This article was first published in PETRIe's E-Magazine Issue #1.
“Every user of Instagram is basically an artist,” said Simon de Pury at last year’s Art Basel Miami Beach, during a panel that discussed the much talked about app as a medium for creative expression. Indeed, the mobile app has redefined the daily lives of millions of users, some of whom have artistic ambitions not yet fulfilled.
Scrolling through your news feed on Instagram, it is immediately clear who these latter people are. Their individual pages are filled with artistic images that often rival the curation of any small and large photography exhibition. They have sourced these works, uploaded them and created a gallery of images under their name; these images fill a certain void in the online sphere or are designed to run to a theme or mood.
In other instances, these individuals have produced these images themselves. The process of photographing, editing and titling your ‘artistic’ masterpiece is a creative one too and Instagram, with its readily available and tuned-in audience, provides an ideal platform to exhibit such work. Even with #nofilter, Instagram itself is a filter, a loaded social space that enables us to frame each photo we upload like an old Polaroid, falsely yet immediately creating a sense of nostalgia and significance.
But what defines someone as an artist, or as an exhibition curator, or as a photographer? Where does the line fall between an individual doing something for a hobby, just whiling away time with uploads that catch their eye, and a professional worthy of our scrupulous eye and artistic attention? Does adding a filter to a photograph really make you an artist? Does uploading a series of perfectly aligned images make your Instagram feed worthy of having a photography or art ‘gallery’ status?
When producing your own images, you photograph a moment, then select from a limited number of image-enhancing filters, choose which one makes the image look the best, and post it to your news feed for your captivated audience to respond to. In essence, it is the most basic form of photo editing and, in my opinion, simply adding these filters to an image does not qualify you for ‘artist’ status. No more than if you were to sew your own clothes, you would then call yourself a ‘fashion designer.’
Yet Instagram seems to hold significant and growing influence within our understanding, appreciation and perception of art. In March this year, Leonardo DiCaprio reportedly bought Brooklyn artist Jean-Pierre Roy's piece Nachlass (2015), on display at PULSE Art Fair. Not particularly newsworthy until you learn that he had only ever seen the artwork on the gallery’s Instagram feed and bought it over the phone (I can only hope there was #NoFilter.) Are platforms such as Instagram serving to make art more appealing than ever, especially for the masses?
One problem with viewing artwork in this way on Instagram is that it changes the way people experience art. Does the app simplify the experience of engaging with art, framing it as pure entertainment, or is there more to it? Does this constant bombardment of visual sensations without a trained eye editing it into an approved selection make it harder for the audience to know good art, or does it open up to the world the selection process of art? After all, one of the greatest debates, given its high subjectivity, is what is art? Now the audience of Instagram can decide.
Viewing art, and supposedly creating it on Instagram, is a mediated, high-speed experience. It is a shortcut and a tool for all those budding photographers with their 8-megapixel Smartphone cameras. In many respects, it projects many photographers into the limelight that otherwise may not get noticed, while talented professionals are otherwise overlooked. For me, Instagram does not allow someone to create art in the traditional sense of the word. It is no paintbrush, to put it simply.
However, it does allow us to share our art with the world. It provides a platform where anyone can demonstrate their creativity - good or bad - and that’s no mean feat. It has the capability to bring real artistic expression to the palm of your hand - to let you see things you may never have seen. Art is available 24/7 on the go; the exhibition is now free and accessible. With the growth of the Internet as an integral part of our lives, and with its boundaries dissipating into what we like to call ‘reality,’ it allows us to engage with artworks without the art world rituals and the museum guards’ gaze.
For me though, there remains an element of doubt in this as to how it affects our grasp of art. As someone who works within the industry, there are confines to the app that make the artwork on show quite ungraspable. The brief, fleeting nature of its exposure and the small, diluted size of the image makes the digestion of this work either an unfinished process, or a lengthy one as the viewer needs to gather information from other sources. With this in mind, Instagram should be viewed as more of a preview to art than a full gallery view. It should serve to enhance our experience of art, but not become a replacement for exhibitions - no matter how scrupulous an eye, let us not disregard the work of professional, trained exhibition curators.
Words: Sorana Serban
Photography: Gagosian's exhibition view by Robert McKeever