For me, and probably for others inspiration comes when you least expect it. Perhaps it’s the lack of anticipation that makes it flow much better. Lately it hasn’t been a lack of inspiration that has kept me from working. The noise surrounding the state of the world has muted my creative muscles. This year I spent what would have been my spring break at home, cooped inside having to cancel all my spring plans due to COVID-19.
It was all frustrating, stressful and extremely depressing. However, with the severity of the pandemic, I am glad I live in a state where our lawmakers responded proactively to the crisis. I started upholding social distancing when implemented, yet my drive to make art is in part a drive to share something with people. I am not a very social person, I can be introverted, art pushes me out to the public. It starts a conversation; people always ask questions about my work and honestly, they get me talking about it when otherwise I would not.
When all my events for March and April were canceled, I resolved to make a push to share more online, Instagram and YouTube specifically. Yet that direction brought up another can of worms, and that was making Instagram art. I had been facing this issue for some time already, approaching my art process with the question of
“How will this look on someone’s timeline?”
By no means am I a household name, I have no work consigned nor do I have a brick-and-mortar gallery representation. Thus, the only way I could share my work was to do so through social media. A place where the competition is ten times fiercer than at an actual gallery show. You literally must compete with thousands of other artists and creatives for a few seconds of attention. Because that’s all you will have, a second or two of someone’s attention before they scroll past your work. A work that may have taken you hours to complete! I have played the Instagram art game since I started my “art account” before I used to share my work on a personal account. The separation was meant to help streamline my work in one place and to create a virtual gallery. I did not have a website then and Instagram was the cheapest place to start a resume. Unfortunately, Instagram is a beast one must learn to manage, like any platform the visibility of your account and posts will depend on a confusing algorithm built to help only what’s popular.
I was not popular; I was unknown yet was able to achieve some small success in attracting a new set of followers to my account. I did not start from zero, that I will admit. My account was a reboot and fusion of an old account I had grown from nothing. Once upon a time, five or six years ago, I discerned the Catholic priesthood. During that discernment process I started a page filled with inspirational quotes, Catholic imagery and other things relating to Catholicism and the priesthood. I was a different person then, and honestly the Catholic Instagram community is a close-knit one, and I was embraced instantly. That account reached over 2800 followers in a few months.
Yet like all things in life, I changed. I stopped posting on that account when I formally stopped discerning the priesthood, yet never deleted it. Even when I was not using it or posting, people continued to follow the profile. Thus, when it came time to create the art account, I recycled that profile. I deleted every single post, changed the email, password and of course the name. It was a complete makeover @Villa_Dreams was born (now @danielvillaart). The first post of the new account was a cheerful welcome caption with a drawing of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I lost almost a thousand followers within a week of the change; it wasn’t surprising but was grateful for those that stayed.
The number of people leaving continued to grow, but I kept posting what I was making at the time, eventually the number of those leaving flattened after I failed to engage 1600 people. It was a sharp lesson for me. I began viewing a piece of artwork’s success based on the amount of interaction it received on Instagram. Slowly that pushed me to make pretty things that would do well there. To create art, I did not want to create or even like at times. It also pushed me to make things quickly, since I had to post often to keep the attention spans, I was fighting for. Then came my first sales, all thanks to an Instagram post. I realized then that Instagram was far more valuable than I had considered before.
Although I have a small following of under 2000 accounts, the pressure of keeping up with Instagram and YouTube, plus the way I was allowing it to control my art was leading me to develop real mental health problems. I am not talking here about being nervous if a post did not get enough likes, I began obsessing over things like hashtags, analytics, refreshed my phone every other five minutes. I would go to bed checking my Instagram profile and woke up checking it. I obsessed over my YouTube channel’s analytics and consumed any type of content claiming how to grow influence and traffic.
Art slowly became a chore that had to be done for me to post about it. I destroyed the joy it had given me; I began experiencing more anxious breakdowns while creating. This is not instagramable enough! I would tell myself or would have panic attacks if I made a mistake while working on a painting for which I was recording footage. I was destroying more art than allowing myself to work through the problems of why a painting wasn’t working. The time-lapse had to be perfect, the editing on point, and the image good enough to capture the fleeting attention span of my contemporaries. It was exhausting.
In the last three weeks, I have not made a single complete piece of art, nor attempted any unfinished projects. Over this sobriety, I felt more anxiety than when I was creating for Instagram and YouTube. The need to create was still there. I did however make a few sketches, nothing that I would call art. I just picked up a brush and some paint. Painted for painting’s sake.
I enjoyed doing that, I felt no need to photograph those sketches, or to share them. They were my little secret, I wasn’t attempting to impress, I was simply creating and it felt good. Letting go of all that felt constricting, I wasn’t following rules or attempting to copy a style. That’s when it happened in a mindful moment, inspiration struck. I had no style because I was busy copying other artists I kept comparing myself to, I was afraid of drawing because it wouldn’t be Instagram worthy, and remembered Instagram was a tool I could control not allow to control me. That moment of quiet stillness helped me visualize a series of painting ideas, it helped me visualize Vain Attempts. I visualized the feelings I had cooped inside me, and that for once I should allow to surface out and be expressed on my artwork.