social media, public perception and the responsibility of the artist - a letter

is photography a form of writing on societies tablet of existence? 

the artist position in being the fool and the scholar, absurd yet seeing deeply. unknowing and understanding. 

social media, public perception and the responsibility of the artist. 

an open letter by joshua anderson bilhan.

the relationship to social media is in constant conflict and i know i cannot be alone in this thinking. there are so many ways to interact in these places of snap judgment where contemplation is not given time. should we occupy these digital spaces frivolously and loosely? posting and sharing anything from a raw perspective? or should the social media profile of an artist be places of deep contemplation and careful shepherding? maybe it only exists for public displays of reaction to the contemporary world, a place for quick exchanges over current events. this seems to be the reason social media was created yet only partially utilized for. am i seeing this from the wrong perspective? have i only known social media from the lens of commerce and personality sales of the “influencer” movement? i often think about big players in the world - writers, philosophers, innovators, artist - the people tackling the worlds big questions; and i think “how would they perceive me if our first interactions happened through my current version of digital identity?” or some form of that question. this is always going through my mind in every moment spent in this digital world as this artist who gathers experiences to share with a market, and whose value is determined by the people. how do they perceive me based on what i share? which opens the door to self-worth or whether or not one gives a fuck about the opinions of other folks. these questions drag around tied to my waist and i am reminded of them anytime i want to interface with the digital-social world. “who do i want to be in view of the public eye?” and now we move on to psycho-manipulation and social responsibility. 


together, lets quickly think about and attempt to define a ‘true self’. in life, any of us can manipulate our total expression of self and we can become an actor for the audience of the world. perhaps it is because, from a young age, most of us are aware of the weight of “their” perception on our selves, how “they see me”. in my experience, my true self exists when i leave away mental policing and let my mind express itself freely. this usually happens when alone or with very close friends. this is the self that exists when i dance or speak off-the-cuff, or when i interact with the physical world and with my body in any way i choose. doing these things without considering a concept of public perception. the body after orgasm or singing in the shower are other examples. with that definition in mind, we can move on to the manipulation of our self to tailor our appearance or language to interact with others. my typical behavior is totally honest and absurdly humorous [vulgar] - this is my mode, this is where i like to operate, i often use the word fuck and most of my humor is dry, sexualized and witty - not that i have ill intent but there may be some essence of being a rule breaker or provocateur in that. anyway, this is my casual mode of operation and we could say it is my true self. now, that self is not so welcome when dealing with my 105-year-old gospel-religious great-grandmother or when meeting others in semi-professional or formal environments. in those instances, my true self begins to cower and hide behind politeness and respect. but now i am faced with the option of continuing the interaction and relationship where i am not my true self. i run the risk of posing as someone polite and respectful while jagged edges lurk beneath. this is why i tend to operate from that casual place of honest speech and vulgarity, so that everyone i meet in the world knows me, from the moment we meet, they know me. this is not always the case you see, and so there is torment and baggage to drag along until i can reconcile these concepts within myself. lately, i have been experimenting with expressing my true self no matter who i interact with, this is a difficult experiment because constantly there is a fork in the road. the “should i say this or should i not say this” [to be or not to be, basically] and also dealing with the awareness of consequence. we should have a similar concept of true self now, let’s move to the use or un-use of the self in everyday interaction and in the publication of self into the digital-social world. 


when dealing with individuals who i have yet to meet me and those who “follow” me, i am faced with that same fork in the road. shall i use this platform “professionally” - whatever that means - or should i express what i feel is my true self? to continue my operation from the place that i have identified as self. now, with each case, it is very different. if the primary purpose of using social media is to expand a professional network, then one should reserve their primary publication with professionalism. what are the other options? to expand the network of global friends? and this is typically my use of these platforms. is my goal to know someone in every city on a casual, non-transactional level? then the use of social media remains the same, it remains the open book vulnerability of expressing true self. so i meet the people who can tolerate more or less my online behavior [which is likely to bleed into non-digital social expression]. these are very important questions because they lead to “who do i want to be in the world, who shall i allow myself to become, and what role do i wish to take in this society of us.” because in every action we make when dealing with other humans, we are at the mercy of any possible reaction. 


when i decided that i should pursue solution focused design as my professional interest, that i wanted to try my hand at answering the larger questions facing humanity, i began to wonder what this implied in tandem to my social expression. would this mean that i must forget who i am today to become the “correct” version of myself? someone widely acceptable, somebody not so overtly sexual or foolishly humored. it is difficult not to consider myself a failure every single day yet this feeling is what drives me forward to my destiny. what is my responsibility as artist to the people who produced me? what is my responsibility to the soil from which i grow. although abstract, that responsibility exists and is just before my eyes. to give my true self and the manifestations of my ideas to the people who have produced me. there is a responsibility to love and care, to nurture, to build the foundation, to strengthen, to fight, to defend, to represent. but am i the representative that my people want? will i be received with open arms into the worlds i desire to occupy? and this is only a shallow look into the book of questions that face me every single time i click to “post” myself for all to bare witness. 


from the mouth of james baldwin, which prompted me to write this letter: 


“the writer’s trouble is compounded. it is not that the writer is to speak for the dispossessed or to speak for those that can not speak, or any of that kind of removal. the real anguish is that the writer is produced by, comes out of, everybody - the people who produced him. and the people who produced him, produced him because they needed him. they have produced him because he is their only witness, in terms of language, against the anonymity of the state and the anonymity of the state is created by all of us, you and me.” 


thank you.


p.s. to those who are hyper-aware and unfairly critical of their own digital fragments which litter the cyberworld - bless you


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