In March of 2020, the world shut down. The world became virtual; businesses shut down, people lost their jobs, and a society that we thought we knew turned upside down. One of the hardest-hit industries was perhaps the art world. As museums and galleries had to determine how to shift to the remote world, artists had to find other alternatives of getting their artistic voices to a large number of people. The pandemic was unlike anything artists, and even non-artists, have faced in their lifetime. Making a steady income was always hard for artists, but the pandemic made pursuing a career in the fine arts even harder. That is until the pandemic saw a rise in TikTok.
TikTok has become immensely popular in recent years, especially amongst Generation Z and younger millennials, with 32.5% of users in the US being between the ages of 10 and 19, and 23% of American Internet users have seen or used videos on the app. In addition to these US statistics, there are an estimated 1.1 billion users worldwide. TikTok has been used as a platform for enjoyment and launch businesses, and artists are no exception.
Through the rise of TikTok and the pandemic, artists have both taken users behind the scenes into the artistic process and help encourage young artists to pursue their passions. This also creates less transparency about what it means to be an artist in the 21st century. Artists such as Hannah Müller-Hillebrand of Berlin (@namastehannah) and RF Alvarez of Austin, Texas (@rfalvarez) provide excellent examples of how artists have used their TikTok and other social media platforms both to spread their art to larger audiences and encourage younger audiences to continue pursuing the arts.
Upon looking at Hannah Müller-Hillebrand’s TikTok account, it is easy to see that she is very popular. With 120,000 followers and over 3 million likes, she has reached a wide demographic all over the world. Based in Berlin, Hannah is a young artist and certified yoga instructor who has used her platform to show her viewers and followers her art. Through her short clips, Hannah can provide a glimpse into the life of a young creative, demystifying the young creative ideal and giving her viewers a little taste of that fantasy. She makes being an artist almost effortless and fun. Her way of connecting with viewers is through the aesthetic of being an artist. But just because she makes her video aesthetic does not mean that there isn’t some truth within her digital work. She does present TikToks of herself creating some of the work that she sells on her portfolio website.
Even when presenting these aesthetic glimpses into her life, through this act of showing her life, she is able to connect with artists and those who wish to pursue art. While she doesn’t address her audience directly about the struggles she may face with being an artist, she wants to open up discussion between artists. In the midst of aesthetic images and moments in her life, whether it be through her everyday routines or tender moments with her partner, a desire to connect artists through this newer platform is not lost on the thousands of viewers who see her TikToks on their fyp (For You Page). And through the connections that she facilitates with artists in her comments sections, her art and the connections that she helps foster amongst people allows viewers to show them her passions not related to art.
Both her Instagram account and her TikTok account show Hannah’s viewers a passion that is present in her everyday life and in her art; women and LGBTQ+ rights. As an openly bisexual woman, she addresses sexist and biphobic microaggressions that she experiences, her activism on canvas and on the streets, and ways of addressing issues that mean a lot to her. This additional lens that Hannah provides her viewers reinforces two ideas about artists. The first idea is that artists are able to find inspiration around them, abstract and literal. The second idea is that artists are passionate about things other than their art. Hannah provides an ideal artist life; she lives in a bustling city with a thriving art career and strong convictions in her belief.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, RF Alvarez (@rfalvarezartist) of Austin, Texas shows his viewers a different side of being an artist. Drawing “from symbolic motifs and mythical iconography to address issues of identity and culture,”1 his work often focuses on the human body and abstractions of everyday objects that emphasize human connection. On his TikTok, the aesthetic of Hannah is replaced by showing his viewers how he makes his pieces. It isn’t that Hannah or RF’s approach to TikTok is better than the other, but rather that they emphasize different parts of their lives on social media. Hannah draws users in with short, aesthetically pleasing compilations of her life and art; RF shows his viewers the technical work that goes into creating his work, with little glimpses into his life.
Alvarez takes a different approach from Hannah when connecting with his viewers who may be artists. Alvarez doesn’t shy away from the hard work that he puts into creating his pieces, whether it be a workday or mixing his own pigments. There is a care for each of his pieces. He lets the process of creating art take center stage, and he merely is the one orchestrating the piece’s creation.
Much like Hannah, RF does take the initiative to connect artists and creatives through his account. However, rather than simply being a link, he talks directly to his viewers about pursuing a career in the fine arts. In a now-deleted video, RF sat down in front of his camera to address his viewers about finding joy in things they may find unproductive. This unproductive activity that RF refers to in the video is practicing art, something that many have deemed to be unproductive. Many young people are told that pursuing art is unproductive. This conversation about giving up art because it’s not “productive” could help young people pursue their dreams in the arts. Having someone who can relate and remember what it was like to be in the same position as the next generation can help remedy the problems that artists face today.
While Hannah and RF are fortunate enough to have an existing fan base and patrons interested in their work, artists who are just getting started are also taking a stab at the TikTok game. Artist Mo (@moniology) started posting on her TikTok account in early June of 2021. She now has almost 6000 followers and over 450k likes.
Perhaps Mo’s most popular videos thus far are her three-part series of creating an abstract piece. Over three days, she takes her viewers through the process of creating and then finishing her piece, making the artistic process more transparent. The artistic process and the allure behind it is filled with mystery thanks to ideas like the tormented artist. For Mo, the process appears to be built on feeling what is right on the canvas.
One of the many advantages of social media is that it is an avenue of self-expression, much like different art movements. No one movement or mode of expression is superior to another, and art is democratic. Lady Di (@redmilkcrone) has by far the most distinctive aesthetic of the artists listed thus far. Based in Fort Worth, Texas, her aesthetic is reminiscent of a Tim Burton film; ghoulish, exaggerated, and distinctly her own.
Much like RF, Lady Di is able to connect to her users through short videos about her artistic process. However, rather than taking the traditional approach of explaining what canvas they use or what supplies they buy, Lady Di uploads drawing prompts to inspire her viewers to “expand your muscle memory and brain,” as she illustrates in one TikTok. For her, using TikTok as a means of letting artists continue their craft is as meaningful as showing her latest work that she posts on her Etsy page and YouTube Channel.2
TikTok has also been used to sponsor independent online shops owned by artists. Amanda (@amandaeveart) highlights the work that she sells on her portfolio site. Using Pantone cards as an accessible backdrop, she brings her audience into the artistic process, ranging from her actively showing the painting process to answering questions about paints.
Much like the artists that have been mentioned thus far, Amanda does show her painting process and promotes her own art independent from galleries and marketplaces like Etsy. She wants to be independent from galleries and corporations, which gives her the autonomy to retain everything for herself.
As the world is beginning to open up after over a year of lockdown, the landscape in the art world has changed drastically. The short clips that Hannah, RF, and countless other artists provide their viewers (and maybe potential buyers) give a glimpse into their artistic process and everyday lives. Combined with aesthetic snapshots and mood-setting audio, artists on TikTok can connect with viewers on an international level unlike anything that has ever been done before. Unlike Instagram, which has been a powerful platform for artists and everyday users alike, TikTok’s algorithm randomly connects users to artists based on what appears on their “For You” page.
1Quote from Uprise Art website
2At the time of writing, redmilkcrone has not uploaded any videos to her YouTube Channel