What is art? Well, if Edgar Degas was right and art “is not what you see” but “what you make others see”, then art can be anything. However, what if the vision someone else has isn’t quite what you expected? And what if this vision is bound by a ton of T&Cs? This kind of issue has become prominent since visual material has taken over social media.
When Instagram first launched in 2010 it was a social network where users could share their personal pictures. Since then, it has grown and evolved into a platform where businesses, social influencers and even artists can showcase their work.
Turning Art into a Digital Endeavour
Indeed, with 500 million active monthly users, Instagram is now one of the largest websites in the world, which means anything you post there has a huge potential reach. For aspiring artists this captive audience is not only a great way to attract followers and fans, but actually generate some income.
Analysing the recent synergy between artists and social media, Hiscox reveals that 38% of new collectors are influenced by sites like Instagram. In a recent profile of modern artist, Maxwell Rushton as part of a wider investigation of the findings of The Hiscox Online Art Trade Report 2016, Hiscox found that social media provides unlikely benefits for artists. Since being showcased on these networks, Rushton’s work has attracted more than 30 million views and not all of them are from diehard art lovers. In fact, Rushton has won fans in improbable places – UniLad in this case. The college humour-style site currently has more than 17 million followers, so when the owners asked if they could livestream reactions on Rushton’s Left Out sculpture, he naturally accepted.
That opportunity not only exposed Rushton’s work to a new demographic, but opened a different perspective on the art world. Indeed, as the Hiscox report suggests, social media features such as live streams help art to be “seen in a different way” and to “instigat[e] global discussions.”
A Massive Shop Window to the World
With social media essentially providing a window to the world, it’s little wonder that some of the leading modern artists are now signing up. Laurie Simmons (83k+ followers), Kenny Scharf (69k+ followers) and Daniel Arsham (241k+ followers) are just some of the names making an artistic splash on Instagram. However, is the platform really the best place for an artist?
Regardless of how you define art, one of its core principles is creativity and to be creative you often have to push the boundaries. When Andres Serrano created Piss Christ in 1987, he knew that submerging a crucifix in a cup of his own urine would provoke some negative response. However, the photograph could be seen by anyone who went to visit the exhibition at the Stux Gallery in New York. If Instagram existed then and he’d have posted it online, there’s a strong chance it would have been flagged and, ultimately, removed by moderators.
You’re Free to Create (Sort of)
Pushing the boundaries is what makes art interesting. Without debates and controversy, art becomes nothing more than a series of coloured-in books. However, on social media this freedom of expression isn’t so free. As cited in an LA Times article, notable artists have struggled to express themselves on Instagram because of its T&Cs.
Jerry Saltz saw his images of Roman erotica removed from Instagram for breaching the site’s policy regarding pornographic material. Similarly, the Philadelphia Art Museum had a 1960 pop painting deleted by Instagram because it was deemed “too suggestive”. Beyond the big names, aspiring photographers like Rupi Kaur have had their pictures removed because they went against some aspect of Instagram’s T&Cs.
Of course, in order to maintain some sort of order and level of decency a site like Instagram has to vet content. However, when it comes to art there should be no vetting process. So it is important to remember that social media platforms are not completely open canvasses where true artistic expression can thrive. Indeed, while someone like Rushton has used Instagram as a shop window, it’s worth remembering that it’s a shop window with frosted glass. Yes, you can give viewers a glimpse into your creative side, but if you give them a clear look at everything going on, it could get you banned.