Killing Creativity: Is social media killing good art?

The Internet and social media have made it easier for artists to share their work and gain an audience. It has also inadvertently hindered the creative process for many artists. Here’s why.

The creation of music and the development of art is changing rapidly. Social media networking has lowered the cost of music introduction and promotion, which is great. But we also live in a world where you can be famous for … being famous. Not so great. Today nearly everyone — celebrity and commoners alike — validate our success through social media by the number of friends, followers, likes and views we receive – whether or not those relationships are real or authentic.

A recent Atlantic Magazine article claimed that success as a young creative is no longer about technique or expertise. Instead of the 10,000 hours of experience it takes to birth genius that Malcolm Gladwell espoused in his book Outliers, it is now about having 10,000 contacts – a customer-focused approach to art instead of one built on innovation, craft and beauty.

Social networking has become a deceptive and broken substitute for time-honoring (often isolated), passionate work in developing craft and expertise. Young creatives can now be prematurely lulled into a false sense of creative identity and success by the number of likes and followers on their social media networks.

Pop artist John Mayer went through a period where he suddenly closed his Twitter social media account and confessed on his blog his own creative downfalls experienced from networking: “You can’t create lasting art if you are heavily involved in social media. It occurred to me that since the invocation of Twitter, nobody who has participated in it has created any lasting art. And yes! Yours truly is included in that roundup as well. Those who decide to remain offline will make better work than those online. Why? Because great ideas have to gather. They have to pass the test of withstanding thirteen different moods, four different months and sixty different edits. Anything less is day trading. You can either get a bunch of mentions now or change someone’s life next year.”

In a seminar with a group of our nation’s top music students at Berklee College of Music, Mayer explained how social media distraction actually narrowed his creative capacity: “The tweets are getting shorter, but the songs are still four minutes long. You’re coming up with 140-character zingers, and the song is still four minutes long… I realized about a year ago that I couldn’t have a complete thought anymore, and I was a tweetaholic. I had four million Twitter followers, and I was always writing on it. And I stopped using Twitter as an outlet and I started using Twitter as an instrument to riff on, and it started to make my mind smaller and smaller and smaller. And I couldn’t write a song.” 

I wholeheartedly believe “changing lives” should be the goal of every great technological or artistic endeavor. Steve Jobs asked Pepsi’s John Sculley the question: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” Recently, music pundit Bob Lefsetz challenged the music community to wake up from its self-focused online stupor and write new protest songs of value that transform culture like those from decades past: “We need middle class leaders speaking up compassionately for the disadvantaged. Don’t worry about offending. Just by speaking your truth you’re gonna @#$% off somebody. Don’t let that hold you back. Great art has historically made people uncomfortable. You’re doing it for society, not for yourself. Narcissism is passé. You’re providing a service.”

And Bono’s words remind us: “Music can change the world because it can change people.” But if we are more focused on how many followers we have or likes we can get – will we ever get to that point?

Social media has become a distraction and an inhibitor in the creative development process. Becoming a creative who can generate works with lasting cultural impact requires what Georgetown professor Cal Newport calls “deep work” — which is a combination of working for extended periods of time with full concentration on a single task free from distraction or interruption followed by intermittent rounds of feedback. A process where one wrings every last drop of value out of their current intellectual capacities. Newport asserts that our creative abilities are improved by the mental strain that accompanies this “deep work.”

Sadly, I am afraid our cultural addiction to social media networking is killing songs and artists before we ever get to hear their voices, melodies and ideas. Have we entered a new world where we will no longer see the lasting work and creative imagination of great artists like The Beatles, Spielberg, Dr. Dre or Steve Jobs?!?!

As a lover of great art, music and entertainment, that is a terrifying thought … Could we be moving toward the graveside of world-changing art and creative ingenuity? In the apocalyptic voice of music critic, Lester Bangs to William Miller in the film, Almost Famous, (citing the death of rock and roll): “It’s over, you got here just in time for the death rattle …”

Mark H. Maxwell is the author of the new book Networking Kills: Success Through Serving. He is also an entertainment attorney, music business veteran and college professor. As a lawyer, Maxwell represents a diverse roster of recording artists, celebrities, record labels, music publishers, authors, songwriters and producers. As a professor in Belmont University’s prestigious entertainment business and songwriting program, he created their popular course on Bob Dylan and teaches courses on music business, faith and culture, and copyright law. Maxwell is passionate about serving as a mentor to the next generation of creatives and entertainment business professionals. He lives in Nashville with his wife and children.

For more information, visit and connect with him on Facebook, InstagramTwitter and LinkedIn. Check out his TEDx talk HERE.

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