The Burden of Self-Promotion and How to Lighten its Load

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Social media has undeniably changed the landscape of creative work and what it entails, to the lament of many artists. In this well-researched piece titled “Everyone’s a Sellout Now,” Rebecca Jennings traces the history of this phenomenon and interviews many writers and musicians who have been affected by it.

The plain truth is that in addition to creating our work, we are now expected to sell it as well, or at least convince publishing houses and studios that we have a built-in audience at the ready to buy what we produce.

“You cannot escape the tyranny of the personal brand,” Jennings wryly notes; the artist must become her own marketing department. Of course, the relationship between art and commerce has never been an easy one, but it feels especially fraught now, as creatives must battle not only the fiscal economy, but the attention economy as well.

“Under the tyranny of algorithmic media distribution, artists, authors — anyone whose work concerns itself with what it means to be human — now have to be entrepreneurs, too,” Jennings observes.

Ironically, all of this calculated self-promotion must also be done under the guise of authenticity, which is hard for creators to maintain when pressured to market their work and their very selves. For this reason, St. Ignatius would tell us, it’s all the more important that creatives carve out space to be defiantly human, whether that’s offline or in public. We can’t change the water we swim in, but we can choose how we swim in it.

Although the reality of 21st century artistry is grim, Jennings does offer one helpful suggestion, namely, that we reach out with our real human selves to the real human selves of other creatives:

Instead of spending the majority of our time on self-promotion, perhaps more of us could be focusing on finding ways to form solidarity among artists or among disciplines, especially in fields where there is no single industry-wide union that protects individual creators. We can support independently owned media, we can make it more possible for artists to survive by fighting for a health care system that doesn’t rely on full-time employment, for affordable child care, and against companies that profit from stealing the work of unpaid or underpaid artists.

Our Ignatian call to justice is a deeply humanizing one, both for others and for ourselves. It’s one way we can choose, in an algorithmic sea, to swim differently. As Dorothy Day so wisely said, after all, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

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