Instagram shapes the art world
The social media app is becoming an important tool for artists and galleries, writes Tracey Lien.
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 artbusiness.com, 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.