OPP: We're excited to bring you something new today to inform and inspire how you use social media as an artist. Arts writer and critic, Alicia Eler, is the author of this series in conversation with artists who use social media to their advantage. We all know we're "supposed" to be promoting ourselves as creative practitioners on social sites, but how can we do this authentically? Should we and can we use these sites to share our work, create a following, find opportunities or even contribute to and feed back into our art practices? We hope you enjoy this post and stay tuned for more on this subject on the OPPblog.
For this first installation, Alicia spoke with artist Ellen Greene, who puts a feminist twist on the hypermasculine language of tattoo flash. She creates and paints this new lexicon of tattoo flash onto womens’ leather handgloves, which act as a second skin that allows the tattoo-covered mother to tell her story. She recently wrote a catalogue essay for Ms. Greene's latest exhibition, Invisible Mother's Milk at Packer-Schopf Gallery; it will run in the next issue of Raw Visions magazine.
Artist Ellen Greene
AE: Before we get into social media, tell me a bit about your work. You use acrylic paint on vintage leather womens’ hand gloves. Your use of symbols is interesting to me—you take the language of classic tattoo flash and reimagine it through the lens of a badass mom who’s also an outright feminist. Why do you make what you make? Why do you only use gloves? Why not soft leather shoes or even t-shirts, for example?
EG: I began collecting gloves because they were objects that I found intriguing. They are made with such fine thin leather and stitched together so delicately over every finger. They are symbolic of an über-feminine aesthetic and belonged to a certain kind of lady who dressed very formally for church, funerals and parties. When I would find them in a thrift store, in bins with coin purses and doilies, they just seemed so beautiful and sad at the same time. They were something forgotten. So, for a time gloves were just beautiful things that I would collect and take back to my studio. I began to paint on them around the same time that I was getting tattoos. I was drawn to the hyper-masculinity of traditional tattoo art. When I say traditional, I mean the western tradition of sailor-style tattoos with imagery of panthers, ladies with big boobs, birds, stars and hearts. I loved how the tattoo artist could use only a few simple images to imply so many emotions. The body became magical, covered with symbols of the person's experience.
Even though my first attempt at painting tattoo images was quite rudimentary, I kept painting on the gloves until I felt that I had an honest aesthetic. The end product of image on glove was something I had never seen before. The femininity in the gloves combined with the tough, masculine aggression of the tattoo vocabulary created something entirely new.
As for creating shoes or t-shirts, I would never say never—but to me that kind of work feels more like fashion or something that is mass-produced. I paint on gloves because they are a metaphor for ladies' hands. There is a certain kind of historical attitude towards being a "lady." Heavily tattooed ladies' hands are taboo, and taking those ideas to make a kind of gloved object is interesting to me.
Ink and acrylic on vintage gloves, steel and wood frame
12.5" x 17"
AE: Your work is very visually engaging, conjuring notions of tattoo and biker cultures, while also crossing into the world of womens’ fashion and feminism. How do images of your gloves tend to work on social media sites like Facebook? What is your sharing strategy, if you have one?
EG: I feel like people are discovering this work and its context. How it works in social media is still unfolding. I am still learning how to share it! It falls into many different categories, and that's what makes it spread easily through the different niches that you describe. Tattoo people, feminists, burlesque and sideshow people and fashion people all like the gloves. Social media allows people to see something and re-broadcast it to people in their niches. In doing so, they frame it into a context that means the most to them. I can’t say I have a strategy other than keeping the information output steady, making sure that my website is up-to-date, and continuing to show and make work.
Girls, Girls, Girls
Hand sewn by glovemaker Daniel Storto, painted by Ellen Greene
AE: You have a great Facebook following, both on your personal page and your artist page. How did you cultivate this audience? What do they add to your practice? How do you tend to and engage with that community?
EG: Thank you! I have two pages—a personal Facebook page and a professional Facebook artist page. My artist page has only one identity—me as an artist. No pictures of random family events or what I ate for dinner will appear there like they do on my Facebook personal page. I set up my artist page with the knowledge that I would want a space that would be very professional, could link to my OPP website, and grow past my personal page's capacity. It allows people outside of my personal life to comment, share or interact with me but it keeps me, as a person, at a distance.
My personal page is where real life and my art interface more. I find a personal page very useful as a way to interact with people who may not see the posts on the artist page, which has limited interaction abilities. I find the personal page useful for talking to people I know in real life, liking posts and just being more casual. I think I engage the community by just sharing about my passion for art. That's what people connect with. I have made many new connections that allow for collaboration and support. Some online connections have become collectors and friends. I feel pretty positive about my connections on Facebook. They lead to some really interesting real life events and opportunities. You just have to interact with Facebook and think of it as a tool you can use well or not.
Acrylic and wax on paper
AE: I noticed that you use Twitter and Tumblr as well. How useful are they? How do those function in the confines of your overall art practice? Twitter seems to be most useful for net-artists of some kind, and I know there’s a big Tumblr community of queer artists. How do your images perform on those sites? Please provide your Twitter and Tumblr names here, too.
EG: I have my Twitter linked to my artist Facebook page. So, it tweets out my Facebook posts at the same time. That way I don’t have to actually go to Twitter. I haven’t warmed up to Twitter as I have to Facebook. I try to look at it, interact with it, but I don’t feel like I have personal connections with people there. That being said, I don’t hate it. I just don’t speak its language! It feels very coded with hash tags and @ symbols—it’s not picture-based, unless you click the links. It also feels very huge; it is corporate and celebrity-based. and very fast-paced. It is fleeting and not personal at all, for me. Twitter is all public all the time! I’m sure if I gave a better effort at it, I would get it. It’s a matter of time and energy that I have for social media and, well, Twitter just doesn’t get that much attention from me.
