In­sta­gram shapes the art world

The so­cial me­dia app is be­com­ing an im­por­tant tool for artists and gal­leries, writes Tracey Lien.

Waikato Times - - Technology -

As a mem­ber of a mil­len­niaold pro­fes­sion, 28-year-old artist Laura Rokas can do her job – paint­ing, sculpt­ing, draw­ing, weav­ing – with­out the help of most mod­ern tech­nol­ogy. But the artist makes one ex­cep­tion: In­sta­gram.

Since its launch in 2010, the photo and video shar­ing app has be­come a main­stay in the art world. Orig­i­nally an app that used fil­ters to add a retro aes­thetic to pho­tos taken on phones, the Face­book-owned plat­form has be­come a home to artists, art col­lec­tors and cu­ra­tors like no other so­cial net­work.

It’s more vis­ual than Twit­ter. It’s more so­cial than Pin­ter­est. And sim­ply cooler than Face­book. It’s fit­ting then that artists are us­ing the app to pro­mote, dis­cover and sell art.

‘‘I’ve sold work through In­sta­gram,’’ Rokas said. ‘‘I’ve got show re­quests from peo­ple who have found me on In­sta­gram, and gal­leries and cu­ra­tors have con­tacted me over In­sta­gram.’’

Many emerg­ing artists see the photo and video shar­ing app as a democra­tiser, help­ing artists who might not have rep­re­sen­ta­tion from the most pres­ti­gious gal­leries or de­grees from the most ex­clu­sive art schools get their work in front of big au­di­ences.

‘‘I’ve met a lot of artists and cu­ra­tors who aren’t lo­cal through In­sta­gram,’’ said Rachelle Bussieres, 31, an artist who has re­ceived of­fers of art res­i­den­cies in Brook­lyn, Paris and Ice­land.

‘‘With­out it, I don’t think it would have been pos­si­ble to show my work in Nor­way,’’ Bussieres said of the coun­try in which she has ex­hib­ited twice. ‘‘I’ve never even been there!’’

In the days be­fore so­cial me­dia, emerg­ing artists had a harder time get­ting no­ticed.

Art con­sul­tant and ap­praiser Alan Bam­berger, who runs the web­site art­busi­, said tra­di­tion­ally, artists would call lo­cal gal­leries and hope for the best.

To cul­ti­vate a big­ger fol­low­ing, there were ad­di­tional hur­dles such as se­cur­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion at top gal­leries, ex­hibit­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally and par­tic­i­pat­ing in ma­jor art fes­ti­vals.

With the ad­vent of so­cial me­dia, artists started us­ing ser­vices such as Face­book, Tum­blr, Red­dit and Flickr to show­case their work, at­tract au­di­ences with­out geo­graphic lim­i­ta­tions and ad­vo­cate on their own be­half.

But In­sta­gram has had the big­gest ef­fect on the in­dus­try, ac­cord­ing to Bam­berger.

‘‘The lack of words, the im­me­di­acy, it changed ev­ery­thing up,’’ Bam­berger said. ‘‘Artists like that. They’re not big fans of te­dious ex­pla­na­tions or big, long dis­cus­sions. They like fewer words, more pic­tures.’’

As an im­age-shar­ing so­cial net­work, it also far sur­passes the com­pe­ti­tion.

Flickr, the photo-shar­ing ser­vice that Ya­hoo bought in 2005, has around 90 mil­lion monthly ac­tive users. Pin­ter­est, a vis­ual book­mark­ing web­site, re­cently crossed 200 mil­lion monthly ac­tive users. In­sta­gram is on track to reach a bil­lion monthly ac­tive users this year.

The co­a­les­cence of tech, de­mo­graph­ics and chang­ing buy­ing habits also plays a role in mak­ing In­sta­gram the tool of choice for art pro­fes­sion­als.

In its 2017 sur­vey, art mar­ket­place In­valu­able found that nearly 56 per cent of con­sumers aged 18-24 said they would buy art on­line, and 45 per cent said so­cial me­dia was the main way they dis­cov­ered art.

‘‘That’s a very young group,’’ said An­drew Gully, a spokesman for In­valu­able.

Given that most peo­ple don’t start col­lect­ing art un­til later in life when they have the re­sources for it, Gully said if young peo­ple were al­ready look­ing at and buy­ing art on­line, the trend would only grow.

‘‘As they age into a col­lect­ing de­mo­graphic, think of the buy­ing power that group will have,’’ he said.

But for all the ac­cess and vis­i­bil­ity In­sta­gram has given artists, there are also down­sides. An over re­liance on In­sta­gram could dis­cour­age peo­ple from at­tend­ing art shows and shift the en­joy­ment of art from an in-per­son ex­pe­ri­ence to some­thing that hap­pens over a phone.

The art world is also not im­mune to the bag­gage of so­cial me­dia, which can of­ten bring out the worst of an artist’s in­se­cu­ri­ties.

Bussieres says In­sta­gram can be dis­tract­ing, es­pe­cially when artists get swept in com­par­ing how many ‘‘likes’’ or com­ments their work gets com­pared to oth­ers.

‘‘We all have to be able to sep­a­rate what is good ver­sus what is pop­u­lar,’’ she said. ‘‘Is it pop­u­lar be­cause the artist is young and stylish and posts cute pic­tures? Is it a trend? Does it mean any­thing that this artist has more fol­low­ers than I do?’’

In the pho­tog­ra­phy world, am­a­teurs on In­sta­gram have been crit­i­cised for ho­mogenis­ing out­door pho­tog­ra­phy by copy­ing each other and per­pet­u­at­ing what’s pop­u­lar. This seems to be less of a prob­lem in the art world. But the em­pha­sis on ‘‘likes’’ and fol­low­ers has made some artists feel that In­sta­gram is a game that they feel they can’t sit out.

Rokas and Bussieres de­scribe feel­ing pres­sure to con­stantly be en­gaged on In­sta­gram and to post pho­tos of their work to main­tain a fol­low­ing and keep up with other artists.

‘‘Some­times I just want to get rid of it be­cause it en­cour­ages you to be on your phone, and I don’t like that ob­ses­sion,’’ Rokas said. At the same time, she says that if she deletes the app, she’ll miss out on op­por­tu­ni­ties.

‘‘As with any tech­nol­ogy, there are good things and there are bad things,’’ she said. ‘‘And you ei­ther have to ac­cept both or nei­ther.’’


Laura Rokas uses her In­sta­gram to give her fol­low­ers in­sight into her prac­tice.

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