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Are Instagram influencers and artists becoming one of the same?

By Audrey Popa


Having just moved into a new building and in need of art for my walls, I reached out to my friend who’s more involved in the local art scene for something interesting and relatively cheap. She immediately sent me eight different Instagram profiles of local artists, selling and promoting their art via the app. Not only did I find art to buy, but I followed some of the accounts and even went as far as saving one of the girl’s pictures to use as a reference for what colour I wanted to dye my hair next. This took me a total of ten minutes.

Currently, all over Europe, notable and famous museums and art galleries have been desperately attempting to change the demographics of their visitors to be more diverse. Those who consistently visit these museums and art galleries tend to be older, whiter and richer than the average resident of a city. What in fact seems to be engaging a larger and more diverse group of people is the impact of social media on all aspects of the art industry. In today’s art world, an artist and whatever works they post online are exposed for all, accessible to those interested and measured plainly in metrics of likes, follows and comments. It is evident that Instagram can be an incredible tool for well-established artists to spread their art, and create a sense of connection through online communities. An obvious example of the ‘FOMO’ induced, influencer-esque visual omnipresence is Yayoi Kusama’s exhibitions, which over the last few years have been travelling globally and have littered social media sites with images of her famous infinity rooms. But is this type of accessibility good news for the art world, and more importantly for younger emerging artists?

OnBuy.com found that the online art market has grown 20-25 percent in the past few years, and it’s estimated that this online market will grow at a rate of 15 percent per year, if not more. It seems as though there is no going back, social media, artists and galleries are becoming increasingly integrated with one another to appeal to this new digital age and new art fans. Dealers are increasingly reporting sales from collectors who discovered pieces using Instagram, and galleries and museums are beginning to heavily use and invest in social media sites to better understand art fans and promote events, shows and artists. It is easy to understand and see why well-established institutions and artists are benefitting from this new digital age. The real question is assessing how these technological changes are affecting emerging artists.

From an immediate glance, it’s obvious that practically everything has changed in terms of artists attempting to break into the industry. The traditional routes of needing representation, a gallery, or an agent are no longer necessary. Artists are creating partnerships and collaboration through Instagram direct messages and buyers are finding their next million dollar investment by simply scrolling through their timeline.

And while interactions within the art industry have changed completely due to technological structural changes, at its core, not much has changed about the art world. Buyers and followers of the art industry have always been obsessed with the artist and their lifestyles, not just their works and pieces. Social media provides a platform for more followers to inclusively watch and obsess over what they deem to be an “artistic lifestyle,” as well as observe the creative process itself. Anyone can like, comment, message, save, share and frantically consume content through the ease of their phones.

The sense of connection developed between interested buyers and fans with artists is stronger than ever before. Where the physical art world of several years ago had barriers of entry for buyers with money and social status, geographic region and privacy, the online sharing community of artists is for all to access. Art and the interest in it online are all about curiosity and education because the pressure of buying isn’t as heavily present. Nothing is stopping you from following and possibly, one day, buying.

Though there is an evident benefit on the buyer side, do these follower counts and Instagram metrics actually demonstrate success for emerging artists and their online efforts? Social media has solidified the importance and money in careers of being an “online influencer,” and interestingly enough the similarity between influencers and artists on Instagram is at times uncanny. Mediakix has estimated that in 2017 $1.7 billion was spent on influencer marketing and that this would rise to $2.38 billion by 2019. As the career aspirations of many around the world is to become an influencer, globally have career aspirations of simply being ‘influencers’, and with that, millennial artists are often seen as ideal influencers for many companies around the world. Successful emerging artists tend to be followed by many and liked because of the time evidently invested in curating an interesting online profile. In doing so, these artists are not only creating art they can promote, but they are creating a brand they can promote. They partner with streetwear companies, magazines, and other important online influential players. The young artists of today will have the best chance at succeeding if they are talented in whatever fine arts they chose to specialise in, but more importantly if they are able to curate a social media following that fits an attractive artistic aesthetic while aggressively marketing their lives.

Recent technological changes in the art trade industry have been disruptive and impactful as they seemingly create a shift in who has the power to promote, create and sell their art. The impact of technology, social networks and third-party applications has created a seemingly more decentralised art world, giving more power to artists, and more visibility and opportunity to those around the world who want to view, explore and understand art. As in all industries though, there must be a weariness moving forward and a call for hesitation that maybe relying solely on these virtual infrastructures can be dangerous and less freeing in the future.