I’d like to think that by the time I publish this, on December 30, 2018, Instagram will be over. It won’t be, of course, but I can harbor an extended New Year’s wish that by the time 2019 winds down, artists will have left Instagram with the same cheerfully wry “Don’t be a stranger!” salute that plenty of people opted for when quitting Facebook this past year. I do feel like some of my favorite artists post less often on Instagram than they once did, and if they do post they post less of their actual artwork. I see photos of their cats hiding in shoeboxes, or their kids playing in snow. It’s fast, no-brainer content by people who don’t really care to feed the beast anymore, but maybe worry that if they don’t post something, they’ll… cease to exist, at least in the minds of other people? It seems like many of the clever artists who had some ironic or absurd fun with Instagram in the beginning are tired of producing its content for it. Good.
I realize that big, evil Facebook owns Instagram. I understand that artists — visual artists — as well as craftspeople (totally different animals), and designers and anyone else working primarily with visual information are drawn to Instagram because it doesn’t outright ask them to do what the world (or Facebook) asks of them, which is to use a lot of text to communicate. All those fast, glossy images on Instagram! Scroll scroll scroll… People wired for visual forms of communication, and shitty wordsmiths dedicated to cultivating their ‘brand’ found an early refuge on Instagram. And in the beginning, friends encouraged me to use Instagram to keep up with artists’ work and the work of other cultural figures I admire. I still sometimes try. Scroll, scroll, scroll… .
At one point I cleared out a large number of people I had originally ‘followed’ on Instagram because I was following the obnoxious ‘lifestyle’ versions of people I actually like in real life. This is not a new story. But the sick sense of artifice and heavily edited ‘sharing’ of one’s personal life or output that Instagram demands is especially terrible for exploring or experiencing real art, and for obvious reasons: Real art starts with an idea, often an original concept, and the flattening, drive-by, non-experience afforded by Instagram falls terribly short of how an artist would like a viewer to encounter their work. Sure, it can function as a kind of preview. But more often, it’s a stand-in for people going to see the work — unless the artist is making art for Instagram. (More on that in a second.)
Most artists I know who are making good work still slave away in a studio to create distinct and discrete two- and three-dimensional artworks, moving images, and visual art experiences that exist and bloom in dedicated physical spaces, in person, in communities. That’s the point of art: Show up and slow down. Question what you think you know. Look at the work, then world around you in relation to that artwork, and then reconsider the world yet again. Has the artwork changed you, or your world? If it’s any good, it sure has. So while Instagram is good for showing us well-composed photos of consumer products — and décor, and people’s nice tanned shoulders, and illustration, and some excellent photojournalism — when it comes showing us art, it’s like a massive Serra sculpture being driven past your house at 200 miles an hour on the back of a flatbed truck: Yeah, I saw it, kinda. I guess. Okay. You saw it — on Instagram. Stay home, then. (Or, if that speeding Serra was a popular hashtag, then get in your car and chase it and take pictures and post them on Instagram! Whee!)
Interesting and meaty art ideas, and the vessels that artists create to embody these ideas, take time to consider. Instagram is about speed, volume, profit, and fire-hosing as much information at you as possible, to keep you distracted, or consuming, or both, and to keep your face buried in a screen. I have wicked A.D.D. and am self-indulgently distracted almost beyond description, but you don’t have to remind me that instant gratification is, historically, just one possible entry point for visual art, and terrible end-goal for it (for most things, actually). And I’d posit that the Instagramming of visual art is so reductive to real art that it starts to visually and psychologically overlap (depressingly so) with ubiquitous and safe interior design. Restoration Hardware figured that out awhile back.
Remember when art’s chattering class worried about the “Art Fair”-ing of art? That all the younger artists flooding out of art schools (and some more seasoned artists who should know better) would strive to create instantly gettable, gimmicky, conceptual-lite work that a new collector could feel smart for “understanding” and buying from a booth at Frieze? It wasn’t idle worry. We’re surrounded by quick-take dreck that’s meant to be art. Take that circa-2006 concern, kick the can down the street for a few years and a few tech developments later, and you have a continuation of that phenomenon. The dreadful Art Fair-ing of art has become the Instagramming of art. It’s no wonder that Art fairs and Instagram are so cozy.
