By Patrick Dennis
I am an artist and I’ve been thinking…
It is entirely possible that I am an unwitting participant in a Darwinian experiment involving social media. Recently it dawned on me that my two beautiful daughters (ages 30 and 32, recently single and quite a catch) have ganged up with my artist friends behind my back to subtly shove me into the so-called “age of the internet” because they were fearful of my extinction were I to disregard the trends and continue on in my old fashioned ways of hand writing thank you notes, making phone calls and personal visits to manage my expanding circle of friends and business associates. And I thought the personal touch was “charming” and “well mannered.”
It turns out I was becoming a fossil. A relic. A potential crypt keeper from the 20th century. Not a look I want to cultivate because I see myself as an idiosyncratic, eccentric artist and philanthropist as I smoothly slide into a respectful maturity. Boy, who was I kidding? Getting Skype’d by my daughter recently from Barcelona I saw a tiny picture of myself on the computer screen. Could it be true that my social skills are turning to stone and could be obliterated in a cosmic windstorm? How embarrassing.
Darwin claimed that only the fittest survive extinction. The others are obliviously chewing grass, not looking for the new dinosaurs with huge teeth and appetites and enjoying the cool fall weather wondering if the leaves would turn bright colors and whether the creek on the back of my property would be ideal for a plein air painting or if it would be too cold or far from the warm coziness of my studio in the woods. Yikes, I am headed for the chipper for sure. All around me are the signs that spell out: “you cannot survive without competitive social networking and a full array of electronic communication skills.” It’s like being caught in a Star Trek movie wearing your own clothes. No uniform, no phaser, you’re doomed.
As the Skype episode woke me up to the dangers of extinction, it occurs to me that this shift in the time-space continuum is not science fiction. It’s not even an option. It’s really Darwin’s theory at work. As an artist and businessman, I understand the need to be competitive and preferably in front of the trends. But social media has changed all known parameters. The rules have been chewed up by the dinos with big strong electronic teeth.
My company just hired an expert to put some rocket fuel into our electronic presence. We now have our websites linked to Facebook and Twitter. We post news bytes daily. We have an iPhone app. And we went from a handful of pen pals to thousands of “followers” within a week. If you are an artist (and want to survive), you need a Facebook page.
I know, I know, it’s invasive and you’ll never really be able to control it any more than finding enough stamps to mail a letter (oops, throwback). But you must have online presence for people to find you and your artwork. If you don’t like Facebook, then use MySpace or any of the others. Amazingly, people want to find you and comment on your artwork. Clearly these people are living in electronic caves, adapting to the new world order by sharpening their electronic skills and you don’t want to mess with them.
So put your artwork up, send “friend requests” to people you haven’t seen or heard from in years because they have multiplied behind your back like electronic bunnies. You can rediscover a long lost friend and maybe make a sale in the process. Even relics like me can be seen posting on a wall or tweeting a message now. Take that, Darwin!
Patrick Dennis is an artist, gallery owner and President of the Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces. He lives in Atlanta. Email: Patrick@affps.com