Some people think Twitter is silly. I am here to sing the praises of tweeting.
Tweeting, which means authoring a short message with less than 140 characters on the Internet service twitter.com, is liberating, addicting and, as some would claim, vain. Nevertheless, I would like to explain in this opinion-editorial why I think this service is important nowadays, especially for both art professionals and art organizations. Though my mother advised me, as a general rule of politeness, never to speak of myself in public, I feel the urge to explain where I am coming from by casting light on my past as a dancer with a special relationship to social media.
I grew up parallel to the emergence of the Internet and spent many hours behind the screen of my father’s Macintosh computer, most of the time occupying his little office corner more often than he. Gadgets and screens attracted me greatly in my childhood, and it came naturally to me that I would present to the world my other passion, dancing, by means of the Internet. I was intrigued by the subconscious mechanisms of creating a brand and identity and was fascinated by how little changes resulted in great differences regarding how people perceived you over the Internet and as a personality. Having won several international ballet competitions, I built a website and posted the videos of my dancing, first on my website and then on YouTube. Through YouTube, my success as a ballet dancer went ‘viral’. Diane Solway wrote in her article in W Magazine: “Few dancers can boast of a bigger following online than in the theater, but Daniil Simkin can.” I got widely known through YouTube and received invitations to perform in many places, through which I ended up at American Ballet Theatre. I would not live the privileged life I have, performing all around the world and living in New York, if it would not be for YouTube and, in general, social media.
With regard to my relationship with Twitter, Gia Kourlas in her New York Times article “Ballet Stars Now Tweet as Well as Flutter,” wrote: “Daniil Simkin, a soloist at Ballet Theater, […] was one of the first professional ballet dancers to use Twitter.” I currently have around 4500 followers on Twitter and more than 11,000 people who “like” me, or should I say my brand, on Facebook. My YouTube videos have cumulatively been viewed more than three million times. Compared to how many people have seen me perform live, the size of my YouTube audience is exponentially higher.
According to journalists who have interviewed me, I was one of the first dancers to exploit the possibilities of new media in my field of work, and many others followed. As in the other arts and businesses, such as the music business, social media provided a new way of getting discovered. In fact, some of my friends call me the “Justin Bieber” of the ballet world. Justin Bieber was originally discovered on YouTube and has led an illustrious career as a musician ever since. He boasts the biggest Twitter following in the world with more than 14 million (!) followers.
At first, this way of being discovered seemed a silly and singular occurrence, but as compared to the early days of social media, it has evolved into an approved and appreciated practice. Nowadays, some dance companies regularly announce auditions over Twitter, and dancing clips of the people being auditioned are posted on YouTube.
While YouTube has gained almost universal acceptance, Twitter remains somewhat controversial. Especially at its start, most people misunderstood the basic principles of Twitter, which probably was its own fault. In the beginning of its not too long life as an ever growing Internet service, Twitter proclaimed with big letters on its always present home page: "What are you doing?" This little sentence misled both users and people trying to understand the basics of the service. It led people to publicize the infamous "sandwich" tweets, which basically constituted of incredibly mundane facts of “boring,” regular lives.
In general, some people argue that Twitter is simply a place for obnoxious, self-indulgent individuals to “max out” on narcissism and plead for attention and reflected validation. Twitter’s detractors argue that it is a vehicle for shameless self-promotion for individuals who focus on quantity and not quality of their "tweets" and procrastinate in their lives while dropping off "just another tweet" in order to build their sect-like "following." And, of course, they argue that all of this results in a false sense of connection between the tweeter and his audience. The opposition laments that the self-inflicted lack of privacy inevitably leads to stalkers. With regard to Twitter’s impact on art, they argue that, when artists communicate with their audiences through Twitter, the newly available overflow of direct information destroys any mystique, glamour and/or magic that the art might have had.
Most of these beliefs stem from a misunderstanding of the functions of Twitter. Twitter is a new and truly efficient way for an artist directly to connect and stay connected to a passionate audience who appreciates what the artist does, since otherwise the audience would not follow the artist in the first place.