Opportunistic non-artists are making “art”-looking things in increasing numbers, for an Instagram audience, and they have the Patreon accounts to back it up. Instagram levels the visual playing field between some of the smartest visual artists I know and some of the most contrived and insipid people I’ve ever come across. As usual, I’m bent out of shape at the idea that well-meaning people who like to look at art online can’t discern the good from the bad, or real from the fake, and even worse: No one really cares to discern anymore. That takes too long.
At best, and at first, Instagram was something good artists could use to mess with their audience, and mess with themselves, and stay in touch with one another’s output. There’s been some dedicated Instagram art I’ve admired over the past few years, though I admit I’m likely to scroll through it really really quickly. I understand that it would have been fun to use hashtags sardonically for a bit. It would be fun to confuse your extended Instagram family with wildly inappropriate posts. But real artists — spiky, free-thinking creatures who got into art in order to not be fully of of this flat-footed world and its arbitrary codes of how we organize ourselves — have either capitulated to Instagram’s surprisingly non-benevolent (and again, flattening) dictatorship of all things visual, or maybe they’re wising up and hopping off. They should. Making your art with the expectation that social media and Instagram are your most important — and bullying and shallow — communication tools is not good for your art or for the audience you make it for. It’s just not.
Put another way: Do you want to look at Instagram? Or do you want to look at art?
I love Instagram because Dallas art galleries do not accept submissions. There are only a few hi-end galleries that do this and for artists who are paying and paying to be in contests and need to go farther with their careers, the opportunities to show are 0. So, leave Instagram alone…I have a studio full of paintings and no opportunities to show them. Most of the galleries claim that they show emerging ARTISTS, no they show profitable artists only. To go to the gallery and say that you are an artist and show your portfolio is considered to be a crime, so again people that are not artists do not have the slightest idea what its meant to be one emerging forever.
I agree with your assessment. The art world is one in which you can toil for years at a high level and still find yourself relatively invisible. I have been introduced to the work of many artists in other parts of the country and world through these digital platforms. Without a great deal of expensive travel, I would only have seen a fraction. Flawed though they are, FB and instagram allow artists to exchange ideas unmediated by the “choosers”; namely that cycle of validation created by the commercial venues, the curators, the university, and art critics.
This is what p*sses me off about social media. You can delete your own account but you can’t delete the platform. You can’t stop it destroying everyone and everything around you. Including things you hold dear like art.
I guess the question I have for you is why are you making work in the first place? Are you making it to know thyself? Express an inner life? Or are you making it to BE known? An Artist is one who creates work despite the fact that they will most likely receive very little recognition. It’s a devastating trade off if your big purpose in life is to be the next so and so. Instagram capitalizes on the idea that you too could be the next hot brand. The only problem is that brands come and go. The fame acquired from such platforms is Lightning quick, short lived. It’s almost as if you should be making this work in complete obscurity for fun and self fulfillment. The Artists agony you ascribe to a fear of not being known SHOULD be ascribed to a fear of not ever knowing yourself. When all is said and done, I believe that creating work for yourself will lead you to where you want to go. However, you have to let go of preconceived notions made popular by our society of what it means to be an Artist. You’ll find that as you let those indoctrinated beliefs go, your priorities will naturally reorder themselves. BTW, I’m not saying to not show your work, certainly show it when you can, just don’t make the gallery, the social media feed (what have you) the REASON you’re making art.
“Everywhere I went online this year, I was asked to prove I’m a human. Can you retype this distorted word? Can you transcribe this house number? Can you select the images that contain a motorcycle? I found myself prostrate daily at the feet of robot bouncers, frantically showing off my highly developed pattern-matching skills — does a Vespa count as a motorcycle, even? — so I could get into nightclubs I’m not even sure I want to enter. Once inside, I was directed by dopamine-feedback loops to scroll well past any healthy point, manipulated by emotionally charged headlines and posts to click on things I didn’t care about, and harried and hectored and sweet-talked into arguments and purchases and relationships so algorithmically determined it was hard to describe them as real.” – Max Read
Amazing devastating article.
Thank you for the article. Instagram is just another economical algorithm which reflects a certain trend of societal consumerism and existentialism. If you know how to manage it and disconnect yourself from its servitude, it’s a great tool to record the progress of your work and its evolution on both visually and intellectually levels. Writing a comprehensive, but short description is always good ;)). It also allows you to observe how algorithms change until you get so bored that you just shut down your account due to the redundancy of the feeds. Happy New Year 2019!
