What is art? In 18th and 19th century Paris, a rather snobby jury would sit down every two years and settle the question, choosing who and what would get displayed in that year’s salon. Even painters who we now consider masters, like Manet and Courbet, were routinely iced out and even ridiculed.
Eventually, experimental artists who were getting snubbed started getting together and putting on their own exhibitions, giving birth to the glorious progression of 20th century art movements. But until recently, the art world was still pretty exclusive. To make a name for yourself, you had to have connections with the new gatekeepers: critics, dealers and galleries. Enter the Internet, smartphones, and social apps like Instagram. These days, we have many more ways to discover art on our own.
Many art critics turned up their noses at Instagram in the beginning, declaring that filtered cellphone photography could never have a place in the art world. But then cell phone cameras got way better, and the explosion of content on Instagram led to a new and intense public interest in photography and art. Today, Instagram as a widely used tool for promoting and discovering art. In many ways, it’s completely changed the rules of the game. Let us count the ways…
Art is reaching new audiences.
We’ve come a long way since the days of private gallery openings stinking of old black turtlenecks and brie cheese. Thanks to Instagram, the veil has dropped. The once-exclusive universe of contemporary art is now open to anyone and everyone, right there on your device. Instagram posts reach global audiences the moment they’re up, creating a small-world dynamic that makes art feel all the more accessible. Artists who were once limited to their own country are now free to do their thing and figure out where their fans live afterwards!
The art world is becoming more democratic.
At the art events of the past, it was easy to get influenced by the hype around a certain artist. But when you’re browsing art on Instagram, you know you’re in a judgement free zone. Here, people like what they like, regardless of popular opinion or an artist’s background. Sure, art critics and gallery curators still act as tastemakers, but on Instagram their double-tap has no more sway than anyone else’s. Thanks to this new level playing field, more artists are getting discovered organically, and new art forms are getting more attention.
Art collectors are using it to scout new talent.
According to a 2015 survey done by Artsy, 87% of collectors checked their Instagram feed twice a day, and 55% opened the app more than 5 times a day. All this cruising is leading to real sales: 51.5% of art collectors who use Instagram have bought works from artists they discovered for the first time on Instagram.
Galleries, dealers and museums are using it to reach out.
Christie’s has 139,000 followers and uses Instagram to build hype around their record-breaking auctions. MoMA’s got 1.2 million and often posts video clips from interviews and concerts, or teaser images from upcoming exhibitions. All of the major players are in on Instagram, and they’re using it in ways that encourage people to engage.
We’re more intimate with our favorite artists.
In the time of galleries, the public would see a handful of works selected by a curator. On Instagram, we get a window into artists’ lives – most artists post their completed pieces alongside candid shots of their process, workspace, inspiration and day to day lives.
When Instagram was first launched, some said that it made everyone an artist, and therefore, it made no one an artist. But while it’s true that the wide open doors of Instagram will usher in some less-than-mediocre work, we’re excited about the possibilities created when everyone is given a chance at a global audience. 148,068,563 posts tagged #art currently exist, and the next big name artists are surely among them. It’s up to us to decide who they will be!
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