How Instagram is Changing Art

In ‘Is Instagram Changing Art?’, a video from The Art Assignment, host Sarah Urist Green explores how the invention of Instagram changes the ways in which we experience and interact with art. There are several ways in which this change has taken place–we now have access to art from all over the world, from artists who wouldn’t traditionally get gallery shows (aka who don’t know the right people); our voices can affect the work of our favorite artists because of the instant feedback social media provides; and, as viewers, we navigate our lives through our screens-as-frame and subsequently make content about ourselves as a sort of art project in itself instead of just enjoying an experience. 

AS AN ARTIST

For artists, Instagram helps us transcend the traditional barriers that have held us back from showcasing our work. An artist no longer needs a gallery or other physical venue as their ‘sponsor.’ Instagram also allows artists to have control over the way their work and themselves as people are represented. This also allows them to have more meaningful interactions with other artists on the platform and with fans of their art.

However, this does come with a drawback–the video cites one artist who states that they would find themselves thinking about past comments on social media when creating new pieces of art. In this way, feedback from social media is influencing and interfering with the artists’ creative process in a way that the artist may not have predicted. 

Of course, this is the dilemma that any creative who shares their work on the internet can fall into. Whether your platform is Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, or just blogging, there is always the temptation to shape your work into something that will respond well with your audience. In some cases, this may be what you want–if you’re creating something that you intend to monetize, then it makes sense that you are creating content that will gain views. However, if you’re creating for the joy of it, or to express a particular idea or viewpoint of your own, you shouldn’t want those outside voices creeping in, unless they belong to people whose work or viewpoint you respect and want to incorporate. 

One of my goals for 2020 is to start taking art more seriously and to start painting again. When I was in my early twenties, I spent a significant amount of my time making art. However, in those days (way back when, ten years ago), Instagram had just been created. I didn’t even join until several years after its inception (and indeed, didn’t get a smartphone until like 2013). My art was just for myself and for the few people I invited over to my apartment. I didn’t have to worry about outside commentary because, frankly, there wasn’t any.

Now, however, I’m on Instagram and posting pictures of my work. Even if it’s just a photo that captures my progress, I share it and wait for the hearts to roll in. Although I only have like 40 instagram followers, most of whom are personal friends, I still feel that hit of dopamine every time someone likes or comments. ‘YOU ARE VALID!’ those like seem to say.

I need to make sure that that dopamine hit doesn’t impact the type of art I want to make or the reasons why I make it. 

The rise of Instagram also has an impact on how museums and galleries choose which art to display. If the goal is to get more people through the door, then creating a show that features art that looks good on instagram–something grandiose, or with bright colors, or that allows one to stand inside it and engage with the physical form of a piece–can be given preference. After all, while the more noble mission of museums is to share art and information with visitors, they first need to get enough foot traffic to make it worth staying open. Because people want to fill their instagram feed with beautiful photos, more “instagram-worthy” exhibits will be featured. We must ask ourselves, what art is being ignored as a result of this? 

AS A VIEWER

How does Instagram change the ways in which we, viewers and appreciators of art, express our interest in a piece? When we post a picture of a painting, what are our motivations? Are we adding it to a personal gallery to inspire us and insight thought? Do we just like the painting and want to share it with our friends? Or are we sharing it because we want to make an impression about ourselves upon our audience–I am looking at this Klimt because I am a deep, interesting, cultured, and well-traveled person?

The video cites a study that seems to imply that art show visitors that took pictures and posted them on Instagram seemed to focus on it as an “aesthetic experience.” Only 9% of the pictures tagged had people in them. This seems to suggest that art viewers use Instagram as a way to log and express the things that capture their interest–a particular piece or even just the details of a piece. 

This is a reason that resonates with me as well. When I visit a museum, I take pictures of works that are new to me and that inspire me. I also try to take pictures of the name plates as well, so I can look up these new artists later. 

However, one thing I don’t fully understand is people trying to snap the perfect picture of a famous painting. I went to the Belvedere on Christmas (along with every other tourist in Vienna) and was very excited to be able to see their collection of Klimt paintings in person. However, there were so many people gathered around The Kiss desperately trying to take photos of it or with it that I couldn’t even get close.

Everyone proving that we all saw ‘The Kiss’ and therefore are cultured, interesting people.

In my eyes, they were all trying to claim the experience or status of being ‘cultured’ because they saw this one particular famous painting. It reminds me of people stating the ways in which they are obscurely connected to celebrities–my hair stylist’s sister is best friends with Ariana Grande’s mom‘s dog groomer, that sort of thing. We were in a room surrounded by like four other Klimt paintings, and no others with a crowd around them. 

But then, on the flip side, am I trying to portray myself as more cultured because I also appreciated the other paintings, and if so, why? Why do I feel the need to put myself ‘above’ others because they focused on one famous painting. After all, it’s famous for a reason–because it’s good. So why should I shit on them for wanting to feel as if they had a personal experience with good art? 

Is it because I’m so insecure I feel that my identity is wrapped up in someone who enjoys and creates art, and that they’re taking that identity away from me and somehow making my interest seem less valid? 

Yes, probably, but we can save that for the psychiatrist’s couch. 

The video then cites a 2017 study that found that when you’re taking pictures with the intent of posting them for other people, you actually get more anxious, and you have a hard time enjoying the experience of viewing the art. Most likely you’re wondering how many likes you’re going to get and if this is the photo that’s going to make you instafamous. How are people going to view you as a brand as a result of this picture? 

This stress increases your enjoyment of art and the moment. This finding doesn’t come as a surprise, given the amount of research that has been done regarding how social media is destroying us all

So, is Instagram changing art? 

Yes. 

However, that change doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. With new technology comes new ways of interacting with, but ultimately appreciating and gaining value from, works of art. 

Additionally, technologies like Instagram allow people who don’t have the means to view art in person to get glimpses of it as seen through the lens of others. For example, when I still lived in NYC, I had a membership to the MOMA (thanks mom) and got to see the exhibits and permanent collections there whenever I wanted. This was also when the Metropolitan Museum of Art was still pay-what-you-will for all visitors too. Now I’m living somewhere where getting to a museum is significantly less easy. I can go downtown to a smallish museum or commute one to two hours up to San Francisco to see some art. That takes time, and a lot of money for the train, so normally I just don’t do it. With apps like Instagram, I can view these works and new exhibits without the hassle (although with admittedly much less of the depth of experience I would get in person).

Instagram also exposes me to new artists. As mentioned above, the gallery-as-mediator is no longer required to discover new artists and new work. By scrolling through the #art and #painting tags, I have a sea of art at my fingertips, and I can find pieces that stand out to me. 

So, Instagram is changing art, but it’s not all bad. I think it’s just important to keep in mind your intentions when you’re taking pictures of or making your own art–are you doing something because you want to express something about yourself to yourself and the world, and are you doing it because you want the approval of others?

It may be a fine line between the two, but it’s something worth thinking about. What are your thoughts?

Watch the video ‘Is Instagram Changing Art?’ below:

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