I kept my “art” Instagram account, but did away with my personal one. Even though it was a private account, I was concerned that my three year old might balk at her every move being chronicled online when she gets older. And it was too dang tempting not to.
I’ll still remain flat and shallow as ever, but at least I’ll be better company at a dinner party or any other place where sitting and waiting is required.
come on, artists have pretty much zero tools to get their imagery/whatever out there, something is finally helping us in a real way & of course its gonna be full of flaws, and maybe idk lets not rip it apart right away imo? the truth is FB & IG actually help artists a lot and tons of art is sold/seen there, and like it or not event planning, for any art event, is gonna have to a FB event page, this evil is not going anywhere, and MR no way was a Vespa ever a motorcycle, but i also agree with this article i just have no idea how artists are supposed to survive, effed and effed and its getting worse idk but much love to GT CR RK BZ 🙂
“I want everybody to think alike… Everybody looks alike and acts alike, and we’re getting more and more that way. I think everybody should be a machine… I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do.” – Andy Warhol, 1963
When I reluctantly joined facebook back in the day, in the “About” section, I wrote, “I do NOT endorse facebook and prefer to communicate by at least slightly less easily surveilled means. Let’s pls visualize a users’ co-op offering similar facilities that WE own & control . . . ”
Initially, social media connected and to some degree empowered users. Now that we’ve been exploited so voraciously that people are abandoning these commercially-owned platforms, are we ready to push for publicly-owned platforms designed for our benefit and more directly answerable to us?
With the exception of ads (which at this point in my life, I can tune out with skill), my public instagram account feed only shows me posts by artists, curators, organizations and institutions that I follow. If you start posting photos of your cat (outside of stories), I will unfollow you. Instagram keeps me connected to other artists and gives me glimpses of what galleries, museums, alternative spaces etc. are exhibiting across the globe. I’ve gotten exhibitions and studio visits through my Instagram DMs. I’ve connected with artists I admire. Yes, I miss the early instagram before ads and our Facebook overlord took control, but it still serves a purpose of keeping me connected. Do I expect artistic depth from Instagram? Hell no. Who ever did? That’s setting yourself up for disappointment. Do I expect a glimpse of someone’s art that I can then explore deeper in person or through other online sources because now I know it exists? Hell yes, and I love that aspect of Instagram! It takes me where I can’t go and is a one-stop shop for updates. If you can utilize it in the right way, its a major networking/marketing tool for professionals. If you let it consume your studio time, become obsessed with likes, or start to alter your art to get followers, then yea, jump ship immediately for your own sanity and integrity.
Well said, Britt — my sentiments exactly (you saved me a lengthy post!)
Yes, exactly – if you’re wasting your studio time or changing your art because of Instagram (or anyone) then obviously don’t do that. Otherwise I find Instagram a limited but still handy tool.
Ed Blackburn just sends interesting visual emails every week!
[This is a postscript from a 1974 letter from Ray Bradbury to someone who wrote him about his fear of robots taking over society:]
P.S. Can’t resist commenting on your fears of the Disney robots. Why aren’t you afraid of books, then? The fact is, of course, that people have been afraid of books, down through history. They are extensions of people, not people themselves. Any machine, any robot, is the sum total of the ways we use it. Why not knock down all robot camera devices and the means for reproducing the stuff that goes into such devices, things called projectors in theatres? A motion picture projection is a non-humanoid robot which repeats truths which we inject into it. Is it inhuman? Yes. Does it project human truths to humanize us more often than not? Yes.
The excuse could be make that we should burn all books because some books are dreadful.
We should mash all cars because some cars get in accidents because of the people driving them.
We should burn down all the theatres in the world because some films are trash, drivel.
So it is finally with the robots you say you fear. Why fear something? Why not create with it? Why not build robot teachers to help out in schools where teaching certain subjects is a bore for EVERYONE? Why not have Plato sitting in your Greek Class answering jolly questions about his Republic? I would love to experiment with that. I am not afraid of robots. I am afraid of people, people, people. I want them to remain human. I can help keep them human with the wise and lovely use of books, films, robots, and my own mind, hands, and heart.
I am afraid of Catholics killing Protestants and vice versa.
I am afraid of whites killing blacks and vice versa.
I am afraid of English killing Irish and vice versa.
I am afraid of young killing old and vice versa.
