We are all aware of the power of social media to significantly alter real life. Be it elections or body types, trends or reputations – social media has been there and left its mark. It has the power to digitally make-or-break an individual, and shows us whatever we want, wherever we want it. Among the myriad of selfies, dogs, kids, food and filters that dominate Instagram ‘feeds’, lurks an ever-expanding platform for the art world.
This community bridges two camps. The first includes young artists, be they inking tattoos or painting in oil, scrabbling for recognition and sales. The second group includes the galleries and auction houses that historically dominated the art market, now striving for a hint of cool and a breath of fresh ‘digital’ marketing. It is an odd no-man’s land where neither side seems completely comfortable. Artists through time have notoriously found it hard to get their work in front of the world, whereas companies like Christie’s can struggle to balance a ‘cool’ online look while retaining their aura of art exclusivity and high-end luxury.
There are, of course, a number of positives that go with the increased digitisation of young artists’ work. For a start, what could be better for an artist than an open platform for viewers? Now every artist has the ability to independently display their work all the way from initial idea to finished piece.
Art lovers and consumers now have unprecedented access into artists’ lives and the ways they work – something usually hidden by galleries or only open to the elite. Instagram ‘stories’ let people believe they know the artists, and the platform’s ease of posting allows ‘work in progress’ or #wip photos to be uploaded constantly. It helps artists who want to see what other artists are up to, discover how they work, get inspired, and communicate so simply over Instagram’s ‘direct message’.
For galleries and auction houses, Instagram is a new way to market exhibitions, standing collections, and sales. The Tate’s recent advertisement campaign, for example, marketing the All Too Human exhibition, which has aired on Instagram, is a seductive attempt to get people through Tate Britain’s doors. Instagram can increase gallery footfall. It also makes art accessible to those who can’t visit galleries; be it from New York’s Met Museum account @metdrawingsandprints, which showcases an extraordinary collection of over 1 million works on paper to the more informal Instagram of Venice’s Peggy Guggenheim Collection (@guggenheim_venice). Now international art is accessible to all from the comfort of their homes. There truly is art in everyone’s pockets.
Or, is there? Is this art? Does a flooding of poor-quality images, hardly rendering each artwork at its best, intermingled with a range of selfies and holiday snaps make for an optimum experience? Is art, as showcased on Instagram, at risk of being relegated to inferior, second-hand exposure, lost among a sea of cute cats and bikini bodies? All of them filtered.
A conversation with a young artist, currently studying at Goldsmiths’, reveals the complex relationship that artists have with the social media site. She explains that the ability to ‘post sub-projects that perhaps don’t come to proper fruition is certainly a useful feature’, but she worries about a growth in what she terms “pseudo-originality”. She notes that being constantly fed with works can lead to unconsciously making art under a ‘fashionable’ subject matter”. In the past, styles followed different schools around the world. Nowadays, Instagram’s influence may be working to create a dangerously ubiquitous, international style.
Another young artist at Central Saint Martins explains that Instagram has “lowered young peoples’ attention span for art; works are rarely looked at for longer than 30 seconds, which could create a world of purely aesthetics.” His major concern, however, ties in with what many young people struggle with on social media platforms – the need for validation. He explains that it “puts pressure on many of us. We need a new-found validation. A validation from anyone and everyone, which will affect, in some way, the purpose of a lot of the work.” Instagram may be denigrating art to the purely aesthetic, while potential meaning gets lost in the ‘likes’.