If the last two years have taught us anything about Facebook, it’s that the social media network is pretty easy to access if you’re a Russian troll farm looking to influence a foreign election.
But what if you are an artist who relies on the platform’s unprecedented reach to access fans and potential buyers?
A couple of instances this past week have revealed that the screens Facebook is throwing up to keep out bad actors may also be ensnaring legitimate artists and art lovers.
Andrei Taraschuk was born in Russia. He attended a traditional art school in Russia but dropped out after three years and has pursue his interest in data visualization and interactive design in Colorado, where he lives now. He is the founder and primary coder behind Off The Easel, a company that allows artists and dealers to engage supporters by algorithmically determining which works to share and when. The point is that Taraschuk loves art, so he has spent years building bots that shares hundreds of thousands of artworks across Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook every month. You have to sign up to receive these messages so it’s not as though he is spamming people; you can simply follow Claude Monet on Twitter to, as Taraschuk told the Fine Art Globe, “add a bit of beauty to your daily social feed.”
Last week, Taraschuk sent out a print of one of the photographs from a Thomas Eakins series of photographs of young men frolicking by a swimming hole.
Working in the earliest days of photography, Eakins (1844–1916) was in the habit of taking many photographs of his subjects and then painting them. The painting that became The Swimming Hole (also known as Swimming and The Old Swimming Hole and probably painted in 1884) today hangs in the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. The oil painting depicts six men swimming in a lake and is considered both Eakins’ finest work and an American classic. (The older fellow in the bottom right is Eakins himself.)
The image that Taraschuk shared was one of the photographs that Eakins took as a study for his painting. The result: Taraschuk immediately found himself banned from Facebook for 30 days.
On Sept. 11, he received was an email that read, “You recently posted something that violates Facebook policies, so you’re temporarily blocked from using this feature. For more information, visit the Help Center. The block will be active for 29 days and 14 hours more.”
Taraschuk wrote back, “Hey @facebook, I share 100K artworks per month and it is physically impossible for me to review all of them. It would be great if you would not ban me for sharing art even if it contains a tiny bit of nudity. How can I appeal my 30-day ban?”
Taraschuk told Fine Art Globe, “I’ve been blocked from Facebook at least six times for sharing artworks by Dante Rosetti, Thomas Eakins, Paul Cezanne(!!!!) and a number of others. Facebook claims that there is no censorship on their platform, only the community guidelines. However, by blocking users for violating “the nudity rule” they exert indirect censorship.”
Eakins’ status as an American master is beyond question and this series of photographs and the painting are considered important early representations of homoerotic themes. But the series is not particularly controversial or shocking—one of the photographs is available as a print on Amazon.
Jonathan Peter Jackson has known struggle. The energy, chaos and bold strokes of his paintings reflect a spirit born under difficult-to-fathom circumstances. Now based in New York, Jackson is earning some attention from critics and galleries. But also from Facebook.
According to Jackson, he has been banned multiple times.
“Believe me, they don’t care one bit,” he wrote in a Twitter exchange. “Fine art doesn’t sell ads…I’ve been banned for the depiction of half a buttock in a painting. The appeal moderators are uncultured and clueless. Actually, I’m currently serving a 1 week ban.”
This isn’t simply a problem of communication. It affects an artist’s ability to earn a living.
“Problem is, I am an artist that depicts nude figures in most of my work. Therefore, I am censored from Facebook and Instagram, the 2 main important platforms for artists.”
Earlier this year, French art teacher Frédéric Durand sued Facebook for deleting his account after he posted L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World), a Gustave Courbet 1866 masterpiece depicting a woman’s sexual organs. And now Facebook, under scrutiny for everything from the Cambridge Analytics data scandal to the hacking of democratic elections, has found a new villain: Peter Paul Rubens. Last month, the platform banned the 17th Century master’s famous cherubs.