I am afraid of Communists killing Capitalists and vice versa.
But… robots? God, I love them. I will use them humanely to teach all of the above. My voice will speak out of them, and it will be a damned nice voice.
[From the wonderful book ‘Letters of Note’, received as a Christmas gift: https://www.amazon.com/Letters-Note-Collection-Correspondence-Deserving/dp/1452134251
Yes a million times to this.
Catholics vs Protestants, Capitalist vs Communist, these are examples of shallow views that are mostly inherited from those around us and rarely the result of any deep observations . When we fail to explore the possible options and conform blindly to established norms, we are like a robot that has no other option than the programming it receives. Why fear the robot that is also a slave of the algorithms forced upon it, judged as defective if it acts outside the accepted norms of thought. The robots may already be among us.
When my career began in the mid-1980s, the business operated on slides and portfolios. You put these carefully arranged and curated things in something called “the mail.” You applied to galleries and juried art shows with these slides. You sent these portfolios to magazine and journal editors. Museum curators and collectors, too. Yes, it was the dark ages. But it worked.
After some time away from practicing my craft professionally, I decided to participate in a series of business practices workshops offered by a distinguished professional organization dedicated to the art of metalsmithing. The participants included green newbies, amazing artists who had been in the business longer than I have, and everyone in between. The thing we all had in common (besides a passion for our work) was trying to navigate the insanity that promoting one’s work has become. It is a full time job in itself to tend one’s social media overlords. One thing that I have learned is that how you tend that Instagram or Facebook garden (etcetera, etcetera, because do I effing need to do golldang Pinterest, too?!) is life and death in the world of getting one’s work promoted. All these editors, and jurors, and deciders now prefer to defer to social media. Apparently, if your Instagram is dusty or non-existent (as is mine at the moment), you may as well forget it. So, as much as I might like the idea of saying screw Instagram, I understand I am going to need to actually get to building my Instagram in order to be taken seriously in 2019. This is where we find ourselves.
Don’t be such a Luddite when it xo ea to commercializing work. Artists like everyone else selling a product or concept need outlets. If you knew
How to optimize IG I bet you wouldn’t be as stuck in the mud as you are complaining about the what? Good old days when artists just had to a help their works to galleries in the hopes Simone would give them a break? Well that scene ended in the 80s so I’d like to know where you’ve been since then?
I represent artists and promote their work through IG. Clients who wish to buy or collect can always go to the studio and get more information via email
I propose that instead of starting instagram accounts, everyone start galleries in their houses, then make instagram accounts for those galleries. Who’s with me???
And as I read these comments, my peripheral vision keeps snagging on Glasstire’s moving Instagram feed. #gooseandthegander
I am an obsolete artist doing obsolete art using colour pencils, I recently wasted $650 getting my obsolete art scanned with the intention of posting on sites like deviantart and instagram, within an hour of using both sites I felt utterly depressed, no one is going to see my art, no one, The lengths I would need to go to ie share sites etc etc and the amount of money i would have to spend to get even a small amount of exposure and attention is not worth it, maybe in a years time i might get a single solitary pointless comment like “nicework”! so then where do the likes of me go to? looks like nowhere !!!!!! my art has nowhere to go except my art folder.
Are you using hashtags such as #coloredpencil or #coloreddrawing. After I started using hashtags I started getting views from persons outside my social circle, and from other countries.
Tags get your art liked, yes, but mostly from bots. People used to bot their accounts so that they’d follow random people in hopes they’d follow back, but this was spammy and easily discoverable by looking at people’s follow count. Now they’re setting up the bots so that they randomly put a like on posts with relevant hashtags. So if you are a colored pencils artist and you want to advertise yourself and get followers, you use your bot so that it spams likes on tags like #coloredpencil and #coloreddrawing.
I just followed glasstire on instagram
I’ Am a nature photographer who had a bricks and mortar photo gallery in Breckenridge, Colorado for 27 years. Rode the wave, $4,6 million sold, and then the wave receded, one gallery after another closed down. I stayed open until I started losing Money. Then I went online – In a year, with 2 websites, Facebook, Instagram, countless online ads, I have less than $2,000 to show for my efforts. My audience never bought online when I had my bricks and mortar gallery – they ignored my website and waited until their next visit to the resort to look at my photographs on my walls, in person. Art is not something on a screen, it is something that encounters you, engages you – from a physical space, or in my case, a wall.
