As with any form of social media, our private lives have traversed a line which now exhibits our daily routines, tasks, advances, and even downfalls. For artists, and not only those in the visual realm, social media is the new white box gallery. Museums like the Art Institute of Chicago host Instagram takeovers and smaller spaces like Produce Model Gallery have a built a following that highlights emerging artists and upcoming exhibitions. Word of mouth is the long forgotten past as the tint of a blue screen governs our new creative view.
Instagram and Facebook have become hubs for professional and emerging artists—fostering a space to present works in progress, news, and finished pieces. But YouTube, Tumblr, and Twitter are ways for artists to present their work on a wide scale. The website Artsy, even created a “how-to” article on advice to “win over collectors on Instagram.” The article claims that 70 percent of collectors, “prefer to follow an individual’s Instagram account over the general gallery account,” meaning that content is important and presentation is essential. Artwork Archive posted a social media strategy for artists which includes tips like, “schedule in advance,” or “start socializing,” which creates a dry and flattening experience of the role of the artist. For many people, publishing your work online doesn’t have to be as business-oriented as many online platforms demonstrate.
For the Louisiana based artist, Suzanna Scott “social media has played an important part” of sharing her work with a larger audience across the globe. With 19.3k followers, Scott says, “[Instagram] contributes to over 50 percent of my sales and has led to numerous shows and arts related opportunities.”
“I view Instagram as a visual micro-blogging platform,” says Scott. “Also, because I live and work from a small college town in Northern Louisiana, far from any metropolis, I use my Instagram feed to keep up with current exhibitions, events and happenings throughout the art world.” Technology creates a space where artists are connected without living in the center of expansive art communities.
However, for many artists, censorship is an issue. New York based performance and sculpture artist, Chiara No recently had her Instagram deactivated over “lewd content.” After filing a complaint and seeking further actions to the ACLU, the artist created a new account where she continues to post her artwork that lives in the square box of Instagram. No’s Instagram project is a curatorial space where she posts short performances and images typically involving her crotch and politically charged words or messages. “Instagram has become my gallery,” said No. “How you react to my image is predicated by what you see before my feed and what you see after in your feed. Their [the images] strength exists with what happens in your feed”
No isn’t alone, however. Even the Philadelphia Art Museum had images removed on Facebook after publishing a pop art painting from the1960s. Does the censorship devalue the digital gallery sphere? Or does it keep artist’s motivated to create and publish more online? The insidious nature of censorship, for artists who create sexually charged work like Scott and No, can give them (and all of us) even more of a reason to fight back and to balk at the restraints on art.
Artists are also expanding their idea of what the digital gallery can mean for their work and for the viewer. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago holds a course called “Media Futures,” through the Arts Administration and Policy Department, which has gone through several iterations since 2014. In the Fall of 2017, an exhibition titled, “Technical Images” led by student curatorial course instructor, Matt Mehlan, complimented the course session. Courtney Graham, a student of the class, said that the exhibition began by “questioning how we could present artwork in a non-linear, rhizomatic way, that would exemplify this idea of the cloud and how we engage with art in the internet age.” To view the opening reception for the exhibition, they had to fill out an online form where they provided their phone number.
On the opening day, Graham says, “Works were disseminated (primarily through text messages) to anyone who provided a number.” She continues, “One member of the team, Ricardo Cobián, used Instagram to engage with internet artists and even solicited some really interesting international work that ended up in the exhibition, work we probably wouldn’t have been introduced to otherwise.”
“Technical Images” challenges the physical white box gallery spaces we attend every Friday or Saturday night. Cramped with people, chatting in front of paintings; it’s virtually a night of networking. Graham says online exhibitions are “accessible and reach people (particularly a younger generation) on a comfortable level.” However, traditional spaces aren’t something of the antiquated past just yet. “It’s thrilling to see this new opportunity for presenting work being used,” alongside the permanence of physical spaces.
Similar to Scott’s opinion of viewers all over the globe, Graham says that online gallery spaces, or artist Instagram accounts are particularly enjoyable because of their far-reaching capabilities. Where physical gallery spaces are cleared out after a closing reception, online exhibitions “…exist, in some fashion, indefinitely.”
Publishing a new post on social media seems obvious for the emerging artist. Easily digestible and accessible, social media can reach the masses, even those who don’t aggressively follow fine art trends.
A 2014 article on Vogue called Instagram the world’s “new art dealer,” by saying that social media is “providing an entirely new way to access art.” Account administrators on social media can exist simultaneously as curator, dealer, critic, collector, and creator. Moreover, a study in 2015 conducted by Instagram found that viewers across UK, France, and Germany saw Instagram as the “art gallery of the future.”
Artists from around the globe, who were once obscure, can now be highlighted on the forefront. Scott’s involvement on Instagram has obviously contributed to her studio practice. She says confidently that, “Without the support of people who follow and support my work on Instagram I would not be able to continue working in the same capacity that I presently do.”
Graham agrees and says, “Platforms like Instagram have made it so that any user can essentially curate their own micro-gallery, in their little corner of the internet. Now whether that’s private or public, their own work, or the work of others, all changes the narrative — but I think it’s intriguing to see people shaping art practices on a more personal level, both on and off the internet.”
Armed with one simple but vital tool—the smartphone—artists are able to set up shop across all pocket screens over a span of time zones, languages, and news feeds.