Push To Flush: The Liturgy of Social Media

Texto original de Paco Barragán en “ARTPULSE MAGAZINE

“Parece que Facebook y Twitter son ideales para relajarse, apuntarse a citas y tratar asuntos de peso ligero, pero no para una lectura seria”

Television brought the stars into our homes, and now social media enable us to go into anybody’s home (screen). It is easier today than ever before to become a celebrity, as there are more outlets than ever-reality television, YouTube, Myspace, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter, blogs-and less talent required.

These all-accessible, democratic, egalitarian, utopian social media have shifted this pressure now to the “inner life of the individual,” so both exemplify an “artificial” nature of the self. In the case of mass media, it manifests itself through corporate censorship, in social media through self-censorship. We must produce, stage, direct, act and broadcast non-stop our persona in order to showcase and reinforce our glittering status. Any photograph, video, audio or text message that doesn’t position ourselves positively with respect to our friends, followers, readers and viewers must be quickly suppressed and erased. Ernest Sternberg affirms in his essay “Phantasmagoric Labor: The New Economics of Self-Presentation” that, “At every level the ability to present oneself has become a critical economic asset.”(Sternberg 420)

Despite our perfect self-images we are basically fighting against ourselves, says young Dutch sociologist Koen Damhuis, author of the recently published De virtuele spiegel. Waarom Facebook ons ongelukkig maakt (The Virtual Mirror. Why Facebook Makes Us Unhappy). It’s “the look-and-compare culture that confronts us with everything we didn’t achieve.”(21)

But enough theorizing for now. Let’s talk about social media and the art world.

Yet another bold statement is that the art world and its structures have not really entered the “blogosphere.” All its strata still remain in the dot-com culture phase, being the Web 2.0 philosophy is nothing but sheer voluntarism. Celebrity, authorship and (failed) New Institutionalism all share in common a uni-directional relationship with a passive audience participation. The celebrity does so with his or her fans; the art critic-think of Jerry Saltz, for example, who, by the way, shares the same “aura” with the celebrity-with his readers and followers; and the art institutions with its visitors. So do art magazines such as Artforum, Frieze and Flash Art and websites such as the former Artnet and Artfacts. The funny but maybe not so surprising thing is that art magazines entered the dot-com realm with the typical print-based attitude: The website becomes a de facto online magazine with merely text and images, like the traditional magazine, but without paper. There are no articles, essays or interviews in which word, photo, video and audio are embedded in the same (con)text.


Sami Lukkarinen, Wolf Mask (Tommi), 2012, oil on canvas, 78.7”x62.9”. Courtesy Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki.

Art criticism, like the art world, is still based on modernist concepts such as aura, authority and authenticity. The idea of participatory criticism or co-writing, which is becoming common in other spheres in the blogosphere, goes against the art critic’s intellectual capital. This is a one-way street. On the other hand, most blogs and personal websites hardly generate critical discourses, and most articles, essays and interviews-I continually post many of mine on Facebook and Twitter-only receive impersonal “likes” and some brief comments with a minimum of dialectical exchange. It’s obvious that social media are hardly adequate for articles, essays or interviews, and in turn favor short-attention-span photos and videos, especially funny ones.

So, the question is: Because people don’t have much time, has art created too much distance between the art critic and collectors, dealers, artists and other players in terms of critical competence, or is it just the Facebook-Twitter liturgy of not reading anything that demands more than five seconds on these platforms?

Furthermore, museums, magazines and other related art websites don’t engage in any kind of participatory exchange with the reader/viewer. Many well-known websites such as artforum.com don’t allow readers to add any comments; and when posted on Facebook or Twitter, the reader does have indeed the chance to post a comment, but it hardly ever receives any kind of feedback except from other readers. While stars such as Madonna, Lady Gaga and Shakira have hired public relations professionals to manage their Facebook and Twitter accounts, why don’t museums have a community manager in order to engage with their readers beyond the usual fan experience? By the way, I posted comments on Facebook, Twitter, Artforum, TATE, MoMA, The New York Times and others and never got an answer-another blatant example of our fake democracy.

The widespread use of video and digital cameras, iPhones, iPads, webcams and social media platforms that have enabled the publicizing of the self have created a new dimension of what Andreas Kitzmann labels “public privacy”: the recording of private moments but through technology, allowing for the possibility of these images to be used in the public world. “Private space,” concludes Kitzmann, “thus undergoes an important mutation by virtue of being coupled with the very public spaces of performance, celebrity, and commercial media.”(80-87)

Nothing indicates that this modernist, one-way-top-down attitude in art will fade away. Social media are hardly affecting art in this sense. At most, you can access more information than before.

As for me, I wonder whether I should stop posting articles, essays or interviews. It seems that Facebook and Twitter are great for relaxing, dating and lightweight matters, but not for serious reading.


  • Damhuis, Koen. De virtuele spiegel. Waarom Facebook ons ongelukkig maakt. Utrecht: Uitgeverij De Arbeiderspers, 2012.
  • Kitzmann, Andreas. Saved from Oblivion: Documenting the Daily from Diaries to Web Cams. New York: Peter Lang, 2004.
  • Sternberg, Ernest. “Phantasmagoric Labor: The New Economics of Self-Preservation” in P. David Marshall (ed.), The Celebrity Culture Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Texto original de Paco Barragán en “ARTPULSE MAGAZINE

Pasaporte SmallPaco Barragán is an independent curator and arts writer based in Madrid. He is curatorial advisor to the Artist Pension Trust in New York. He recently curated “The End of History…and the Return of History Painting” (MMKA, The Netherlands, 2011) and “¡Patria o Libertad!” (COBRA Museum, Amsterdam, 2011). He is co-editor of When a Painting Moves…Something Must Be Rotten! (2011) and the author of  The Art Fair Age (2008), both published by CHARTA.

4 Respuestas a “Push To Flush: The Liturgy of Social Media

  1. hola si: si es un debate mas amplio, pero por lo general la gente no desea debatir ni opinar de manera negativa porque eso es malo ‘socialmente’ hablando. Prefieren la parte buena, el i like o el RT o FAV y ya. yo yo agradezco que me hagan un RT pero mas si comentan porque no les ha gustado o que parte no estan de acuerdo. Este es el ejemplo, yo he dicho para lo q pienso q sirve twitter y nadie de los bloggeros me ha dicho nada. un saludo

  2. Interesante artículo y buenas reflexiones. Ahora bien, ¿la falta de crítica y de análisis rigurosos es por culpa «sólo» de los medios sociales? ¿No deberíamos ampliar el debate? ¿No estamos delante de un problema social y, sobre todo, educativo?

    • Es cierto anapolo, pero el tema social y educativo dudo que se podría tratar en un artículo de ARCO Bloggers… haría falta una entera enciclopedia… ;D

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