Tweeting is, analytically, an act of giving: somebody broadcasts information and experiences through text, pictures, and videos (the tweeter) to someone who receives it (follower). With each and every tweet, the broadcaster has potential value to give to the recipient, being it just a piece of information, or the sharing of feelings and experiences with the audience. This principle of value weeds out substance from noise, since as a follower, one always possess the choice to opt-out and stop following someone. I did so with many of the people and organizations I once followed, since I simply disliked the quality, sometimes quantity, or self-indulgence, of their tweets. The ability of followers to “opt out” creates a natural environment, which lets followers gravitate towards people and organizations that they feel have something substantial to give and say.
Since this entire "giving" process takes place directly from the source without middlemen and filters, the information is delivered in its purest state. Direct sharing provides people and organizations with power over what they want to say and how they want to be seen by the public. It democratizes sharing of information and skips the often biased and influenced news outlets and paper publications.
Directly reaching a wide and diverse audience with extremely little friction, Twitter extends the principles of free speech. This direct outreach also provides each and every tweeter with the possibility of openness and transparency. Especially in today's art world, which tends to be old-fashioned when it comes to embracing social changes and new technologies, Twitter can provide the organization and individual with a fundamental understanding of the principles of the “new world” of artistic transparency.
Transparency in our times is not only essential, but a main principle of culture and business as well. Many business models, art directions, and cultural streams are based on the principals of openness and transparency. It all began with general themes of minimalism and simplicity in art and architecture in the 1960s. The pinnacle came with the era of the Internet, which led to an all-encompassing understanding that information should be free.
Though many art experiences can only be “sampled” online and do not compare with experiencing art in the real world, people are able to educate themselves through the Internet; they can at least get a glimpse of the art experience that lay ahead, before forking over money for the experience they are planning to buy. Now the question is, of course, how much of the experience should be “given” and what is the limit? Does this “taste” destroy the attracting mechanisms of mystique and exclusivity? It’s a fine line concerning the content of tweets, as I said in the New York Times piece on Twitter: “You cannot just go out there and say everything that comes into your mind. You have to filter it. I would say it’s a delicate balance. The more you give, the more people want.”
Perpetuating mystery in any art jeopardizes its possible acceptance by whole new audiences, especially with the younger generation. Because of the fast pace of their lives, if young people do not comprehend something quickly, they shy away from it before giving it a try. By neglecting Twitter as an approachable way of marketing an art form, we cut out potential future consumers.
By opening up the mysterious, exclusive, and elitist world of the arts and giving people a taste of artists’ lives and processes, Twitter creates an environment in which artists can be seen as actual human beings. This “humble” depiction of art conforms to the 21st century view of humanity and supports the general urge for simplicity, democracy, and mutual respect in our times. As I said in the article “Ballet Stars Now Tweet as Well as Flutter” for the New York Times: “But for me, it’s all about information and transparency. You see the things most clearly if there is no barrier and no filter, and that is the epitome of Twitter. It breaks it down: the ballet dancer is not that mystic creature anymore.”
Simply put, the artist is not a supernatural creature with God-given genius anymore. The artist simply is a human being, but one who leads a life different from that of most people because of the particular type of work he does. His life is not self-indulgently inspired but can be inspiring for other people in itself. That is why, through Twitter, people want to witness it and be part of it.
The most practical argument for Twitter is that it is simply the best way to connect with others and to exchange information in one single place. It basically has become the hub of social networking in general. It has become an essential part of the 21st century and, therefore, cannot be ignored by any art form, art organization or artist.
Twitter is an established and central part of the social media environment and the advancement of this newly and young form of communication is inevitable. Just like any other emerging media, Twitter has many enemies, but so did photography, radio, and television in their infancy. Photography took the “soul” from the person being photographed, radio was useless mutter, and television was dumb entertainment. Twitter is in the same place right now. Just as Mahatma Gandhi said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” We are currently fighting for Twitter’s significance, and I have no doubt we will soon win.