I totally agree with the comment that handling the social media is a job in itself. One photographer told me he spends up to 70% of his time on marketing and 30% producing his work. For the likes of me (no pun intended) I don’t know how people actually maintain a continuity of making their art and simultaneously go through all the gymnastics involved in adhering to best practices to obtain engagement. Last year, when you used a hashtag, your post would be at the top of the feed as the most recent post. Now, the algorithm is changed to show the post with the most likes at the top. Meaning, because you had just posted, nobody looking at that hashtag discovers your post because it’s at the bottom of the feed. It’s rigged now to make us PAY to promote or boost a post in order to get it seen.
I’m only on social media because I have to be.
With social media, there is also the phenomenon of ‘herding’, meaning, controlling people by eliciting mass reaction to an event or stimulus and manipulating circumstances or appearances to obtain a predicted reaction. Case in point, The Kardashians. First, the herd, headed by celebrity approval, ran to get botox. Many public figures looked ridiculous. Following that was the completely fake Barbie face.
Currently it’s the caricature derriere…Again, many look absolutely ridiculous. Hey, that’s a new Absolut bottle; “Absolutely Ridiculous”.
Apologize for not getting my thoughts all out in the first comment, so here I am again:
I also dislike this current pressure of: artists are supposed to make work that”mean something”, work that makes some social or political statement.
Who, beyond the occasional museum, actually buys these works? Can someone tell me, in who’s homes (besides being at a Saatchi) cocktail party), you’ve seen these riveting works of political and social commentary?
Fellows Creatives Always Watermark Your Work! Otherwise you will never see a penny for your efforts.
The reason Social Media ROI is like chasing unicorns, because it’s not real. Everything is falsified from traffic, analytics to followers with that being said. Did you know the average human lifespan lasts 657,000 hours? How much was foolishly squandered chasing unicorns on social media?
Thought-provoking article that reflects some of my own concerns with the platform. I’m an artist myself who’s benefited to some extent from the platform, so it’s easy to justify all the nonsense that comes with it. Instagram has begun to interfere with my well-being and distracting me from my own voice. A popular post can lead us to a false sense of accomplishment and cloud our judgement, forgetting that it’s the quality rather than quantity of followers that is more important. Hence, I have decided to give it a break and deactivated for a while. It’s also not uncommon to encounter wannabe artists ripping off others, as they can access other artists ideas so readily. It also cheapens and flattens the entire art-viewing experience. The brain is inherently lazy, looking for the easiest path, so the platform makes it too tempting to justify not making the effort to engage with the art in a real life setting; or even a well presented website.
In the words of Steve Martin, ‘be so good they can’t ignore you’. If you master your craft (a very long game) you will have doors open, whether online or not. Sure, use the platform to get some attention, but don’t rely on it or confuse likes for positive reviews in NY Times. 😉
So if Instagram is on the way out, what do I do now?
I’m surprised you talk at length about the gimmicky and fastfood-like nature of art posted on Instagram and don’t mention at all how terrible and restrictive it is as an art platform in general (when you compare it to other sites, especially older ones like Deviantart, Elfwood, etc., even Tumblr.)
1) Despite a large number of digital artists using it, the site remains optimised for mobile and you can’t even post to it from browser (yes you can technically get around this with third party apps and enabling mobile mode on your browser but that is terribly clunky and barebones). No saving posts as drafts (at best you can save an image, not a set of images or the commentary you typed up for it), no scheduling posts, no editing images after they’re posted, no way to sort or organise what’s displayed or let people look through your work in a more sophisticated way than scrolling.
2) Say goodbye to things like interesting compositions or experimenting with dimensions of artwork, it’s squares only. If you painted something in a slightly different dimension, too bad, get ready to either crop or show a tiny version filled with whitespace and a series of thumbnails so people can actually see what the piece is like.
3) Since it’s meant to be viewed on tiny phones, detailed work is wasted on Instagram.
I have no problem, per se, with Instagram being dominated by people who make poppy, appealing, maybe even kinda cheap content. I do have a problem when the arbitrary restrictions of the platform dictate what the art looks like. Twitter is similarly awful in its inability to control how your image gets cropped. It’s truly sad that artists seeking to share art online have nowhere left to do it but generic social platforms that are not meant to be specifically for art, and refuse to adapt to artists’ needs.