy world of people ‘living their best life’. Besides creating a generation of children who are going to grow up with some serious Instagram tics, speaking from experience, I’d like to argue that this online-world is a toxic environment for artists. Whoa wait, but what? Surely Instagram is a beautiful creative hub full of creative ideas, magical inspiration and community? Well yes it is. It can be. But it it is most definitely not a safe space for anyone trying to create original art.

Firstly, true art comes from the unique intersection of you and the world. And by that nature it requires isolation. It requires introspection and play. It requires the freedom to explore and try things that might seem a little crazy, to feel safe that no-one is watching or listening. By definition, social media is the opposite of that. It is a playground in which you must show off, be extroverted, or suffer a slow death of dwindling followers. I regularly hear bands bemoaning the need to ‘create content’ for the sake of it, ‘content’ that so often is just a cookie-cutter copy of something we’ve all seen before anyway. In the age of ubiquitous marketing, social media is no true artist’s friend.

The second, and more potent reason social media is toxic for artists is the inspiration paradox. Artists are masochists. We judge our work prematurely against the masters we are trying to emulate. We throw away rough drafts because they don’t sound like what we imagine they should. We beat ourselves up for not reaching the goals we’re trying to achieve, and more than ever, we grow envious of those we see achieving the things we can only dream of.

Viewing my Instagram feed today I see sexy press shots of bands, new album covers and huge concert crowds. What do I feel? Mostly that envy. And you know what, to be honest, that actually drives me to work harder. But I believe I’m lucky to be built that way. It is obvious that the ‘black mirror’ of social media, that mirror of us versus our peers, can be a slippery slope into despair.

Today we see article after article, headline after headline, event after event, highlighting the crisis that music faces in regards to mental health. And while I’m sure that musicians have always voiced their inner struggles a little more than the average Joe, it seems that more than ever, depression and anxiety are becoming a serious occupational hazard for those working in our industry. I’d encourage any creative to put away their phone for a few hours, maybe even a few days or weeks. Create from within. Be alone. Truly alone. Be inspired by the world outside the screen, and don’t worry about what’s looking back in the mirror. Art should be personal, fun, loose and without judgement. And that’s something that by definition, social media can’t ever provide.