Overall I feel very positive about social media. I can’t say I hate any of it. I think some people live in these spaces and that is dangerous, but for me they add a sense of interaction that I wouldn’t otherwise have. Tumblr is nice, but it has a very young identity. There are lots of interesting images but the narratives that people put together on there are very much to do with younger people concerns—music quotes, young love and crushes, product obsessions like makeup and clothes and online celebrity. There is a part of me that remembers what it was like to be a teenager and 20-something, so I understand what that expression is and how it forms an identity for a certain time. It's like when you lived and died by your favorite band quotes. But when I was that age there was no Tumblr or Twitter or online identities. So our teen/twenties aesthetic angst was expressed in mix tapes and paper ‘zines. It was still a very intimate act to share that expression between people. I don’t really relate to putting your heart online. Tumblr feels like a format my oldest daughter would be into. She is just getting into anime online culture and making art and drawings that she posts. I have to tell her to be careful about the energy and identity that she puts out there, but I know that she has an artistic spirit and for her generation growing up online is part of how they frame their youth. She doesn’t feel so alone when she can feel like part of an online community.
I do feel that it is important to be present and interactive with different social media formats, especially for artists. I’m sure I could be doing more to maximize my outreach and exposure on Twitter and Tumblr. But for now, its about the work—not the hype—and I just hope people can see it in real life because the gloves are so sensual in a way digital representation cannot capture.
AE: What role does Pinterest play in your practice? The demographic on that site encompasses mostly women, and the niches that get the most traction are fashion and home design.
EG: I like Pinterest for organizing images and for marking sites that I’d like to visit later. When I was looking for pillows for the living room, I pinned many a pretty pillow and then was able look at them all and decide which one I liked best. It is the most consumer-focused of all my media sites! I am very visual so I like the way it allows me to easily categorize images. In contrast to Facebook, I don’t make Pinterst focused on just my artwork. But I do have my personal page linked to Tumblr and Pinterest so that when I interact with either of those places, it posts it back to my personal Facebook page and adds to that narrative. That way, it comes full circle and feels cohesive as an online identity.
As far as the niche demographic of it being for lady scrapbookers originally—I love that! Scrapbooking, doll collecting, crafting those are all modes of making that actually interest me. They are all obsessive, ladylike, housewife-type modes of making. I can pin a million different gloves that I don't actually own but that I want to have some visual reference for.
In Memory of My Dear Mother
Acrylic and wax on paper
5" x 7"
AE: Does social media take away from your actual studio practice?
EG: Only when I let it be a time suck. When I was first starting out I could easily get very obsessive about what everyone else was doing. I participated in their narratives, and realized that I had to pull back and keep it about what I was doing. I don’t have a lot of available time to waste on social media. It actually can be difficult just to find the time to do what I should be doing on there—posting, keeping people engaged and starting conversations. I try to spend much less time posting about non-artwork related information. I also keep out of politics and religion.
When I use social media as part of my studio practice, it includes networking, collaborating and sharing. I try to post something once a week but I look at and talk about things on a daily basis. Facebook probably takes away more from time I could be reading a book than my studio time. I am very protective of that space and time so I can easily turn off Facebook when I am in my studio. When I am at home relaxing, that’s when I can be on it for too long—it's like watching TV or eating too much candy. You just gotta cut yourself off and know when enough is enough.
Ellen Greene's Artst Studio
AE: What are five tips you can offer to artists who are looking to build up a strong audience on social media?
- Make strong work
- Don’t live your life online—unless it is part of the work. If it is, then great—go for it and make it work for you, but know it is only a small part of reality.
- Say please and thank you to people who support you and say nice things about the work. A like can be similar to a nice smile or nod of the head IRL acknowledgment. But taking the time to type ”Thank you that means a lot,” or to write a personal message after you see someone in real life can build a nice friendship both online and in real life.
- Do reach out and interact with people, but be sure to respect peoples' Timeline space. Don’t junk up your feed or other peoples sites with too much chatter/spammer.
- When posting artwork, share all pertinent information about the piece, including size, medium, where people can buy it, and what you were thinking about when you are made it. Present it in a professional way; add links, and tag people respectively etc.
AE: What’s next for you? Where can we see your work?
EG: My show “Invisible Mother’s Milk” opened on November 2 and is up at Packer Schopf Gallery through December 29th. I am part of a group show at Parlor Gallery in New Jersey that will be opening in 2013. I have lots of projects coming up next Spring. Like my artist page on FB! You will know what I am up to because I keep up with my social media sites.
Ellen Greene Artist FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ellen-Greene/132461926826773
Ellen Greene's OPP Website: http://artbyellengreene.com/home.html
Packer Schopf Gallery: http://www.packergallery.com
ALICIA ELER contributes art writing and criticism to Artforum.com, Hyperallergic, Art Papers and Newcity Newspaper. Her writing has been published in Time Out Chicago, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Gallery News, Kansas City Review and Flavorpill, and she blogged independently about BRAVO's reality TV series Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, Season 1. Alicia writes catalogue exhibition essays, curates work by emerging contemporary artists, and lectures on art and writing. She is the owner of Queen Bee Creative, a boutique communications firm specializing in creative individuals and small businesses, and is currently the Visual Arts Researcher for the Chicago Artists' Resource. Visit aliciaeler.com for more information.