How Has Instagram Changed Art?

Instagram? You may ask what all the fuss is about.

According to Brandwatch, it is the second most engaging social media network, after Facebook, with 400 million active users. 60% of which log in every day. In short, Instagram is a phenomenon and one that is transforming the art world irrevocably!

A recent study by Invaluable, confirmed that most art is now discovered online.  Although the global arts industry has been depressed since 2015, the online arts market is in growth and now represents 7% of the entire share of the market. With 30% of all web users now on the platform, a significant slice can be attributed to Instagram. 

Pixabay, December 2014
Pixabay, December 2014

How does this Relate to the Art World?

It has completely disrupted the market. Now you can find out immediately where the buzz is, controversy, what’s hip, what’s trending, hot, fabulous and outrageous, all in one place.  It has altered how we receive and interact with art and artists by personalising our experience. As viewers, we are no longer passive or reliant on museums and galleries to direct our journey and interaction with art.  Now we can curate our own artistic discovery.


For Artists

Pixabay, May 2015
Pixabay, May 2015

It has instigated a rebalance of the artist-gallery relationship by empowering artists and reducing their need of a physical space to show their work and the middleman; the gallery. Validation from influencers is no longer sought after and Instagram is being used as an essential marketing tool. Artists are carefully curating their own brand concepts without having to share profits. Forrester even claims it has 10 times higher engagement than Facebook, over 50 times more than Pinterest and a staggering 84 times more than Twitter!  Besides, without the pressure to mould their work into a recognised framework that suits the powerful gallery scene in London and New York etc, artists have the freedom to be themselves and run their own online exhibition space as they please. If their brand is marketed well, then they become attractive prospects, if the right followers catapult them in the right direction.  

Another distinction is that everyone comes to Instagram as an equal.  Good news for introverted, less commercially savvy artists.  Famous names are on there, but there is just as much likelihood that a collector, critic, gallery or even just someone who loves your work is going to love it, share it and follow you.  Artists can now speak directly to their audience, enjoying global exposure and the chance to collaborate with other artists; forming communities, partnering on projects, even trading each other’s work.  Consequently, a lot of artists state that it is easier to sell on there.

However, Instagram isn’t problem free.  Artists have no control over how their work is utilised once it is uploaded, prompting speculation over whether imitation is now becoming a creative norm. Additionally, censorship around nudity also creates a different restriction, with artwork being deleted if it contravenes Instagram’s rules and regulations. With artists who use Instagram no longer working outside society but reacting directly within it, it could be said to be diminishing natural creativity because they know what users respond well to. 

For Galleries

Pixabay, June 2015
Pixabay, June 2015

As a consequence, does the rise of Instagram signify the death knell of traditional art galleries, as we know them?

Buying and dealing has been democratised, along with many other disciplines, by the rise of social media. Instagram has brought market transparency so taste and trends are no longer defined by or revealed through galleries; their influence over the next big thing has been vastly diminished.  In a recent survey, nearly 52% of collectors had purchased from an artist they found on Instagram proving popularity is now decided by an artist and their followers.  Unsurprisingly, its influence has been received with alarm in some quarters; some even suggesting that it has encouraged art flipping!

However it isn’t all doom and gloom, the platform also presents an opportunity. 57% of the art sold in 2015 was priced at $1 million and above so Instagram is still perceived as a tool for buying slightly more affordable artwork, which shouldn’t massively affect the top end of the market.   What is more, it can be used effectively as a search engine for new talent and a way of starting a conversation with an artist or gallery.  If used correctly, it can still leverage new customers and a wider audience reach to promote exhibitions for traditional galleries too, as well as being used to gauge what competitors are interested in and to follow emerging artists that they wouldn’t normally have exposure to. 

Art Interaction

Pixabay, May 2015
Pixabay, May 2015

With the rise of online art, are we learning more or are we failing to appreciate what we are seeing in our enthusiasm to see ever more?  Are we now gorging on art through Instagram (80 million photo uploads everyday) or just using it to enhance our cultural capital?  These are pertinent questions to consider.

Our absorption in a piece of art that cannot be viewed closely to discern its construction, colour and technique is going to change interpretation. Is it easier to understand art online without access to a dedicated offline space to contemplate?  Furthermore, if a viewer cannot look thematically at photos uploaded separately, their comprehension of a body of work will be redefined. Perhaps these traditional ways of critical analysis are not considered by art’s newer audiences as important.

Pixabay, October 2015
Pixabay, October 2015

Most American Millennials, the new target market, have a different way of engaging.  They are now discovering art online in the space they inhabit; social media. Here they play, shop, get inspired and advocate using Instagram and Pinterest amongst other platforms.  There is no reason why this trend won’t continue and young buyers will purchase more efficiently online, avoiding galleries and museums for artistic consumption.

Pixabay, October 2014
Pixabay, October 2014

Perhaps now we should view the smart phone photographer as curator.  Taking a photo is a simple indication of a new, and perhaps lower, level of engagement.  By viscerally pairing their social media brand with that artwork and artist; maybe the choice of hash tag and title post reveal enough about the feelings of the observer.  Besides, sharing with your audience could also lead to a follower or friend finding affinity with an artist’s world and buying it. Instead of reading about an artist you can ask them directly and show your admiration or dislike which could be viewed as interactive and less passive than wandering through a gallery.  However, it also could indicate that the photographer is a vehicle to share with their followers. Having not taken in and appreciated what he or she has seen for themselves.  Either way, isn’t the viewer, in our modern art world allowed to consume art as they wish?

Pixabay, October 2015
Pixabay, October 2015

Instagram has unequivocally changed the way that people communicate, consume and interact in the art world.  Along with sites like Pinterest, it is a great place for artistic inspiration, feedback and advocacy and seems to be redefining aesthetic engagement and taste. On top of that, by seeing what others are attracted to, you can find your place or niche in the global art of now.   It has its flaws but is a rich resource in which to discover emerging talent that’s affordable, whether you are a collector, a gallery or an artist.  

All those in favour, say aye!

About the Author:

Avatar of Sam Allen

Sam Allen

Sam Allen is an arts nut, hobbyist painter and founder of Creative Arts Social, a Singaporean based arts community. You can follow her on Facebook @CreativeArtsSocial and on Instagram @CreativeArtsSocial